SHARES in the company, a bonus scheme and private healthcare are all great perks for staff, but they’re not tangible assets.
While the payslip will show that an employee is doing very well, thanks very much, none of these can be seen by others.
Which is why a company car still remains the greatest way to show fellow workers that you’re on the up. And no car fills this role better than BMW’s 3-series – parking one of these in the company car park demonstrates a certain status.
However, there are varying degrees of status in the 3-series range, and the 318i tested here is first division football compared to the delights of the Premiership in a 330d.
The 318i is the cheapest 3-series, coming in at a whisker under £20,000 and offering a gateway to the delights of BMW motoring for junior executives. While the diesel models are the most popular with corporate buyers, the 318i offers lower company car tax bills due to its much lower front-end price.
And, to be honest, it’s a better car to drive than the underwhelming 318d. The latter, unusually for a diesel, has a lack of mid-range performance and feels strangled, whereas the 318i seems much livelier.
It’s still no ball of fire as the (confusingly badged) 2.0-litre unit produces just 129bhp, although it is free revving and if you keep the revs up, performance can be fairly brisk.
Naturally, being a 3-series, the ride and handling are first rate, with a rear-wheel drive chassis that always feels beautifully balanced and a ride which is on the firm side to offer sporty dynamics.
Despite the lack of oomph, you can still enjoy driving the 318i because everything feels so right – the gearbox is slick, the handling confidence-inspiring and the steering feel spot-on.
Compared to its rivals, nothing can hold a stick to the overall feeling you get behind the wheel of a 3-series. And it’s just as well that the driving experience is so good, as it will take your mind off the sparse interior.
Despite its £20,0000 price tag, the 318i isn’t over-burdened with toys – the wheels are steel rims with trims over while inside it’s the bare essentials such as air-con and electric windows.
Despite its shortcomings, the 318i is still a badge of status, and this is why the 3-series range continues to sell so strongly, and why its residuals continue to remain so strong.
P11D value: £19,807
CO2 emissions (g/km): 175
BIK % of P11D in 2006: 22%
Graduated VED rate: £150
Insurance group: 12
Combined mpg: 38.7 CAP RV (3yr/60k): £8,700/44% Monthly lease (3yr/60k) £351
We don’t like:
THREE RIVALS TO CONSIDER
THE Audi A4 looks extremely good value, being the cheapest and also in top-spec S line trim. However, its 1.6-litre engine produces 101bhp, so it’s no ball of fire. The Alfa is in entry-level trim but offers 160bhp, so it’s the quickest here, while the top-spec Honda has 153bhp.
EMISSIONS AND TAX RATES
THE BMW offers the lowest company car tax bills, costing a 22% taxpayer £80 a month in benefit-in-kind tax. The Audi is two bands higher and will cost the same driver £87, just £1 less than the Honda. The Alfa is well off the pace, costing £101 a month.
ANOTHER sector win for the 318i, which will be the cheapest in terms of service, maintenance and repair costs over three years/60,000 miles. Expect it to cost a fleet £1,836 over that period – just ahead of the Honda. The A4 and 159 are both likely to cost more than £2,000.
318i: 3.06 (ppm) £1,836 (60,000 mile total)
Accord: 3.28 £1,968
159: 3.40 £2,040
A4: 3.52 £2,112
BMW claims the 318i will return 38.7mpg on the combined cycle, which equates to a fuel bill of £6,810 over 60,000 miles. The Honda is next best on 36.7mpg and the Audi follows on 36.2. The Alfa returns 32.5mpg, but it is the most powerful car here.
318i: 11.35 (ppm) £6,810 (60,000 mile total)
Accord: 11.97 £7,182
A4: 12.14 £7,284
159: 13.52 £8,112
FOR a car which sells in such big numbers, the 3-series’ residuals are very strong. CAP estimates it will retain 44% of its cost new after three years/60, 000 miles, leaving a cash lost figure of nearly £10,800. The Audi will retain 40%, the Honda 36% and the Alfa just 33%.
318i: 17.97 (ppm) £10,782 (60,00 mile total)
A4: 19.45 £11,670
Accord: 21.08 £12,648
159: 21.94 £13,164
THE BMW wins every section, dominating this wholelife cost comparison and proving an easy winner. At 32.38ppm it will cost a fleet nearly £19,500 over three years/60,000 miles. Second spot goes to the Audi, which is nearly 3ppm more expensive.
318i: 32.38 (ppm) £19,428 (60,000 mile total)
A4: 35.11 £21,066
Accord: 36.33 £21,798
159: 38.86 £23,316
DESPITE not having the level of standard equipment offered by its rivals, the BMW has plenty of other talents to outweigh this shortcoming. The 318i is the best car to drive of the four models featured here and also makes the most sense from a fleet manager’s point of view thanks to its big wholelife costs advantage. Factor in the lowest company car tax bill for drivers and the 3-series’ victory is secured.