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Awards 2012 - Business Car of the Year: BMW 1-series

Date: 24 January 2012

As downsizing becomes the norm for fleets, it seems only fitting that our readers have eschewed traditional upper medium and executive models in favour of a lower medium hatchback as Business Car of the Year.

Our overall winner, the BMW 1-series, offers a sublime blend of low running costs, impressive performance and corporate desirability. It's great to drive, but it's also refined, practical and easy to live with, despite its nominal proportions.

Perhaps more importantly, the 1-series proves that even manufacturers of successful cars can't afford to rest on their laurels, and the ones that refuse to sit pretty, choose to move with the times and react positively to criticism remain at the top of their game.

The previous 1-series, which arrived in 2004, broke the mould as the only mainstream lower medium car with a rear-wheel drive layout - a big draw for keen drivers. Its Achilles' heel was a lack of space for rear passengers and an uncomfortable ride, but BMW has addressed those issues with the latest version, which is much roomier and more comfortable.

The second-generation car measures up at 83mm longer and 14mm wider than its forebear, which translates into 20mm of extra legroom for rear passengers and a 360-litre boot - that's 30 litres more than before and a whole 44 litres bigger than the class-leading Ford Focus. The rest of the interior is exceptionally well built, too.

Running costs are at the core of what makes a car appealing to fleets and the 1-series certainly delivers on that front. The car in our pictures, a 118d, emits 119g/km and returns 62.8mpg. Factor in the strong performance and refined engine and it's no surprise that this version is the biggest seller.

Buyers are spoiled for choice when it comes to engines. There are six available in total - a pair of 2.0-litre petrols and four 2.0-litre diesels all with varying power outputs from 118hp to a hearty 207hp.

Those keen to push the emissions and economy envelope even further can hold off until March, when an Efficient Dynamics version of the cleanest model, the 116d, arrives. It promises 99g/km, and though fuel economy has yet to be confirmed, an official figure north of 70mpg seems a safe bet.

That raft of improvements in every essential area combined with the desirability of the BMW badge, great driving characteristics and improved costs is why the 1-series has come out on top.

Business Car of the Year - 2nd place: Range Rover Evoque

Unless you've been on another planet for the past two years, you can't have failed to notice the Range Rover Evoque. Enormously hyped, it's one of the very few cars that can actually live up to such a build up. Great to drive, comfortable and exquisitely built inside, it's every bit as desirable as it is in vogue at the moment.

A sizeable 4x4, let alone anything bearing the Range Rover badge, is far from a core fleet model. But Land Rover has addressed the issue of associated inflamed running costs by launching a front-wheel drive 150hp diesel variant capable of 56.5mpg and emissions of 133g/km in eD4 guise.

It still isn't the cheapest proposition for fleets, but a P11D price of less than £30,000 for the entry-level Pure models renders the Evoque considerably more attainable than a £70,000 conventional Range Rover, so the luxury brand is now available to a much wider audience.

Be prepared to wait, though, as huge demand means that lead times are at peak levels.

Business Car of the Year - 3rd place: Ford Focus

No stranger to success, it seems appropriate that what was, until recently, the UK's best-selling car should make an appearance in our awards. Now replaced by its smaller sibling, the Fiesta, at the top of the sales charts, the Ford Focus remains Britain's second most popular car.

And with good reason. Ever since the original version's introduction in 1998, the Focus has been the benchmark of the lower medium sector. It handles and rides exceptionally well, so keen drivers won't be disappointed, while the range of engines is superb - the obvious choice for fleets being the 115hp 1.6 TDCI with 67.3mpg and emissions of 109g/km. It's worth considering Ford's Ecoboost petrol variants too, as they offer potent performance along with low emissions and impressive economy for petrols - something of increasing appeal to fleets as the gap between petrol and diesel prices continues to widen.

The quality of the Focus's interior and its array of available technology is not to be sniffed at either. It's only failing is the modest boot, with Ford opting for a sportier styling and C-max Mini-MPV for those seeking greater practicality.