The high volume is, of course, testament to its desirability and our saloon, with 18-inch alloys and M-styling kit, stands out from 3-series models lower down the range as well as equivalent rivals like the Mercedes C-class and Audi A4.
We believe the extra expense of the Sport is justified, even though the ES model – with standard sports suspension, CD player and a few other goodies – is good value for a fleet looking for minimum outlay for keeping the driver happy. However, the 3-series has been drawing attention to itself in a different way over the last couple of weeks. A loud squeaking noise repeatedly made itself heard when pulling away from a standstill.
It seemed to squeak for each revolution of one of the rear wheels.
It would happen when setting off after the handbrake had been applied, whether that was waiting at traffic lights or a momentary pause at junctions.
Once the car reached any kind of speed, the squeak would disappear, only to happen again after applying the handbrake.
We contacted our local BMW dealer, Sycamores of Peterborough, and a technician was available to take a ride in the car at our convenience before booking it in for an inspection.
The technician decided the noise was coming from the offside rear wheel and the car was delivered to the dealer two days later to solve the problem.
Collecting the car later in the day, we were informed that the rear brakes had been stripped down, cleaned and lubricated, and the noise had been eliminated.
Well, it was quiet for about a day, but arriving home the following night while crawling around a right-hand bend in suburbia at 20mph it reappeared, although not as loud or as severe as before.
At the time of writing, we are in the process of contacting Sycamores again to see if they can take another look at the car.
Otherwise, the 320d has behaved impeccably. When driving it, you feel more in tune with the car and the road than in any of its rivals.
Previous testers have remarked that the 49.6mpg official fuel consumption figure on the combined cycle was some way off with an average test figure of about 40mpg, and might improve as more miles were covered.
This is nonsense, of course, as my two tanks at about 45mpg will testify. I would be more inclined to blame heavy right feet rather than a tight engine. However, 45mpg is a little out of sync with the trip computer's reading of 49mpg.
Company car tax bill 2003/04 (40% tax-payer): £153 per month