Strict taxes on CO2 emissions are now playing a huge role in deciding which cars we buy – and no class of the market has been affected more than the compact executive saloon sector.
When the first-generation BMW 320d EfficientDynamics was launched back in 2010, few people could have predicted that it would become such a huge sales phenomenon. This standalone model is now one of the most popular versions of the 3 Series, accounting for more than a third of the saloon’s sales.
That means the pressure is on for this new model to deliver. We were very impressed with the standard car, which swept its rivals aside to claim victory in our first test – so can the ED repeat the feat?
Standing in the newcomer’s way is the most efficient version of the recently facelifted Audi A4. Both cars have been engineered to produce the lowest amount of CO2 possible without sacrificing their performance or premium image, and both are hugely attractive company choices as a result. But which is the better all-round package?
In the closely fought company car arena, only two vital statistics really matter: fuel economy and CO2 emissions. Judged on these criteria alone, the ultra-efficient BMW takes a comfortable victory.
Yet there’s more to the 320d ED’s win than its superior efficiency. For instance, its boasts the kind of driver engagement that can turn an everyday journey into a great drive, while the larger cabin and boot make it a surprisingly family friendly choice. It’s also backed by a great-value service pack and much stronger residual predictions.
That’s not to say the Audi isn’t without merit. It’s a comfortable and capable choice, and our SE-spec test model also represents decent value for money – not always what you expect from Audi. But it costs more as a company car, has a heavier thirst for fuel and is nowhere near as engaging to drive.
This result is further proof of the 3 Series’ sheer dominance over the market, and BMW’s expertise in efficiency is clear across its model line-up. None of the car’s rivals has yet managed to come close to offering the same combination of low emissions and lively on-road performance. It’s not often that the cheapest car to own in a range is also the best to drive, and few cars appeal to heart and head quite as easily as the new 320d ED.
Winner: BMW 320d ED ★★★★★
The EfficientDynamics is clearly the current pick of the new 3 Series range. Despite boasting class-leading CO2 emissions, it demands almost no compromises in terms of performance and driving dynamics, and improvements in build quality and practicality over the previous-generation model mean it now becomes the default choice in the compact executive sector.
2nd: Audi A4 2.0 TDIe ★★★★
The revised A4 gets closer than any rival to knocking the 3 Series off top spot. It matches the BMW for desirability, and in SE trim offers comfort and refinement at an affordable price. But it’s not as good to drive and is more expensive as a company car. The more powerful version bridges the performance gap, yet costs more to buy and run.