A few years back, BMW stole a significant march on its competitors in the premium car segment with the launch of its EfficientDynamics programme. EfficientDynamics isn't about a single breakthrough technology like Toyota's hybrid-drive system; rather it is a banner under which BMW has introduced a whole series of smaller fuel-saving and emissions-reducing tweaks to its cars.

Underestimated at first, EfficientDynamics has become a powerful sales weapon for BMW. Time and again, British motorists faced with CO2-related vehicle excise duty and company car taxation find that BMWs more or less choose themselves - and any dynamic advantages the cars have over the competition are a bit of a bonus.

Recently I had the chance to drive perhaps the most developed example of the EfficientDynamics concept, the 320d ED. There's no arguing with the numbers and this latest version of the 3 series does still retain many of the strong points that have made the current generation of 3 Series so popular since it was first launched some five years ago. It's quick, it handles well, and feels as solid as any other BMW.

On the other hand, driving the 320d ED is a curiously joyless experience. It feels quite harsh, and the major controls are quite heavy - in particular the notchy, even obstructive, gear-change. Compared with some more recently introduced competitors, notably Mercedes' current C-Class, it feels also feels a bit cramped, basic and tired, while the price, at £27,245 is rather ambitious too.

If you're in the market for an economy special, Volvo's S80 DRIVe, for one, offers a softer, slower but more agreeable and roomier package, and Skoda’s keenly-priced Superb Greenline makes the 320d ED look very expensive indeed - even if these two cars can’t quite match the BMW's impressive fuel economy and CO2 data.

BMW 320d EfficientDynamics

Price: £27,245

Top speed:137mph

Acceleration: 0-62mph in 8.7 seconds

Fuel consumption: 68.9mpg (combined cycle)

CO2 emissions: 109g/km

Rivals: Audi A4 2.0 TDI, Mercedes C 200 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY, Volvo S80 DRIVe

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