I'm not one to be bothered about badge prestige and the importance of being seen in the right vehicle and so was not about to be won over purely by this vehicle's badge. It wouldn't be too off the mark to say the BMW 3-series' success has kept the car maker in clover for the past few years, with sales outstripping anything in the sector by a country mile.
So is this success justified in the mind of this tester, who is more accustomed to driving a Ford Focus or Volkswagen Polo? First impressions are as good as they can get. The quality of construction is exemplary.
You will be hard- pressed to find a vehicle by any manufacturer that has been put together with such precision. The panel fit is so good and the interior so well put together that you'd think it was watertight. Of particular note is the front fascia. The appearance of the controls will do little to inspire the poet in you, but you just know every dial and switch could well outlive your children's children.
Driving the 3-series reveals it to be strongest when cruising. A motorway haul from Peterborough to a little beyond Stirling in Scotland (300 miles in all) proved the road holding, no-nonsense power delivery through the six-speed transmission and the effectiveness of the brakes to be top class, all couched in one of the most comfortable driving environments available. I haven't experienced the like since driving the Volvo XC70 to France in the summer.
There have to be downsides when surrounded by such excellence and here they come: finding reverse gear must be a job for anyone except a World War II tank driver. It brought to mind my experience of driving a Vauxhall Calibra, owned by my then boss more than 10 years ago. I ended up pushing it out of its car parking space one day. It's not that bad in the BMW, but until you know where to find it, reverse gear can feel like trying to dislocate a ball and socket joint.
A previous long term test also highlighted a squeaking from one of the rear wheels which local dealer Sycamores appeared to have fixed (Fleet News November 6, 2003). The noise has returned but at the moment is so intermittent and so rare that I'm not worrying about it yet. If it gets worse the car will have to be looked at.
Company car tax bill 2004/05 (40% tax-payer): £154 per month