For many years BMW has been the brand of choice for upwardly mobile company car users, but with the Jaguar XE on the scene, a new posh but economical Mercedes C-class, and a brand new Audi A4 arriving imminently, the facelifted 3-series faces stiffer competition than ever.

With CO2 figures as low as 99g/km (and 102g/km for the most frugal manual), the 3-series offers similar company car credentials to the recently launched Jaguar XE, with both gunning for the same user-choosers with their sharp styling and claims of sporty handling.

Where the pair differ, though, is on the road. Despite Jaguar’s claims of the XE offering rewarding handling, the 3-series still feels more satisfying to drive, with meaty steering that gives more confidence in the level of grip available and impressive body control – even in economy-focused 320d ED Plus form.

The ride is also comfortable enough for passengers, although it is a little firmer than potential owners might expect, considering the 16-inch alloy wheels and relatively high-profile tyres.

The 2.0-litre diesel motor provides plenty of punch, along with 74.3mpg for the automatic 320D ED that we drove. However, refinement levels lag behind the best rivals – despite little wind or road noise – with a little more thrum from the engine getting through to the cabin than expected, while economy lagged far behind the claimed figure in the model we drove at around 54mpg according to the trip computer.

The interior, meanwhile, feels high quality, with BMW’s slick media system and satnav as standard on all models. The raised screen is mounted on the top of the dashboard and is very easy to see as a result, with simple controls through a rotary controller located on the transmission tunnel.

The XE might struggle to compete in terms of driving engagement, but it comes into its own with impressive operating costs. Where the manual 320d ED comes in at 61.8p per mile and the automatic 63.7p, the XE 180hp diesel will set business users back just 58.8p and 61.3p respectively.

The Mercedes C220d SE, however, matches the 320d exactly in manual form, while the automatic costs 64.6p.

The Mazda 6 2.2d 150 SE-L Nav and Volvo S60 D4 Business Edition, meanwhile, both predictably undercut the BMW dramatically with figures of 51.9p and 52.8p respectively.

The Audi A4 2.0 TDI ultra 163 SE Technik, however, is more expensive at 63.6p, with an equivalent automatic costing 65.6p, but this will shortly be replaced. The new car is being tested in the next issue of BusinessCar (22 September).

The BMW 3-series is still one of the sharpest-handling machines in the class, with strong claimed economy and good performance in 2.0-litre diesel form. However, cost per mile figures that place it above the Jaguar XE and less premium rivals from Mazda and Volvo, mean the 3-series is no longer the default business saloon.

BMW 320d ED Plus automatic

Model price range £24,975-£40,330
Residual value 33.2%
Depreciation £10,625
Fuel £4248
Service, maintenance and repair £2102
Vehicle Excise Duty £0
National Insurance £2251
Cost per mile 63.7p
Fuel consumption 74.3mpg
CO2 (BIK band) 99g/km (17%)
BIK 20/40% per month £91/£181
Warranty 3yrs/unlimited miles
Boot space 480 litres
Engine size/power 1995cc/163hp