Performance, practicality and safety
* Which makes the most sense for you? * How to weigh all the pros and cons * Battle of the badges for your budget...
None of these cars is bad to drive. In fact, they're all highly accomplished around town as well as up and down the motorway.
The Volkswagen is comfortable, the 3 Series is the most fun and the 5 Series is the one to go for if you spend a lot of time cruising at high speed.
It isn't surprising that the Golf is the slowest of all three at 122bhp the 1.4-litre petrol has 55bhp less than the 2.0-litre diesel the BMWs share.
Since the smaller BMW is lighter than the 5 Series, it's fastest from 0-62mph at 7.5sec. The 5 Series time of 8.6sec is 0.9sec better than the Golf's 9.5sec. Top speeds are 124mph for the Golf, 146mph for the 3 Series and 144mph for the 5 Series.
The Golf is the smallest car of the lot, that's clear, but it's not far off the 3 Series in the cabin.
Its boot space of 350 litres with the seats up is beaten by both BMWs 110 litres in the case of the 3 Series and 170 litres with the 5 Series. Unless you can find the BMWs fitted with the folding rear seat option, the VW trumps them both with 1305 litres of room with the boot extended.
The Golf and 3 Series both got five stars in Euro NCAP crash test, while the 5 Series netted four.