BMW 320d

Do unconventional rivals threaten class leader’s crown?

Few cars enjoy a better reputation than BMW’s all-conquering 3 Series, and the latest version beat its established rivals from Audi and Mercedes in its first test.

But how will it cope against more exotic opposition? The DS5 and the CC strive to offer something different in a class where the 320d has long been the default choice. The key to BMW’s phenomenal sales success has always been the 3 Series’ handling prowess – and the exterior styling of the new model has evolved to reflect this sporty heritage.

It may not have the eye-catching details of the Citroen, but the 3 Series still appears sleek and elegant thanks to its low nose, aggressive bumpers and sharply rising shoulder line.

A wider rear track makes the car look more purposeful, but even our Sport model only gets 17-inch alloys as standard. It’s worth noting that the upmarket badge will play a big part in boosting its appeal over the two relative newcomers to this class.

Badge snobbery has a negative impact inside, though, as despite being slightly cheaper than the VW in standard trim, the BMW is far less well equipped. Once you’ve added options like leather trim (£1,265), sat-nav (£1,550) and an automatic gearbox (£1,550), the 3 Series starts to look expensive.

The smart, modern cabin goes some way to justifying the higher price tag. Its layout is much more intuitive than the DS5’s and all the switchgear feels very robust.

Although the Touring estate version won’t go on sale until later this year, the four-door 3 Series still offers a decent amount of luggage space: with the rear seats in place, its 480-litre boot is the biggest here. It doesn’t have the flexibility of the Citroen’s hatchback design, but crucially it’s more spacious in the back than either the DS5 or the CC. This will be appreciated by taller passengers.

This added practicality has done nothing to blunt the BMW’s performance, however. With 380Nm of torque from 1,750rpm and nearly 200kg less to carry around than the DS5, the 320d was unsurprisingly almost two seconds quicker from 0-60mph, with a time of 8.1 seconds, even on a damp test track.

The six-speed manual in the BMW delivers faster, more accurate changes than the DS5’s box, while the weighting of the precise steering can be fine-tuned with the standard Dynamic Performance Control switch if you add the £180 optional Servotronic steering fitted to our car.

In Comfort mode, and equipped with the £750 optional adaptive M Sport suspension, the BMW rides very softly. And after some initial gruffness, the diesel engine settles down to a hushed cruise on the motorway.

Despite featuring technology like stop-start and regenerative brakes, the 320d was only slightly more economical than the DS5, returning 39.9mpg on test. However, it emits less CO2 than the others – just 120g/km.

That puts the BMW three tax brackets lower than the VW, and makes it more affordable as a company car than the cheaper Citroen. Add strong residuals plus top-value servicing, and the 3 Series looks set to take another victory...

Details

Chart position: 1WHY: The 3 Series is brilliant to the point of boredom. But it’s the obvious choice in the compact executive class for good reason – it’s superb.

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