BF Review: 2009 BMW 335d

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As an American, the idea of clean powerful diesel engines being available in a BMW had been a dream and nothing more until the recent launch of the Advanced Diesels. If it wasn ‘t the sulfur in our diesel, it was our supposed distaste for all things diesel stemming from some ill-concieved products by the domestic automakers 30 years ago.The idea of diesel is still a compelling one if you look at the numbers.

Powerful and sporty yet efficient. That ‘s the promise of diesel and more specifically of the BMW 335d. The numbers are all there. 37mpg on the highway and 425 foot pounds of torque. It ‘s astonishing if you consider what the current petrol BMW engines do in regards to efficiency and performance. It gets even more eye-opening when you think about BMW ‘s previous inline six engines from just a few years ago.

The 335d is the pinnacle (for the time being) of BMW ‘s diesel range. The inline six cylinder engine features two sequential turbos that propel the car to 0-60 is 6.0 seconds (that ‘s BMW ‘s official conservative figure) and an electronically limited top speed of 150 mph. But the key to the experience is the 425ft lbs of torque available from 1750-2250 rpm. What is torque and how does it compare to horsepower? There are lots of technical answers to that question (you can read one here) but the difference is obvious behind the wheel of the 335d. When you hit the accelerator in a 335i, the car surges forward with all the pomp and circumstance you ‘d expect from 300 hp. It pull ‘s hard and the engine lets you know it. When you hit the accelerator in the 335d, it doesn ‘t so much pull as it feels as if it was pushed by the very hand of God. And there ‘s nothing stressing or straining about it. The 335d simply consumes tarmac effortlesslyuntil you realize you ‘re doing double the legal speed limit.

The diesel engine transforms the 3 series from a sport sedan to a sedan GT. It feels more dignified, more refined and unquestionably more mature. A 5000 rpm redline will do that. So will 425 ft pounds of torque. But it ‘s also the delivery of all of that power. Unlike the 335i, the 335d does have what I would call turbo lag. At low revs there ‘s little hint the tidal wave of power that ‘s about to be unleashed. Sure loads of torque is available at 1750rpm. But the engine revs much slower than a petrol powerplant due to beefier internal components. And I appreciate the lag and the character it brings to the car. Along with the diesel chatter at idle and low revs it ‘s what puts the “d ‘ in the 335d. It gives the car a very unique (in the US at least) character that clearly seperates it from other BMWs.

But what makes this diesel cleaner than what came before is the urea injection system that is injected into the exhaust and cleans pollutants from the engine ‘s output. BMW designed the system to be refilled at the time of the typical 15,000 mile oil change interval (meaning that it ‘s paid for for the first four years through the free maintenance program).

Our 2009 335d test car came equipped with the premium package, cold weather package and the all important sport package. Beyond that it also included the parking sensors, iPhone integration, paddle shifters, bluetooth, satellite ratio, metallic water blue paint, off-white “Oyster ” leather, automatic (the only transmission available and able to cope with the torque) and the completely redesigned iDrive system. Out of everything on the car (save for the mandatory sport package and paddle shifters) there was nothing more impressive than the iDrive. BMW has rethought the system from the ground up to be intuitive, responsive and seemingly always one step ahead of your needs. I found little to fault with the system as a whole. From the 12 ” screen to the 3D mapping to the always accurate voice commands, this was the first system I ‘ve ever experienced that didn ‘t require a single second of time spent learning the interface. In fact for the first time I can definitely say that this is decidedly better than Audi ‘s new and improved MMI system I recently sampled in the Q5. From the larger screen to the elegant UI design, the new iDrive is something BMW should be very proud of. Granted BMW borrowed some of what worked in Audi ‘s previous systems but they ‘ve certainly iterated and improved on both the MMI and the previous iDrive. In fact it ‘s so good that I simply can ‘t imagine buying a BMW without it at this point.

Below is a quick video run-through of some of that functionality. The camera isn ‘t at the perfect angle to capture all of the screen but it gives you enough of an idea of the responsiveness and ease of use that I found in my time with the car.

