Perhaps one of the factors that makes it seem such a short time is that our 320d still feels like new. The sand-coloured leather seats are still in fine condition considering someone has been sitting in the driving seat for the past 300 days or so, there are no squeaks or rattles and the dark blue metallic paint combined with 18-inch M alloy wheels (standard size as part of the Sport pack) still gives the 320d a presence on the road that exceeds its size and familiarity.
It's true that no other car in the premium upper-medium sector offers more driver enjoyment than the 3-series and the past 16,000 miles have only reaffirmed the fact.
Early last summer, after the first few weeks, it became obvious why BMW insists on rear-wheel drive and near 50/50 weight distribution for all but its four-wheel drive vehicles.
No other car in this class allows the driver to feel as though he or she is an extension of the car itself, nor responds so intuitively to the driver no matter how severe or delicate the input.
The sports suspension and 18-inch alloy wheels as part of the Sport specification did mean a compromise in ride quality as you tend to feel bumps in the road more, although the trade-off is better grip and less body-roll in corners. However, it still seemed more forgiving than the firm set-up in an Audi A4.
When I chose the specification, I did not foresee two of the complaints from other drivers after their stint behind the wheel. Our editor, John Maslen, did not like the reflected glare in the windscreen caused by the area of dashboard that matched the sandy interior trim colour.
While most of the top of the dashboard was black, the sandy edges at the base of the windscreen caused a distraction for our esteemed editor.
And, as part of the Sport specification, the 320d came with 'anthracite' headlining which some people thought too gloomy. I tried explaining this trait was also used by other manufacturers on their sportier models, but there's no pleasing some people!
Our car also came after the introduction of a six-speed manual transmission, but before the introduction of Euro IV diesel and a single CD player as standard.
We added the Harman/Kardon hi-fi upgrade, as well as a CD autochanger, while the leather trim and smart metallic paint colour can be expected to help the 320d retain more of its value than one without.
The 320d has scored well for performance and refinement, and while it was initially difficult to reach the official combined fuel consumption figure of 49.6mpg (early readings were in the region of 35-38mpg) it has recently settled on about 47mpg, which we think is a reasonable compromise.
It hasn't proved costly to run. Its first service was free as part of BMW's free servicing for diesels offer on the 3-series. Last autumn, the windscreen was hit by a stone thrown up by a lorry travelling on the A1 which was bad enough to warrant a replacement. The replacement windscreen from Autoglass was priced at £302.64 and the work was carried out at our offices.
The only other problem was a squeak from the rear brakes at low speeds caused by the handbrake. It was promptly worked on by Sycamores BMW Peterborough and, while it initially threatened to come back, it disappeared soon after.
If the 320d has done anything at Fleet News, it has changed our perception of a familiar premium car, which we might have taken for granted had we not spent so much time with it.
It really is as good to drive as people say – measurably better than the Jaguar X-type, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-class – and is still a highly desirable user-chooser vehicle.
Total mileage: 16,012
Company car tax bill 2004/05 (40% tax-payer): £165 per month
Power (bhp/rpm): 150/4,000
Torque (lb-ft/rpm): 243/2,000
Adjustable steering column
Driver and passenger front and side airbags
Front head airbags
Driver's seat height adjustment
Electric door mirrors
Four electric windows
Dynamic stability control
Front passenger airbag
Heated door mirrors
Heated washer jets
Front centre arm rest
Park distance contro
l Front foglights
Auto air conditioning
Single CD (£100) now standard
Montana leather upholstery (£800)
Rear side airbags (£250)
Orient blue metallic paint (£495)
BMW 6-CD changer (£250)
Harmon Kardon hi-fi speakers (£650)
What the team thinks
OF all the cars on the long-term test fleet, the little Beemer has been the most sought-after of them all in the past year.
It oozes style, it has proved a rock-solid performer and is the sort of car any fleet driver would be proud to be seen in. In short, the BMW 320d has it all in fleet terms.
A class performer all round. It is stylish, practical and quick off the mark for a diesel, although I found the clutch to be rather on the heavy side and the suspension a little too hard.
WITH most cars I have driven, there has always been a little niggle about something or other, but in my eyes with the BMW there are no faults. It has classy styling and a gutsy diesel powerplant combined with economical fuel consumption. The prestige BMW badge is also a terrific plus point.
Some in the fleet industry reckon the 3-series is ageing and its massive volume sales harm its premium image. I admit I was starting to lean that way but the 320d has changed my mind and proved there is plenty of life in this model yet.
It's still the class of the field – solid, secure and swift. There are few better fleet cars than this.
For a combination of performance and fuel economy, this is a fantastic car. You can forgive the offset pedals, but I didn't like the light dashboard reflecting in the windscreen, so choose interior colours carefully.