Is the BMW 3-Series still the car to beat?
There are serious alternatives to the mighty BMW 320d. Question is: do you dare to be different?
Posted: 11 Jul 2012
Audi and Mercedes are the obvious competitors to the BMW 320d, in the shape of the A4 and C-Class. Just so’s you know...
It’s a bit obvious, isn’t it? New BMW must face the competition from perennial analogues Mercedes-Benz and Audi. In this case, the C220 CDi and the A4 2.0 TDi. And that makes perfect sense. In fact, the comparative figures are eerie, to the point where it would be impossible to choose one from the bald stats unless you have an incredibly specific set of needs. All three are well-built, wear desirable badges, cover off the size/pace/price wish list, while keeping the predatory smile off the taxman’s face. But neither the Audi nor the Merc offer anything significantly different from the 320d, and they fall behind it in more subjective areas. The new Audi A4, for instance, is a very capable car, but manages somehow to scrape away any pretence of character, leaving it feeling hollow. There are no gaping holes in its armoury, but it doesn’t encourage like the BMW. Similarly, even though the Mercedes is softer and more relaxed than the Audi, the latest generation of 320d has managed to combine both ride quality and B-road encouragement, eclipsing part of the C-Class’s appeal. And while the Audi and the Merc both have serviceable and neat cabins, the 3-Series has subtly moved the game on once again – leaving the other two just that bit behind.
Bluntly, neither is also as much fun as the 320d to use. The A4’s front-wheel drive means that it never quite manages what might be regarded as dynamic fun, and the Mercedes lopes along briskly rather than encourages. It’s not all about attack modes and sport buttons, either – you can feel the difference throughout the driving experience; the 320d has an edge all the way through. A thin edge, admittedly, but in a class so keenly contested, that’s all it needs to remain the best – just – of the Big Three.