And when the person being interviewed is a 'go-getter' aiming to take the first step up the executive ladder, mentioning the fact that the car in question will be German is sure to have him or her signing on the dotted line.
Such is the lure of German cars in the company car parc that they can, in certain cases, get away with having a pretty base level of standard equipment – it is the badge that is king.
Our trio of models on test here fall into two distinct camps: the high-specification Audi A3 and the entry-level BMW 320td Compact and the Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI Sports Coupe.
All three have the right image backed up by the right badge on their noses, but which one is the best bet for a decision-maker looking to include vehicles of this type in a fleet policy.
Audi's A3 is the newest kid on the block and has only recently gone on sale in the UK. As well as a sharp new set of clothes, it also has the option of a Euro IV-compliant diesel engine which avoids the 3% benefit-in-kind tax penalty for diesel.
We have opted to test this engine in high-spec Sport trim, costing £19,180 on-the-road. Despite being in Sport trim the A3 is the cheapest car of our trio on front-end price, undercutting the BMW by £570 and the Mercedes-Benz by a mammoth £2,460.
But surely the Mercedes will make up this gap when it comes to residual values? After all, the three-pointed star is almost a guarantee of rock solid RVs. Well, not in this case because the Sports Coupe has the lowest RV prediction of our trio. CAP estimates the Mercedes will retain 39% of its cost new after three years/ 60,000 miles, compared with 42% for the BMW and an impressive 45% for the new Audi.
These facts and figures give the Audi a decisive lead in depreciation costs (the largest individual sector of our running costs comparison).
The Audi is also cheapest on servicing, maintenance and repair costs although in the service and maintenance sections the BMW will win out because of the five year/60,000 miles free servicing package offered on all diesel-engined 3-series models.
And with the highest combined fuel economy figure (51.4mpg) the Audi also wins the fuel costs section, outperforming the BMW on 49.6mpg and the Mercedes on 45.6mpg.
It all adds up to a convincing win for the Audi, costing 26.77 pence per mile to run over three years and 60,000 miles. More than three pence per mile back is the BMW on 29.93ppm while the Mercedes is well adrift here on 33.45ppm. Add into the mix the fact that the Audi is Euro IV compliant only strengthens its case: road tax is £115 a year (£20 cheaper than the rivals) and company car tax bills for drivers will be based on 15% of P11d price for the 2003/04 financial year, compared with 18% for the BMW and 19% for the Mercedes-Benz.
In pure financial terms the Audi takes an easy victory here, but what are the cars like to drive and, more importantly, which badge will appeal most to your drivers?
Audi A3 2.0 TDi Sport
All-new A3 makes a strong case for itself with competitive pricing, plenty of equipment and, for fleet drivers, a Euro IV- compliant diesel engine.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £19,040
CO2 emissions (g/km): 149
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 15%
Graduated VED rate: £115
Insurance group: 11
Combined mpg: 51.4
CAP Monitor residual value: £8,475/45%
Depreciation (16.45 pence per mile x 60,000): £9,870
Maintenance (2.79 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,674
Fuel (7.53 pence per mile x 60,000): £4,518
Wholelife cost (26.77 pence per mile x 60,000): £16,062
Typical contract hire rate: £392 per month
STYLING may divide opinion, but under the skin this is pure 3-series which means fine handling and strong performance from the 148bhp diesel.
standard car (P11D value): £19,590
CO2 emissions (g/km): 153
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £135
Insurance group: 13
Combined mpg: 49.6
CAP Monitor residual value: £8,250/42%
Depreciation (18.26 pence per mile x 60,000): £10,956
Maintenance (3.87 pence per mile x 60,000): £2,322
Fuel (7.80 pence per mile x 60,000): £4,680 Wholelife cost (29.93 pence per mile x 60,000): £17,958
Typical contract hire rate: £388 per month
Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI Sports Coupe
LIFESTYLE coupe version of C-class range brings the three-pointed star into the compact premium executive sector. Fine diesel engine, but equipment is stingy.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £21,480
CO2 emissions (g/km): 161
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 19%
Graduated VED rate: £135
Insurance group: 14
Combined mpg: 45.6
CAP Monitor residual value: £8,300/39%
Depreciation (21.26 pence per mile x 60,000): £12,756
Maintenance (3.83 pence per mile x 60,000): £2,298
Fuel (8.36 pence per mile x 60,000): £5,016
Wholelife cost (33.45 pence per mile x 60,000): £20,070 Typical contract hire rate: £460 per month
Audi A3 2.0 TDI Sport
WITH an all-new car the A3 is Audi's best chance of matching or bettering its German rivals.
