In most cars of this type, there’s a caveat when it comes to practicality – namely, that anything the saloon can do, the hatch can usually do better. Not so with our 3 Fastback, though. At 419 litres, its boot is 55 litres bigger than the regular 3 hatchback’s. It’s not as overtly practical, because its shape is hindered by the narrow load opening, but fitting in bulky items is a breeze and two of our number – Jim Holder and Matt Saunders – both returned from family holidays in the 3 with praise for its big boot.
We’ve also been impressed with the fuel economy. The rather modest 104bhp of our diesel engine means the Fastback is never sporting – in fact, it can feel rather gutless if you’re overtaking on the motorway – but the upside is great fuel economy. We were getting more than 50mpg within days of our ownership, and a test high of 56.4mpg without trying too hard tells you that we’ve spent little time at the pumps. There’s also an impressive CO2 figure of just 99g/km, so you’ll pay nothing in car tax under the current system if you’re a private buyer and just 19% if you’re looking at one as a company car.
Refinement isn’t a strong suit, though. Even when it’s warmed up, the 1.5-litre diesel engine sends vibrations into the cabin, and its vocal note – along with wind and road noise – never really disappears. In what is pitched as a junior executive cruiser and sits in the same market as the Volkswagen Jetta and Audi A3 saloon, that’s a disappointment. If it were me, I’d choose the more powerful 2.2-litre diesel, which is not only far punchier but also more refined and doesn’t carry too much of an emissions or fuel economy penalty.
I’ve enjoyed reverting to a manual gearbox after my previous longtermer, an automatic Jaguar XE. The six-speed ’box that comes as standard is pleasant to use and feels nicely mechanical in its operation. Its short shift action make getting the most from the diesel motor easy.
Over numerous long journeys, I’ve become very familiar with the 3’s interior, and even next to newgeneration rivals that have become roomier and more luxurious inside, the 3 can still hold its own well. The seats are supportive and comfortable, the infotainment system is easy to use, has a great-looking screen and benefits from being controlled by both touch and a rotary dial, and there’s plenty of space.
It isn’t all plain sailing, though. Some of the interior plastics look a little low-rent for this price, and the dashboard doesn’t have the same visual flair as, say, the latest Vauxhall Astra’s. And although a head-up display is available, the fact that it’s presented on a flimsy section of plastic, as opposed to the windscreen, dampens the premium effect.