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Used car focus: The used car everyone wants

##bmw3seriesblue--right## In the closely fought compact executive market, one model stands out from the rest: the BMW 3-series. It has history stretching back to the 1980s, and a solid reputation, and is the car of choice for every young middle manager. It's not that 3-series lacks any serious rivals: the Mercedes C-class is as prestigious; the Lexus IS will push it on reliability, while a fully loaded Ford Mondeo is better value. But it's only the 3-series, with its purposeful yet conservative styling, which has struck a chord with the British. Its popularity has not weakened residuals; even with plenty of examples about, prices are remarkably stable.

There are five bodystyles – saloon, Compact sports hatch, coupe, Touring (estate) and convertible. Saloons were launched in 1998; Coupe and Touring in 1999, convertible in 2000 and Compact in 2001. Touring models hold their value best, making their residuals the strongest in the range. Convertibles are highly prized, too, though scarce outside the BMW network.

Larger than the model it replaced, this 3-series is not the out-and-out driving machine like its forerunners. There are still kicks to be had, but its safe and stable handling borders on dull, and competitors like IS200 offer a more dynamic experience.

Lack of rear space, a problem which dogged past 3-series, has been solved. It's a car that's comfortable for passengers, with well-supported, sculpted seats. And it pampers the driver, with a fully adjustable seat and a position that puts buttons and switches within easy reach. Good sound insulation keeps out road and engine noise, but the suspension set-up makes the ride firm.

Thirteen different engines are available across the 3-series range from the base 316ti (1.8) to the supercar-rivalling M3 (3.2). Flexible and powerful new engines are the most sought after – especially the refined 330d diesel.

The pick of the older engines are the four-cylinder 318i – which is a good all-rounder and the incredibly quick and luxuriously smooth 328i/330i six-cylinder cars. BMW quality is peerless; 3-series owners report few reliability problems other than minor electrical glitches. There should be no worries about the gearbox, engine or the chassis.

Independent tests rate this BMW as one of the most secure cars around.

Alarm and immobiliser are standard, as is remote central locking; satellite tracking is an option. All 3-series models have six airbags, including side airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners and ABS.

Safety is assured with a four- star Euro-NCAP rating – the same as the latest Audi A4, Mondeo and C-class.

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