Let's do away with the suspense – the new BMW 3 Series is the best compact executive saloon that money can buy. The old car was our class champ and the new model maintains the status quo by improving on it pretty much across the board.
Second place goes to the revised Audi A4, which is more appealing than ever. Its 2.0-litre diesel throws the BMW’s biggest shortcoming into sharp focus; not only is the engine quieter at low revs than the 320d’s, its stop-start system is smoother – if only the A4’s suspension wasn’t so firm. It still doesn’t match the 3 Series for driver appeal and the BMW is better in all other respects: its strong performance, superb refinement and engaging driving experience all impress.
And the Mercedes C-Class? It’s still a fine executive saloon in its own right, yet it trails behind its rivals in every area, so it finishes third. Make no mistake, these are the three best compact execs on the market. But the BMW gets closest to perfection, so it takes a deserved win.
BMW 3 Series ★★★★★
It's always difficult to improve on a car that’s already the best in its class, but BMW has done just that with the new 3 Series. If you want the finest all-rounder in the compact executive market, look no further. There’s more cabin space than before, an attractive interior and cleaner engines, yet it’s as good to drive as ever.
Audi A4 ★★★★
The revised A4 pushes the new 3 Series hard. It’s a hugely desirable saloon, but in S line trim it’s let down by stodgy steering and stiff suspension. We think SE models show the Audi in a far better light, but the appeal of its upmarket interior and smooth engine is obvious in any spec.
Mercedes C-Class ★★★★
Third place is hard on the Mercedes, but it lags behind its rivals. Its cabin is dated and cramped, it’s not as quick and its gearshift is terrible by modern standards. It’s also not as efficient as the BMW or Audi. That’s a pity as, in Sport trim, the C-Class is arguably the best-looking model here.