BMW 316d ES

New saloon aims to set the green benchmark for the class.

If you think your dreams of having a flash compact executive model parked on the driveway will be thwarted by high list prices and running costs, it’s time for a quick reappraisal. As if BMW’s range of EfficientDynamics models wasn’t clean enough, the new 316d has lower emissions and prices than ever.

It’s the entry-level diesel in the 3-Series line-up, but it doesn’t look like a budget model. Small alloy wheels and familiar lines have to give best to the stylish A4, though. And it’s the same on the inside. The simple dash layout is attractive, and it’s pleasant to touch, but not particularly exciting.

The chunky steering wheel and widely adjustable driving position make the 3-Series incredibly comfortable, though, and the low-slung seats give the BMW a sportier feel. Material quality is up to the firm’s usual high standards, and the dashboard has a simple, uncluttered appearance. However, the Audi’s cabin has a more premium feel than the BMW’s.

Passenger space in the rear is also left trailing, as the cabin is narrower than the A4’s. The 316d also lacks the Audi’s standard folding rear bench.

There are fewer problems up front, where BMW’s 2.0-litre diesel is put to good use. Although it’s no noisier than the Audi’s unit, there are vibrations transmitted through the gearlever, but that’s where our complaints end. On the road it’s more urgent than the A4, so it feels quicker, even though our performance figures suggested otherwise.

Either way, the differences are small, and the BMW pulls ahead at the pumps. It proved to be cleaner and more efficient than the A4, posting fuel economy of 48.8mpg to go with its supermini-rivalling CO2 emissions of 118g/km.

Keen drivers will also enjoy the BMW’s rear-drive chassis. On flowing back roads, the 316d proves to be more engaging and rewarding than the front-wheel-drive Audi.

The BMW’s low-rolling resistance tyres are the weak link in the chain, as they lose grip far too early. In our braking tests, the BMW took 54.9 metres to stop from 70mph – 7.5 metres longer than the A4. This is at odds with the rest of the dynamic package, which includes a precise gearbox and communicative steering. The 316d’s supple suspension also delivers good ride comfort. Company car drivers will welcome the BMW’s cosseting set-up, while its low emissions are an even greater attraction. Benefit in kind tax is only 13 per cent, and the BMW is also cheaper than the Audi to buy and run.

With its fuel-efficient engine, an enjoyable rear-drive chassis, comfortable interior and low running costs, the 316d doesn’t feel like a compromised eco machine – can the Audi pull off a similar trick?

In detail Price: £23,330 Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 116bhp 0-60mph: 10.3 seconds AE economy: 48.8mpg Annual road tax: £35

Details

WHY: The 3-Series matches superb dynamics with equally impressive fuel economy and low CO2 emissions.

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