While the Audi and Mercedes were busy kicking each other’s heads in over our long weekend of testing, the BMW got promoted step by step, driver by driver. And it did so because the supposed class benchmarks lost some of their lustre between the glossy brochure and the reality of the winding road.

The M240i won in two areas of crucial importance for a roadgoing performanc­e car: ride and handling. The steering is on another level, blending a fluent meatiness with total clarity and exactly the right measure of response. No comments added, no facts suppressed, no cryptic messages or fancy stunts clouding the performanc­e. There is a linearity and honesty to this direction-finder the other two more heavily chip-loaded systems simply cannot match. Everything about it is spot-on: gearing, weight, balance, accuracy, speed of response, even the turning circle.

As an all-rounder, the Audi almost matches the BMW. It costs more but it also is quantifiab­ly more rapid and it is thoroughly practical. But the potent engine does not make all the right noises, the cabin neither looks or feels particular­ly special, and the sensationa­l brakes are no compensati­on for the split-personalit­y suspension and the underwhelm­ing steering.

The A45 S is a huge leap from the base A-Class. The highly tuned four-cylinder engine lives on a razor’s edge, audibly, physically and emotionall­y. Steering and brakes come out of the same weaponry. If you want a car for crazy 4am blasts, this is it. But if you ever drive in rushhour tra‰c, and if you care about how your passengers are feeling, forget it.

So the BMW wins, by balancing all the qualities that matter. True, it ain’t pretty when viewed from certain angles, and it’s less lavishly appointed than its opponents. But on aggregate, when all the hard, soft and subjective points are added and weighed up, the M240i xDrive makes the most compelling compromise between a broad smile on your face and a not totally depleted bank account. It is neither the fastest nor the flashiest choice here, but as a totally honest driving machine with a rich pedigree it needs zero artificial preservati­ves to provide the full authentic flavour.

 ?? ?? The best car is the least expensive car? Believe it
The best car is the least expensive car? Believe it

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