Viewing the car from the front shows it at its best. The headlamps narrow towards the radiator grille, looking almost as if the A3 is sneering.
The rear light clusters are not so aggressive – in fact the whole rear end has more of a generic Volkswagen Group appearance about it.
Inside it is typically Audi with the finest fit and finish anywhere in the industry. There is a robust feel about the whole interior, while new touches include a move away from push-button climate control with some individual chrome trimmed knobs to adjust the temperature.
The interior is roomier than I imagined from looking at the outside, with plenty of room for four and decent headroom and knee room in the rear.
Also new is the 138bhp 2.0-litre diesel, which makes its debut in the A3 and is Euro IV compliant. This means it avoids the 3% diesel penalty for benefit-in-kind tax. It certainly makes the A3 feel quick, with 236lb-ft of torque on offer from a remarkably low 1,750rpm. Accelerating in this car feels faster than the 9.5 seconds claimed for the sprint from 0-62mph suggests.
It could be that it has shorter gearing than its rivals, resulting in an extra gearchange before 62mph.
The new A3 is a fun car to drive, with taut road holding and a firm-ish ride, making light work of B roads.
However, the fully electronic power steering (a fuel-saving measure) cannot match the feel of rival hydraulic units, resulting in guesswork to figure out what the front wheels are doing when being driven hard.
BMW has shaken up the 3-series range for the 2004 model year, and the Compact is included in the revisions, with the most obvious gains being a six-speed manual transmission and different rear light clusters.
And if you choose a diesel 3-series you also gain the advantage of free servicing for five years and 60,000 miles.
The 320td entered the contest with the likelihood of being the driver's choice, with its front wheels left only to the job of steering the car and the sublime handling which is inherent in the 3-series.
Its 2.0-litre common rail turbodiesel is one of the finest on the market and with 148bhp it is the most powerful car here. It also edges out the A3 on torque with 243lb-ft, although it doesn't peak until 2,000rpm. The 320td has the fastest acceleration from 0-62mph (8.7 seconds) although it doesn't feel as punchy as the A3 in the mid-range. However, the BMW feels happiest to be driven enthusiastically, with nearly roll-free cornering combined with the most communicative steering in this class.
It's just such a shame that the styling is so controversial. While the conservative lines of the saloons and coupes have broad appeal, the bold and edgy Compact, particularly around the front and rear lights, will never have the same following.
Like the Audi, it is surprising just how much room there is inside, although in terms of luggage capacity and rear headroom, the A3 is still king. If you really enjoy your driving, then the Compact will probably be the first choice, no matter how much better the rivals might be in other areas, and it would be difficult to criticise a driver for choosing if the rivals were close on costs.
Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI Sports Coupe
THE sawn-off C-class feels less of a Sports Coupe and more of a comfortable saloon than the other two cars here.
From the driver's seat it is almost identical to the C-class saloon and feels more a relaxed cruiser to drive than a sports hatchback.
The common rail diesel engine has plenty of power and is relaxed on the motorway. At 232lb-ft at 1,800rpm the Mercedes is on a par with the Audi for torque, but it is hampered by also being the heaviest car of our test trio.
It really is a pleasure to drive the Sports Coupe, but it does not feel as well equipped to deal with challenging roads as the other two.
With an entry-level Mercedes and BMW against a Sport specification Audi A3, there can be the occasional disparity between the three in what you get for the money. The Audi has a little more in the way of standard equipment, but you still pay £100 for a CD player in the Compact and an eye-watering £350 in the Mercedes. And in the Mercedes, option prices tend to be more expensive.
Air conditioning (climate control is the only sort offered) is £1,145, leather seats are £1,250 and metallic paint is £600, compared with £895, £495 and £1,200 in the BMW and free, £385 and £1,060 in the A3.
Alloy wheels are also absent from the standard equipment list, although they are featured in the SE pack which adds an extra £1,300 to the price of the car and also includes climate control, metallic paint and a CD/radio.
Overall, the Sports Coupe is more Coupe and less Sports than the other two cars. It is still thoroughly pleasant to drive, but with the word 'sport' in its title, it seems to be missing the point.
IF this contest was judged just on the merits of driving and living with each car, it would probably result in a narrow win for the BMW over the new Audi A3. But the running cost advantage of the Audi is so great that the areas where it falls down against the Compact are too small to deny it victory. It still offers punchy performance, more room than the others and is much less expensive to run.