When you’re in the business of testing the latest and greatest new cars, you invariably devote a great deal of effort, brainpower and words defining and expressing what separates a truly great supercar, sports car or hot hatchback from one that is merely very good.
And while that’s often a captivating process, it’s important to remember one universal truth: that, for most of us, the very best kind of driver’s car is the one you can afford. It’s the one you can justify to yourself. Often it’s also the one that suits the kind of driving you’ve got in mind for it; that will best serve your practical purposes, too; and which makes you feel content and secure - and sufficiently unselfconscious - to want to own and be seen in it.
It’s that particular happy real-world compromise that the cars in this top ten chart are intended to address. The sport saloon is a time-honoured vehicle concept too little written about these days, because upper-level ‘super’ saloons are easier to write headlines about or to get mind-blowing laptimes out of.
Generally, sport saloons are less powerful than super saloons but they’re also more affordable, more usable, often more compact, less highly strung and easier to enjoy on public roads. Many are four-wheel drive, making them suited to being driven every day, all year round and almost wherever you fancy. Some are more understated – stealthy, some might say – than others. And yet the very best still count as absolutely first-class driver’s cars based on the involvement they provide and how often they can be enjoyed.
Stand by to find out which fast four-doors deliver for a smaller outlay.
As you'd expect, it's the tarmac-shredding and sideways-smoking M3 that steals all the BMW 3 Series headlines, but the recently facelifted M340i xDrive is arguably a more rounded proposition for most. The combination of its 369bhp turbocharged straight six engine, its agile all-wheel drive handling, its roomy, well-equipped and solidly hewn interior and its BMW-brand desirability make it so complete as a sport saloon that – as the 3-Series has for so long – it deserves to be the default choice in this class.
With adaptively damped M Sport suspension as standard, the car has specially tuned suspension geometry and axle kinematics to take it above the already high dynamic standards of a regular 3-Series. Our testers report that, while it’s got a firmer and shorter-feeling ride than other Threes and feels more aggressively firm over certain sorts of surface, it remains a very livable and civilised compromise well-enough suited to the rigours of the everyday.
The car adopts a standard torque-vectoring locking rear differential, too, in order to make even better use of its rear-biased xDrive driveline; and that adds just a touch of throttle-adjustable cornering poise to the car’s handling, depending on selected driving mode. The car’s fast, smooth and sweet-revving when you want it to be, then; but can feel surefooted in bad weather, or lithe and lively if you prefer. The price has crept up to nearly £60,000, but its a pill worth swallowing when you consider that the M340i really has, and does, it all.