Bilbao to Birmingham in a BMW

Bilbao is lovely. You’d go on a driving holiday there: be smart and you can get the Bilbao ferry from Portsmouth, saving you the trek across Europe.

Birmingham is the reality for most of us. We work in places like that to earn the money to go to places like Bilbao.

Enter the latest MR driving challenge: from Bilbao to Birmingham in a BMW 3 Series. If it’s the ultimate driving machine, it should do this at a canter – and be as nice at the start in Bilbao as it is at the end in Birmingham.

It should also be as pleasant in both environments, from holiday heaven to real world dredge. People buy premium cars like this to make themselves feel special even when sitting in traffic on the way to pick up new toner cartridges. A bit of the getting away from it all verve should still be there when you’re far from it.

There’s another stern challenge waiting for the BMW when we get it back, too. For 40 years, BMW’s claimed to be the best at doing the whole premium compact car stuff. 14 million sales and counting suggest it’s onto something.

But Jaguar wants a slice of the action with the new XE. And our initial drives suggest it may have got closer to the BMW than any rival to date.

The crunch test, therefore, is how both perform in the UK. We’ve got the everyday-spec 163hp diesel Jaguar waiting in Blightly; we’re bringing back the 163hp BMW from Bilbao to meet it, fresh from the launch of the recently-facelifted 3 Series BMW has rolled out to coincide with the launch of the XE.

BMW is taking the challenge from the XE seriously. And Jaguar hasn’t been messing about, either. Next week, we’ll find out which is the victor.

In the meantime, we’ll find out just how well the BMW fares in the Bilbao to Birmingham cross-countries challenge…