Ultimately for the BMW buyer, this is what it is all about and why they keep coming back, drawn like moths to a flame. For decades, BMW has prided itself on extracting more performance from its engines while providing lower fuel consumption than its rivals. With the modern 3 Series, this trend is not simply maintained, but augmented.

To go into the individual performance characteristics of each engine option would take more space than we have, but just taking the key model – the mid-range 320d diesel – provides an example that, with a few variances here and there, is broadly representative of the range as a whole.

Steve Sutcliffe

Distinguishing performance has always been fundamental to the success of the overtly sporting 3 Series

A standard, manual, two-wheel drive 320d hits 62mph from rest in 7.5sec and carries on to a top speed of 146mph.

The equivalent Audi needs 8.4sec and hits 140mph, while the C 220 CDI Mercedes also requires 8.4sec, although its top speed is 144mph. But in terms of what matters – the feeling you get when you put your foot down – the BMW is in a league of its own. Four-wheel drive versions are the merest fraction slower.

But there’s always more to a BMW than bald performance. The diesels are the smoothest, quietest powerplants in the class, while the six-cylinder petrol 340i motor is precisely the snarling, howling beast you’d hope for. It’s actually a twin-turbo unit, but so readily does it respond to your right foot that you’re rarely, if ever, aware of it.

Only the four-cylinder petrol engines fail to convince. Yes, they’re quiet enough and, in the case of the 243bhp 330i, deliver convincing performance, but it's never enough to make you wonder why on earth you’d not find the extra to buy the diesel. With advantages everywhere from range to resale via reduced fuel costs and low-down torque, the diesels are just better choices for all bar the genuinely low-mileage user.

And whichever 3 Series you buy, you can be confident that it will come with either a first-class six-speed manual gearbox with expertly chosen ratios and a deftly judged clutch, or an eight-speed XF automatic transmission, widely regarded around the world, and, indeed, by us, as the best conventional auto on the market.

Top 5 Compact saloons

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