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BMW 318ti SE

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      29.08.2002 02:36
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      I recently got my list through for a new company car next year so I've gleefully been test driving a couple before making my choice, first up the BMW 3 Series Compact. This series was first seen in 1994 and although I've never owned one I've been a long time admirer, the Compact series has been a huge success for the German firm and price is the key. The baby Beamer starter model, the 316ti brought a sought after badge within reach of many more people. After reading through the literature BMW were keen to point out two out of every three of the 37,000 British buyers of the first Compacts had not bought a BMW before and - here's the sign of its success - 65% of them went on to buy another car in the range. The manufacturer has gone to great pains with model updates to ensure the success story continues by refusing to compromise on quality, thus strengthening the all-important element of desirability. BMW's are renowned for their excellent build and engineering, and resulting longevity, and the Compact hatchback range is no exception. The model I chose to test drive was a flamenco red 316ti SE (£17,775) and after initially parking it up alongside a 7 Series, I felt I'd got the same attention to detail, the same superb build, refinement and status the 735i owner got from his near £53,000 outlay. It all adds up to a very marketable ingredient: owner satisfaction. The 316ti SE test car was the next version up from the base 316ti, which costs £16,265, and it uses the same revolutionary Valvetronic 1.8 litre petrol engine, a 115bhp British built four-cylinder unit. Valvetronic means the engine offers the same fuel economy as an advanced direct-injection engine, but without the need for elaborate emission management technologies. In short, it has cut harmful emissions by 10%, and increased power by the same amount - in case your wondering! It doesn't require sulphur-free
      fuel like a direct injection petrol engine, either: it can run on all commercially available grades of regular petrol. You can easily coax 50mpg out of it taking things easy around town, because the 316ti's real power doesn't punch in until your well up the rev counter (very handy on todays roads). Once out on the open road the precise five speed manual gearbox, rear wheel drive and finely balanced chassis gave an enjoyably firm, roll-free ride that switches easily from sedate to strenuous driving. It soaked up the bumps and, with the extra passenger space in the latest Compact, I doubt if I would get any complaints about legroom in the back. As a tall driver I needed to lower the front seat, which thankfully didn't affect the view, while the slightly offset pedals took a little adapting to. The SE is the specification to aim for if you want reasonable kit and good passenger safety features. But BMW, like Audi, love to charge extra for the extras. It came with £3000 of add-ons, taking the total to almost £21,000 which surprised me a lot. Included was £95 for the colour-coded door handles, and I think I could live without the SE's original alloys, without paying another £1,540 for the supplied seven-star wheels. There is just one fault - the inclusive automatic air conditioning went down to just 16 degrees, one degree under room temerature. So on a hot summer's day, which this day was, the best you can hope for is lukewarm air, and not the cold, crisp kind you so badly need in my job. The new Compact is a fantastic car with superb build and engineering but beware of the extras which can take your total outlay from a relatively cheap amount up a notch or three. I havn't decided yet whether or not to go for the Compact seen as I intend to have a couple more test drives yet but it will take something special to beat this car and I fear I may have already made up my
      mind!! SPECIFICATIONS BMW 3 Series Compact 316ti SE £17,775 Compact eight-model 3dr hatchback range from 1.6Ti (£16,265) to 325ti Sport (£23,550). Bodyshell/Drivetrain: 4.26m by 1.75m. 4dr saloon; 1796cc, 115bhp four-cylinder, 16-valve engine, driving rear wheels through five speed manual gearbox. Company car tax liability: 167g per km CO2 emissions (15% of cost of car when new, taxed). Performance/economy: top speed 125mph, 0-62mph in 10.9 seconds. Official fuel figures: city 29.1mpg, country 53.3mpg, combined 40.9mpg. Fuel tank: 63 litres Insurance group :11 Warranty: three years/unlimited miles Thanks for reading

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