This is why I picked the 3er. This was the thought process that I went through when test driving and investigating cars around 30k.
Top 3 cars for safety #1 priority:
Volvo S40, BMW 3, Merc C
Top cars for handling (passive safety):
subaru WRX, BMW 3, Saab 9-3
Top cars for performance:
subaru WRX, BMW 3, Infiniti G35
Cars with the best luxury:
Merc C, BMW 3, Volvo S40
I also looked at AUDI, and they never made my list in any category, and I did not look at Acura or Lexus because I don't like them.
All in all, BMW was the only car in the top 3 for all of my criteria.