Fleet News

BMW 325 ti SE Compact

BMW

Review

HOW many people select a car with the fortnight family holiday in mind, rather than the 50 weeks a year of single occupancy driving?

Road planners and environmentalists must despair at the number of cars on the road with enough rear legroom for a family of teenagers, and a boot capable of swallowing a family's luggage, yet no one but the driver inside.

Company car drivers may have reached a rung on the corporate ladder where the badge on the bonnet should hail from Germany, but they don't necessarily need a giant autobahn express.

What these drivers need and want is a prestige car with no sacrifice in performance, and if there is a chance of maintaining status while cutting benefit-in- kind tax bills then so much the better.

Hence the BMW Compact and the Mercedes-Benz Sports Coupe. Neither car feels small from the driver's seat and neither car represents a compromise in terms of handling and performance. Both models in this test could certainly show a clean pair of heels to almost any lower-medium sector model.

Up against them is the Saab 9-3, which is finally heading for replacement in September. The ageing 9-3 struggles to compete in the company of BMW and Mercedes-Benz in terms of ride and handling, but its idiosyncratic interior styling and electrifying performance from its turbocharged petrol engines have helped it punch above its weight.

In price and acceleration the three rivals follow an orderly procession, led by the Saab 9-3 2.0 Aero Coupe as both the fastest at 6.9 seconds for 0-60mph and cheapest at £22,046 on-the-road. Sandwiched in the middle is the BMW 325ti SE Compact at £22,470 and seven seconds, with the Mercedes-Benz C230 Kompressor Sports Coupe bringing up the rear at £23,035 and eight seconds.

The Mercedes-Benz turns the table, however, in the residual value stakes, retaining a forecast £10,250 or 44% of its price after three years and 60,000 miles, according to CAP Monitor, compared to £9,575 and 43% for the BMW, while the Saab lags well behind at £7,275 and 33%. But on a cash lost per mile basis the Compact is a clear winner thanks to its lower list price, while the 9-3 labours well behind, almost three pence per mile off the pace.

The Saab leads the field in terms of service and maintenance costs, with a projected spend of 2.91ppm, belying the Swedish marque's reputation for high parts prices. Between the two Germans, the BMW just edges ahead at 3.83ppm compared the Mercedes-Benz's 2.91ppm.

Yet taking it in turns to win categories, the Compact comes out on top in terms of forecast fuel spend at 12.04ppm, a smidgen ahead of the Saab on 12.16ppm and significantly ahead of the thirstier Sports Coupe on 13.39ppm.

With higher fuel consumption directly linked to higher carbon dioxide emissions and therefore higher company car tax, a 40% tax- payer would make considerable savings by selecting the Compact or 9-3 (both incurring benefit charges of 25% of their P11D prices) over the Mercedes-Benz (29%).

This means the Saab driver would have an extra £4 in his or her pay packet at the end of the month compared to the BMW driver, who in turn would have an extra £36 per month compared to the Mercedes-Benz driver.

Overall, this number crunching gives the edge to the BMW, with a forecast 36.02ppm cost, followed by the Mercedes-Benz on 38.04ppm, with the Saab bringing up the rear on 38.63ppm.

Fleet verdict

In run-out phase, the Saab 9-3 cannot stand the heat in this compact executive kitchen, although with dealers likely to be offering extremely attractive terms to shift final models, it may prove more cost effective than our figures suggest.

But there is not much chance of a significant discount with either BMW or Mercedes-Benz, which leaves the Compact as the comfortable fleet winner. It has neither the exclusivity nor attractiveness of the Sports Coupe, but a lead of 2ppm in its running costs and a clear company car tax saving secure it top spot.

Behind the wheel

SO diesel is the sensible company car choice, knocking petrol-engined rivals into a cocked hat in terms of both tax liability and torque?

Well yes, but it is also true that some people don't like diesel, but revel in the sound of a straight six petrol motor, and don't count their benefit-in-kind tax bills as their number one priority in life.

Enter stage left the BMW 325 Ti SE Compact. While cooking versions of the 3-series fail to deliver the performance to match their exemplary ride and handling, the 2.5-litre Compact has no such shortcomings thanks to the 192 horses nestling under its bonnet.

The benchmark 60mph sprint appears after just seven seconds from standstill - a significant one second quicker than the Mercedes-Benz Sports Coupe and just 0.1 second behind the turbocharged Saab 9-3. While this benchmark sprint is largely irrelevant (it entails dumping the clutch at high revs which is hardly a sympathetic way to treat your car), it is still comforting to know that you have the power not to be upstaged in the traditional traffic light grand prix.

The BMW's short-throw five speed gearbox makes it easy to sustain revs, although relatively short gear ratios spell higher revs and intrusive engine noise at motorway speeds.

Yet the Compact can cope with significantly more power than the 2.5-litre engine delivers, which makes it such a compelling drive.

On familiar A-roads, I found myself 18 inches closer to the curb on left-hand bends than in any other car I have driven, thanks to the go-kart like directness of the Compact's steering and the car's remarkable balance.

Rear-wheel drive cars are supposed to be prone to oversteer, but despite my spirited best efforts I failed to unsettle the Compact.

Yet for me the BMW loses its 'perfect package' status the moment you leave the driver's seat. In design terms, the rear end of the 3-series saloon looks as if it has been has been amputated with all the finesse of one of Nelson's naval surgeons, and it would lose to the C-class Sports Coupe and Saab 9-3 in a beauty pageant.

Surprisingly, the abruptly curtailed boot does have reasonable carrying capacity, equivalent to a lower-medium sector car, but don't expect anyone over the age of 12 to find enough leg room in the back.

Driving verdict

The vast majority of journeys are made with just the driver in the car. If those journeys are on A-roads, the 325 Ti SE Compact is a blistering car to drive, with marvellous acceleration and stunning poise.

On the plus side, a benefit charge of 25% of its P11D price means mid-level business mileage drivers will see no increase in their company car tax during this financial year.

On the downside, the stumpy back end spoils a car that struggles in the styling stakes. Personally, I can't foresee a day when I would tire of driving the 325 Compact, but I would try to park in spaces where I could approach the car from the front rather than behind to avoid that rear view. BMW 325 ti SE Compact HOW many people select a car with the fortnight family holiday in mind, rather than the 50 weeks a year of single occupancy driving?

Road planners and environmentalists must despair at the number of cars on the road with enough rear legroom for a family of teenagers, and a boot capable of swallowing a family's luggage, yet no one but the driver inside.

Company car drivers may have reached a rung on the corporate ladder where the badge on the bonnet should hail from Germany, but they don't necessarily need a giant autobahn express.

What these drivers need and want is a prestige car with no sacrifice in performance, and if there is a chance of maintaining status while cutting benefit-in- kind tax bills then so much the better.

Hence the BMW Compact and the Mercedes-Benz Sports Coupe. Neither car feels small from the driver's seat and neither car represents a compromise in terms of handling and performance. Both models in this test could certainly show a

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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