• BMW 3-series
    The 3-series remains strong in the areas it has always excelled but now it's more rounded than ever
  • Vertical intakes are part of the air curtain system, which smooths airflow around front wheels for improved aerodynamics
  • There's a connection between the grille and headlights for the first time since the E30
  • Alloy wheels are standard on all models
  • The sides have a double swage line. The first runs from the headlight to front door, the second from front wheel to rear light
  • Cabin surfaces are covered in soft-touch plastic. The multi-adjustable seat should provide comfort for most drivers
  • The car’s extra length improves rear passenger comfort. Legroom has expanded by 100mm, headroom by 30mm
  • The 3-series’ boot has also grown to 480 litres. Folding rear seats allow for bigger, more awkward shapes
  • The Three has an oil temperature gauge, not the industry standard water one, so you know when it’s safe to extend the revs
  • Typical size for the class; touring economy delivers 700-mile cruise potential in the 320d
  • Six-speed manual unit gets dry-sump lubrication and delivers light, smooth, well defined shift quality
  • The 320d is so flexible, it makes one wonder why buyers would need anything else – unless ultimate power is your thing
  • Electromechanical system has rack-mounted motor; optional variable gearing quickens steering ratio as you add lock
  • BMW calls them 'double-joint spring struts'. They offer displaced wheel camber and anti-dive compensation
  • Outstanding performance and handling complete a consummate all-rounder

You might open your eyes a little wider at the sight of the full five stars here, but any fewer would be a perverse choice. Across the board from a 316 SE to a 335i M Sport, the 3-series should be the starting point for everyone shopping in this market with an open mind.

There may be many reasons you might eventually prefer an Audi or a Mercedes, not to mention a Lexus or Toyota, but they’re likely to be largely subjective and matters of personal taste. 

Matt Prior

Road test editor
The 320d is in a league of its own on performance, economy and driving dynamics

For in terms of outright ability, currently there is nothing that gets close to the 3-series, let alone looks likely to beat it. What must be so terrifying for rival manufacturers is the car’s ability across the board. It gives not just outstanding performance, but combines it with fabulous economy. It’s not just the best-handling car in the class, but the best-riding, too. 

The 3-series is a triumphant testament to BMW’s driver ethos and engineering prowess, and now stands head and shoulders above its competition, towering clearer of the pack than any other new BMW, or any other class-leading car, we can think of.

And until someone can devise a way of attacking successfully on such a myriad array of diverse fronts, the position of the 3-series as the world’s best small saloon looks more secure than ever.

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