Three very different cars deserve to be on the podium in this category: the Audi A3 1.4 Sedan ($165,550), BMW 220i Coupe ($195,800) and Mercedes-Benz C200 Avantgarde ($218,888)
ST-Torque Best Buys of 2014 - Compact executive BMW 220i Coupe ($195,800, above). -- PHOTO: ST FILE

Three very different cars deserve to be on the podium in this category: the Audi A3 1.4 Sedan ($165,550), BMW 220i Coupe ($195,800) and Mercedes-Benz C200 Avantgarde ($218,888).

The A3 could arguably be placed in the "compact saloon" category, but it has the brand cachet to stand alongside the other two cars here.

It is Audi's first A3 sedan, and it is a brilliant package that offers room, vroom and refinement. And it is rather elegant, with none of the awkwardness associated with hatchback-derived sedan designs. It is also well-built, with a better fit and finish than, say, the Volkswagen Jetta. With a 1.4-litre turbo engine mated to a seven-speed autobox, it is also pretty efficient.

BMW's 220i Coupe is a lovely back-to-basics car that puts a smile on your face the moment you set off in it. It is compact, light and energetic enough to match the early 3-series cars that were as uncomplicated as they were engaging.

The relatively modest 220i, with a 184bhp 2-litre turbo paired with an eight-speed automatic, is the variant of choice. It is somehow sweeter and purer than the manic 326bhp six-cylinder M235i - proof that power alone does not make a car enjoyable.

If you need a relatively spacious car with a decent level of dynamism and prestige, the new C-class from Mercedes-Benz is an attractive proposition. It is the biggest C-class yet, with a class-leading wheelbase measuring 2,840mm (longer than a Toyota Camry's). Rear passengers benefit the most, not only from the increased roominess, but also from the improved ride characteristics that the generous wheelbase accords.

The car is chock-full of features, almost mirroring the equipment list of the bigger E-class. It is also fairly nimble despite its size. Even in C200 form - with a 2-litre turbo putting out 184bhp - it is adequately responsive. Zero to hundred takes 7.3 seconds, which makes it one of the quickest cars in its segment. It is not quite as agile as its predecessor, but given its substantially larger body, that is understandable.