You’re after an executive car but you have a difficult choice – do you buy a new one that’s extremely practical or a used one with a premium badge?
When buying a new car, a moment’s hesitation can turn into a serious dilemma.
For example, you’re just about to sign on the dotted line for a brand-new Ford Mondeo, one of the most popular and capacious of all executive cars, when word reaches you that for the same price you could buy a barely used BMW 3 Series, the car that has been so consistently ahead of its field that it’s actually come to define the class.
Both cars do a similar job of dismissing motorway journeys with ease, as well as handling impractical loads and unknown roads with disdain, and both have deeply impressive on-paper economy, but which one makes more sense for you – the wonderfully spacious Ford or the temptingly classy BMW?
Read on as we pick our favourite versions of both cars and then compare new versus used.
*** Note : £1 = $1.41 (correct at time of post)
Ford Mondeo 1.5 TDCi 120 Zetec
- List Price: £23,895
- Target price: £20,790
- Official fuel economy: 78.5mpg
- Emissions: 94g/km CO2
- Power: 118bhp
- Top speed: 119mph
BMW 320d SE
- Price new: £31,720
- Price today: £19,995
- Official fuel economy:67.3mpg
- Emissions: 111g/km CO2
- Power: 188bhp
- 0-62mph: 7.3sec
- Top speed:146mph
Price today is based on a 2016 model with average mileage and a full service history
Throughout its many generations, the Ford Mondeo has always been a rather good-looking car, as well as a very spacious one. Its silhouette benefits from a long wheelbase contained within a lengthy body, and a relatively low roofline only adds to the sleek impression. There is just a hint that this latest generation carries a little more of the world car principle than is good for it, hailing as it does from across the Atlantic, and the general consensus is it’s lost a little of the charm, especially when viewing it from the front or rear, of previous versions.
Countered against that, the BMW is very much its own man, and each generation of the 3 Series has got progressively bigger over the years, despite which this latest version looks leaner, cleaner and much sportier. It’s a curious mix of aggression and delicacy, and it works. This sporty look is enhanced by a low and wide grille, and a sleek rear end. Above all, it looks classy and well proportioned, and fit for purpose.
Any fears about the Mondeo having lost some of its driving dynamism, a quality for which it’s always been held in the highest regard, are soon dismissed when you get behind the wheel. Once again, it might not be quite as impressive as the model it replaced, but it’s still very good to drive, with a smooth and responsive 1.5-litre diesel under the bonnet of our chosen variant, and a sophisticated chassis that endows it with eager handling and a comfortable ride.
The BMW 3 Series has largely achieved that position of class-defining leadership by virtue of its stunning dynamics, and that holds true for this latest model. In our favourite 320d trim, it’s great to drive, with a strong and powerful diesel engine that offers up truly impressive Mondeo-bashing performance – think 0 to 62mph in 7.3secs, and a top speed of 146mph. It handles beautifully, with a rear-wheel drive chassis that gives the Beemer tremendous balance. Its ride, though occasionally firm, is wonderfully settled most of the time.
interior & equipment
It has to be said there are a few cheap-feeling plastics and poorly damped switches in the Mondeo, especially around the dash. Having said that, the general fit and finish feels solid enough, and the combination of gloss, matt and metal makes the interior seem fairly upmarket. All Mondeos are well equipped, even the entry-level Style, but our favourite trim is the Zetec we’ve gone for here, as it adds a heated windscreen and electric windows all round. There’s an 8.0in touchscreen, too, but it isn’t always the easiest to use.
By contrast, the 3 Series’ interior feels classy straight away, with good use of soft-touch plastics on the dash and gloss-black finishes on the centre console. It looks great and feels nicely constructed, while the switches all work with a well-damped action. In our favoured SE trim it comes handsomely equipped with sat-nav, climate control, a DAB radio and alloy wheels, although you do have to pay extra for leather seats. Its iDrive rotary controller infotainment system is a work of art, and easily one of the best available.
space & practicality
Now this is an area where the Mondeo can definitely claw back some ground. Its driving position is nicely adjustable and the space both front and rear is probably large enough to house the 3 Series within it. Only the gently sloping rear robs it of some precious head room for back seat passengers. The boot is huge, too, with a large opening, and it’s deeper than the Mariana Trench.
The 3 Series is a smaller car externally than the Mondeo, and it shows in interior space. Its driving position is good, thanks to a height adjustable seat, although its manual controls are a little fiddly. Front and rear space are both down on the Mondeo’s though, and it can be quite cramped sitting behind a taller driver. Indeed its rear quarters are not the 3 Series’ biggest selling point. For a car of its size the boot is a reasonable size and shape but, it’s nowhere near the Mondeo’s for overall capacity.
According to our Target Price team, it’s possible to pick up a new Mondeo in our chosen 1.5 TDCi Zetec trim for £20,790, and for the same money you could easily pick up a good 2016 BMW 320d in SE trim. It’s worth considering that the Mondeo will also suffer the usual first and second year depreciation that the 3 Series will already have shed. In our most recent reliability survey the Mondeo actually finished above the 3 Series in the Executive class, although both cars scored well and finished highly placed in the table. From new the Mondeo comes with Ford’s three-year, 60,000-mile warranty, which can be extended up to five years for a reasonable extra cost. The 3 Series will have between one and two years of its original warranty left, at this age.
On paper, the Mondeo’s fuel economy bests the 3 Series, with both cars offering outstandingly good claimed figures. The Mondeo’s handsome 78.5mpg also means CO2 emissions of just 94g/km, but unfortunately due to the changes in the car tax laws from April 2017 onwards you’ll still be charged a flat rate of £140 annually. By contrast, the older BMW, registered before April 2017, with its higher CO2 emissions (111g/km), will only attract a charge of £30pa.
The Executive car class is full of tempting alternatives to these two. If you’re considering a Mondeo for its space you might do better to look at the Skoda Superb, a massive hatchback that dwarfs nearly every other car in this class. The interior’s huge, the boot’s enormous and yet,despite its gargantuan, it handles well and is great to drive. Most versions are well equipped, too, and some models undercut even the Mondeo on price.
The Volkswagen Passat is similarly huge, a rock-solid, sober-sided car that drives well, is refined and smart and feels like it’ll last forever. Target prices for the Passat put it at roughly the same level as the Mondeo and Superb, at which price point it might well be the bargain of the class.
As an alternative to a used 3 Series you might consider an Audi A4, which is roughly the same size inside and out. This is one of our favourite executive cars, with a good range of engines, the best of which make it an impressively refined motorway cruiser and also surprisingly economical. On top of that there’s a classy and well equipped interior that offers the quality of pricier luxury cars. Used examples can now be had for the prices we’ve quoted for the Mondeo and the 3 Series.
If space is less of a priority you might like to consider the Audi A4’s smaller sibling, the A3 Saloon. This is a handsome three-box, four-door and boot saloon based on the successful hatchback and Sportback versions of the A3. It handles well, there’s a choice of good engines, all of which are strong and, like the A4, the interior’s beautifully built. The only minus point is interior space, as the smaller A3 is quite cramped in the back and the boot’s small. A used 2016 example would now be available at around this price point.