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BMW and Audi are slugging it out to have the lowest CO2 car in the prestige upper medium sector. Last month Audi was out in front with its 120g/km A4, but this month BMW takes the lead with the 316d.
Coming in 2g/km below the 120g/km CO2 minimum for BIK tax means the 316d qualifies for the lowest 13% diesel tax band. What's more, it will continue to be in that lowest band until April 2012. The result is a payment to the Treasury of just £51 a month for a 20% tax payer - not bad for the privilege of driving a £23,730 BMW.
Available only in ES trim, it's reasonably well equipped with aircon, alloys, front fog lights, trip computer and an aux socket. Unfortunately, the standard equipment list doesn't include cruise control, which we consider essential for any eco car because a constant throttle set by the car's brain is far more efficient than a human foot, which can't maintain a set speed as effectively and so impacts economy.
That said, we still achieved 58.8mpg over a week's mixed driving and it would have been higher if the temperature wasn't so cold that the standard stop-start was outside its operational parameters. Fleets with drivers spending a decent proportion of their time on the motorway should easily see 65mpg if they stick to the speed limit.
However, the thing that your drivers will ask, or rather grumble, about is the lack of pace. There's no getting away from the fact the 316d is built for economy. Until now, all 3-series have felt quick. While you can drive the 316d quickly and the steering and handling is excellent, what you can't do is accelerate quickly.
For many fleet managers this is probably a good thing, but it's the one area where the BMW loses ground to its 120g/km Audi A4 rival.
Fortunately, whole-life costs expert KwikCarcost thinks BMW is onto a winner and the car comes in 2.4p a miles cheaper than the Audi at 46.4p.
That's seriously impressive, but next year BMW will bring in a 3-series with a CO2 output below 110g/km, which will also qualify for the best capital allowance banding. It will be more powerful, too than the the 316d, but also more expensive. So if you want a car in this sector the choice is buy a BMW now - or wait.