Compact Executive Car of the Year 2019: BMW 3 Series

The BMW 3 Series is the 2019 Auto Express Compact Executive Car of the Year, with the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Mercedes C-Class commended

The previous BMW 3 Series was still a contender in the compact-executive segment, even at the end of its life. Yet this new version builds on what made it great, while also adding even more tech to help propel it to the top of the class.

As ever, key to the 3 Series’ appeal is still the way it drives. BMW has improved the car yet again in this area, and with its agile chassis, composed ride and brilliant driving position, it’s a delight from behind the wheel. Few models in this sector are as much fun, and yet the 3 Series is also the most comfortable car in its class.

New suspension tech means the dampers control the body superbly, and filter out all but the worst the road can throw at the chassis. As you add more speed it just gets better. That means the BMW is as good on a motorway, where most buyers will probably spend a lot of time, as on a twisty back road. It gets the ride and handling balance just right.

This latest version has been upgraded with a new interior that’s also a big step forward and balances usability, looks and technology. The infotainment system and sat-nav are among the best on sale in any car, with an intuitive and modern-looking interface, and the digital instrument cluster found on some models is another cutting-edge touch.

The seats are very comfortable and there’s plenty of room in the back for passengers, too, thanks to this seventh-generation 3 Series’ slightly swollen dimensions over its predecessor’s; it means the BMW makes the cut as a family car. In fact, coupled with a big 480-litre boot, that makes this one of the more practical junior executive saloons around, even if the styling might prove divisive.

The evergreen 320d auto features a fantastic 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel that promises more than 50mpg, while CO2 emissions of 118g/km mean that it’s cheap to run as a company car. That’s crucial in this sector, with many user-chooser company car buyers. But the BMW’s real party trick is the way it manages to be good to drive, refined, advanced, practical and economical all at the same time. 

Our choice

BMW 320d M Sport Sport auto (£38,325)

The 320d’s balance of performance and economy is spot-on, and the 3 Series is so refined that you won’t notice the diesel rattle when it’s warmed up. M Sport trim brings 18-inch alloys and a sporty exterior look, but it’s worth the price of entry for BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional system, with a 12.3-inch screen, sat-nav and connected services. Go for the auto gearbox, too. 

Commended 

Alfa Romeo Giulia

Alfa Romeo Giulia long term test - first report front

Alfa’s Giulia brings something a bit different to the class, because it’s quite a step away from the German metal that dominates here. With sharp styling, a sublime chassis and some fantastic petrol engines, it’s the one to go for if you value the driving experience and want an alternative to the usual German trio.

Mercedes C-Class

Mercedes C-Class - Front Tracking

Last year’s winner gets a deserved commendation, thanks to the same great blend of traits that helped it to the 2018 crown. The cabin is comfortable, there’s a wide choice of efficient engines and the C-Class is practical; it’s just that the 3 Series has moved things on incrementally in every area.

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