Best compact executive car: New Car Awards 2014

The BMW 3 Series is the 2014 Auto Express Compact Executive Car of the Year, with the Lexus IS and Mercedes C-Classs commended

Four decades after making its debut, the brilliant BMW 3 Series shows no signs of slowing down. Despite the arrival of numerous talented rivals, the BMW has maintained its grip on the compact executive crown.

It combines invigorating driving dynamics with low running costs, a decent dose of practicality and bags of upmarket kerb appeal. And all this means that the 3 Series has continued its New Car Awards winning streak to an incredible sixth straight year.

The key to success in this fiercely fought sector is convincing company car buyers to take the plunge, and few cars deliver a more compelling argument than the BMW. For starters, there are the low emissions – the clean 320d EfficientDynamics emits just 109g/km of CO2, while even the fiery 330d claims only 129g/km.

Carbuyer.co.uk's favourite executive cars

Factor in the car’s competitive pricing and you’re unlikely to be bitten by any bloated Benefit in Kind bills. And then there’s the generous kit list, which includes business essentials such as Bluetooth, automatic air-conditioning, cruise control and a DAB radio. The BMW is beautifully built, too, with an interior that mixes premium appeal with everyday practicality.

BMW 3 Series Touring interior

But it’s the 3 Series’ sublime driving experience that really makes it stand out. The rear-wheel-drive handling is beautifully balanced, there’s loads of grip and the major controls brim with feedback. Plus, with an extensive line-up of eager four-cylinder and smooth straight-six engines, there should be something for all tastes and budgets. There’s also the option of BMW’s confidence-inspiring xDrive four-wheel-drive system.

It’s going to take something very special indeed to knock the BMW off its place at the top of the podium.

Our choice:

BMW 320d EfficientDynamics (£28,775)

Rock-bottom 109g/km emissions make the 320d ED a no-brainer for business users. Happily, this focus on frugality doesn’t come at the expense of fun or standard kit.

Commended compact executive cars

Lexus IS

Lexus IS 300h LT front action

Lexus has dared to be different with its handsome IS, and the result is a distinctive and desirable saloon. Under the skin, it uses the brand’s smooth and frugal petrol-electric hybrid system, while the classy interior is beautifully built and packed with equipment. Low CO2 emissions are the icing on the cake.

Mercedes C-Class

Sleek looks and a luxurious, S-Class-inspired interior help make the C-Class one of the most desirable compact executive saloons money can buy. It’s also available with plenty of hi-tech kit, such as LED headlamps and air-suspension. Yet the Merc is held back by its gruff engines and lacklustre handling.

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