BMW 320d SE six-speed manual four-door.

Price: £28,080 Top speed: 148mph.

0-60mph: 7.5 seconds.

Fuel: 61.4mpg (combined figure).

CO2 emissions (g/km): 120.

Verdict: Superb handling and performance, impressive fuel consumption, spacious and beautifully built, classy cabin, expensive but worth every penny.

THE outgoing BMW 3-series was so good that it was difficult to imagine how the German firm would substantially improve the model.

But the latest incarnation has just got better and better in so many areas.

It’s still not a cheap motor but considering the advances in terms of driveability, economy, comfort and styling it remains splendid value for money.

As one might expect from BMW there is a wide range of petrol and diesel engines and different trim levels from which to choose.

But for many the pick of the range will be the 2.0-litre turbo diesel four-door saloon with a sixspeed manual gearbox. It is a real gem and a remarkable example of efficiency.

The motor is very flexible with low running costs of over 60mpg as a combined figure in eco mode and this is exactly what is regularly obtained on fast and long runs.

At one time the rear-wheel-drive dynamics used to come partly at the expense of ride quality and noise levels. Not anymore. The ride is supple and comfortable and the isolation from wind and road noise is simply outstanding.

The sleeker-looking newcomer may well stand out in terms of looks but it is undoubtedly the driving experience that impresses most.

With its sharp and accurate steering and brilliant body control the BMW is a special car to drive far and fast.

The 184bhp diesel is quick off the mark and there is an excellent spread of power around the rev band. The sprint from 0 to 60mph comes up in 7.5 seconds and helps to illustrate the get-up-and-go character of the car.

Underway, there is power aplenty for fast overtaking or changes of direction and, importantly, the delivery of power remains silky smooth.

The diesel grips the road tenaciously on the tightest of fast bends. It rides, steers and drives with all the smoothness and precision we have come to expect from the bigger BMWs. The fact that it is a diesel rather than a lighter petrol unit doesn’t seem to make much difference.

On the motorway it also excels, cruising effortlessly and at the end of a long journey the driver and passengers can get out feeling fresh.

With a slightly longer body the 3- series has received styling changes on both outside and inside so that rear passengers get a little more leg room and there is a bigger boot.

The cabin is beautifully built with high-quality materials and the new layout is so easy to live with.

Kit levels do compare well with rivals though some of the options can be costly and add significantly to the purchase price.

In SE specification, for instance, the diesel is well equipped with items including BMW’s topbracket infotainment system, dual climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and a USB socket.

Besides the excellent build quality, the BMW is also noted for its h i g h s t a n - dards of reliability, safety, security and residual v a l u e which is good news when the time comes to sell. So far the 3- series has been the king of the castle in its compact executive class and you get the impression that the present car is likely to have a long stay in residence.