For as far back as any of us care to remember, the 3 Series has always been the one that enthusiasts could rely on to provide first-class ride quality served up with stellar handling characteristics. Indeed, if anyone were to opine that ride and handling were diametrically opposed objectives, you could do a lot worse than give them a few hours in a 3 Series to set them right.
Now, the void between the BMW and everything else in the class is, if anything, wider than ever, although at first it may not seem that way.
Drive one back to back with a Mercedes C-Class and you might conclude that the Benz steered just as sweetly as the BMW and offered equal poise over changing surfaces. The real differences only emerge when you up the rate of effort from a casual amble to a serious drive.
Then, the ease with which the BMW makes even its finest opponents look slack and slow-witted is something close to startling. At the point where you’d expect any family car designed as much for comfort as speed to start exhibiting the limitations of that design, the 3 Series is just getting into its stride.
Its body control and the accuracy with which steering inputs are translated onto the road would shame many an out-and-out sports car, let alone other family holdalls. And, it should be said now, you do not need the sports suspension option to enjoy these benefits.
Indeed, if it's ride quality that matters, you should stay on the standard springs. They let the car breathe with the road and, unless you’re at track speed, they have no ill effect on the handling. In such guise you’ll drive not only the best-handling car in the class, but the best-riding one, too. At times its ability to soak up long wave undulations at speed give the impression that the car is air sprung.
Four-wheel drive versions should only be looked at by those with a genuine need for one, rather than an ill-defined sense that it might somehow be better. There are no stability issues for the standard car in all weather conditions, save those in which you’d be better off not driving any car at all.
If you live somewhere inaccessible and prone to being cut off, it may make sense, but bear in mind not only the extra outlay, but also the additional running costs.