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BMW 318d Touring ES

Date: 23 August 2006

Category: Estate Prices: £21,645-£33,620
Per month: £445 Key rival: Audi A4 Avant

Rival manufacturers must have grown to hate the 3-series. In 320d guise it offers an unbeatable blend of class-leading handling, performance and costs, with a badge that remains alluring to drivers.

There's barely a chink in the car's armour, apart from the saloon's awkward rear styling, and that's easily rectified if you opt for the highly desirable and practical Touring. With the 163PS 2.0-litre diesel under the bonnet, the estate is arguably the finest company steed going.

However, that poses a problem for the German firm. Until now, the 320d has been the entry-level diesel, with a huge gap between it and the next diesel, the 231PS 330d. This means not only has the 320d competed, albeit successfully, with cheaper cars, it also had to tackle significantly more powerful ones. BMW risked becoming a victim of its own success. Instant fleet popularity for one single model has serious RV implications, since the majority of business disposals will be similar 320ds.

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To help solve the problem, a 325d with a mooted 200PS is on its way, and fleets now have the choice of a cheaper, more cost-effective 318d.

Effectively a detuned 320d, the 318d shares the same 2.0-litre engine, but with the wick turned down to 122PS. Having less power takes its toll on performance, and there's no doubt that, back-to-back with the 320d, the 318d feels slow.



However, the 10.9sec dash to 60mph and top speed of 127mph in the 318d remain acceptable, and around the top of the class.

Fuel consumption is also a strong point at 48.7mpg, while the 318d's insurance is two groups lower than the 320d's.

This engine also shares the more powerful unit's smooth and quiet character, but it demands constant gearchanges to keep it on the boil, which is frustrating. However, the car's handling remains top drawer and it's interesting to note the standard 16-inch alloys on our test car go some way to addressing past criticisms levied at an unforgiving ride.

Cost-wise, the Audi A4 Avant remains our pick in this class, but it's perhaps more interesting to compare the 318d with the punchier 320d. There's only £1100 difference in P11D prices and 1.2ppm separating them in cost-per-mile. Tax-wise, over three years the more powerful car costs an extra £590.

If you and your business can afford it, plump for the 320d. The 318d is a fine car, but the 320d's extra go and relaxed performance makes for a great, and not just a fine, business tool.



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