Usually, we road testers try to come up with a witty couple of sentences to draw you, the reader, in. But now that Steve has set a precedent I'm going to follow suit and begin this test by drawing your attention to a steering wheel. Not just any steering wheel, but the fantastic M Sports version from BMW's performance arm as fitted to our latest long termer, a BMW 320d Sport.
This wheel is the most perfect item I have encountered: its diameter is just so right and the rim so perfectly chunky that it feels as if it was specificially designed for my hands.
You may think this slightly trivial but the steering wheel is an often overlooked part of a car – after all it is where our sensitive hands interact with the car. And when a car is as good as this BMW, that feel-good steering wheel helps you enjoy the impressive display of driving dynamics and engineering that have been incorporated into the 3-series.
From brilliantly weighted steering to a firm but not uncomfortable ride, excellent handling and strong mid-range performance, the 320d's talents run deep. In fact they run so deep that it is hard to find fault.
And fault-finding becomes even more difficult when you analyse this car from a fleet decision-maker's point of view.
Despite offering 150bhp, the 320d emits just 153g/km of carbon dioxide, meaning it falls into the lowest possible company car tax band for a diesel-engined car that is not Euro IV compliant.
It also benefits from a special offer that covers all diesel 3 and current 5-series models. The package covers oil and inspection services, brake pads, discs and fluid, wiper blades and all labour charges.
Although this offer was due to expire at the end of June, BMW has extended the offer, meaning our car is covered for five years and 60,000 miles. Our car is in Sport trim, priced at £25,380 on-the-road. This includes the afore-mentioned sports steering wheel, subtle body styling, a set of gorgeous alloy wheels and little M badges dotted about the cabin.
In addition, we have raided the extensive options list and added a few extra little luxuries, including a six-disc CD changer (£250) and Harman Kardon hi-fi upgrade (£650).
And to complete the package, we have chosen a stunning shade of dark metallic blue for the body (£495) and supple sand-coloured leather interior (£800). This brings our car up to £27,575 which is probably getting a bit excessive. However, it really does look the business.
Initial impressions suggest the 320d is going to cope just fine with the daily grind and once the engine loosens up, fuel economy should look a little more healthy too.
Company car tax bill 2003/04 (40% taxpayer): £151 per month