As if a five-star Autocar road test accolade wasn’t a big enough haul for 2012, the BMW 3 Series is back for more. No doubt spurred on by overwhelming critical acclaim, Munich isn’t hanging around when it comes to fleshing out the meat of its big-selling compact exec range.

Having been offered a streamlined selection of models from the launch of the F30 3 Series, UK buyers can now order an entry-level 134bhp 316i saloon for £25,160 – a sum that won’t currently buy you a top-of-the-range 1.6-litre Ford Mondeo Ecoboost. You can also buy a 3 Series with BMW's xDrive, in which four driven wheels feature in a BMW saloon for the first time since the E34 525ix of 1991, and even an iPerformance petrol-electric 330e garnishes the range.

That is not to say that the diesel engines have remained untouched with six-cylinder units being added to the range, which may leave you questioning why BMW has been so keen to embellish its range? 

Well the answer is simple enough, BMW can't afford to rest on its laurels so the 3 Series model range has been shrunk slightly with the coupé and convertible versions now classified as a 4 Series, while there is the addition of essentially a grand coupé in the shape of the 3 Series GT and the range is completed by ludicrous the M3 and in some respects the M4

All of this desire to flesh out the range and re-assess where certain models sit is down to the gains made by its closest rivals, who previously lagged behind and now closed the gap, and in some instances overtaken the BMW. Chief among them is the emergence of the Jaguar XE, which stole the crown for the one area where BMW previously reigned supremely - its driving characteristics.

Meanwhile, BMW's other rivals the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class all have been recently refreshed,  and include coupé, cabriolets, quick versions and estates of the compact exec, which leads us on nicely to the 3 Series Touring. Previously the benchmark for this segment, it is now in a position where it is playing catch-up, and so concerned were BMW that this generation was facelifted in 2015.

Now its time to see if the 3 Series Touring can reclaim its top spot from the new pretenders to the throne.

Top 5 Compact saloons

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Mini Countryman Cooper S
    First Drive
    18 January 2017
    All-new bigger Mini continues to make a curious, flawed crossover hatchback, though it’s more compelling to drive than some and more practical than it used to be
  • Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid
    First Drive
    17 January 2017
    Plug-in petrol-electric Panamera makes a better case than ever to supplant the diesel best seller, but it still appeals more to the head than the heart
  • MX-5 RF 2.0 160
    First Drive
    17 January 2017
    The distinctive 'retractable fastback' roadster promises typical MX-5 dynamics coupled with better refinement. It achieves the former, but the latter isn't quite there yet
  • Hyundai i30 1.4 T-GDi Premium
    First Drive
    17 January 2017
    Facing increasingly formidable opposition, the Hyundai i30 has been overhauled for 2017. The result is a recognisably mixed bag
  • 2016 Infiniti Q50 Country Road
    First Drive
    12 January 2017
    Infiniti’s premium mid-sized saloon packs a serious punch, but lacks the dynamic prowess of European rivals