From an enthusiasts point of view the one big disappointment with the 335d is the mandatory automatic transmission. Apparently BMW simply doesn ‘t have a manual transmission (or more specifically a clutch) that can handle the 425ft lbs of torque without exploding within a few miles from the dealer ‘s lot. Ok, it ‘s a good excuse. And the automatic is a great one. It ‘s the ZF six-speed that has been raved about in many other BMW products. Fun when it needs to be and invisible when it doesn ‘t, it ‘s about as much as you could ask for in an automatic. Granted I ‘d vastly prefer BMW ‘s new dual clutch (DCT) transmission but there is no news on the horizon that BMW will make one available any time soon.

Despite the roughly 3800 lbs, the 335d (200lbs over the already heavy 335i) BMW has dialed in the suspension at an almost perfect blend of comfort and aggressiveness you ‘d expect in a 3 series equipped with the sport package. The steering is well weighted and the suspension is sorted to the level that BMW seems to only be able to achieved. While the weight is an issue when really pushing the car, it ‘s effectively kept in check in almost all other situations.

BMW is entering the US diesel market at a very interesting time. For starters diesel fuel is typically more expensive in the US than even premium petrol. There are a numbers of reasons for that (and we won ‘t get into them here) but suffice to say that this is generally not due to the fuel itself costing more to produce or transport than petrol. It ‘s just the realities of the US market. Even though diesel prices have been falling steadily in the US over the last several months (just 6 cents over premium on average), fuel cost is still a potential strike against this car in terms of market acceptance. Another is the time in which we live. When the 335d was green-lit for the US market 3-4 years ago there was little hint of the coming economic crisis and high fuel costs (let alone the increased awareness of the environment in the US). BMW simply looked to bring over it ‘s most powerful diesel engine to the US market thinking thatperformance (with a relative amount of efficiency) would be the pill that would make US consumer forget about all the diesel related failures in the past. The premium paid for the 335d would be for the power first and the efficiency second.

We all know what has happened since. There ‘s little question that BMW would have strongly considered the 2.0L 4 cylinder diesel had they known what they know now. An ultra efficient engine that would propel a 3 series to MPG averages above 40mpg would be an incredible story to tell in the US market.

But that ‘s not what we got. Instead we have the pinnacle of BMW ‘s diesel range that will appeal to performance luxury car buyers who want something different without sacrificing performance or style. A position that may be harder to explain that to someone unfamiliar with diesels let alone BMW ‘s place in the market.

There ‘s an entire generation in the US (myself included) who ‘ve never driven a diesel car let alone ever noticed one. Beyond the diesel Mercedes and VW ‘s that are sold in some market in the US, there ‘s really nothing out there outside of large commercial trucks. The image of diesel is one of dirty rugged machinery that is the very opposite of luxury performance. The very anthesis of the BMW 335d. That ‘s the problem BMW has to overcome in selling this car to the US public. It ‘s daunting and I ‘m not sure the story will be compelling enough to a broad market to make a real case.

For most US consumers looking to buy the 335i, the 335d is the better car. It fits consumers needs better in both performance and efficiency. The power delivery is more appropriate for the type of daily driving most US consumers while delivering clearly better economy. The only failing in the minds of most consumers would be the price. BMW USA has priced the based 335d at $44,725 . That ‘s a $2,475 premium over the standard 335i. It ‘s a number that makes the case for the 335d a little harder for most consumers. While the $900 alternative fuel tax credit from the US government helps there is still a substancial upfront penalty. Considering US consumers know little about diesels and their benefits, that ‘s a hurdle that will be hard to overcome.

My week with the 335d was all too short. I started my time with the car wondering if that price penalty was really worth it and if an enthusiast could really find something compelling in a 3800 lbs 3 Series. I came away with an appreciation that blinded me to all of those concerns. It ‘s easy to see how a 335d could be the perfect compliment to pretty much all the needs of the modern BMW enthusiast.

I pushed the car hard in city driving and still didn ‘t see the average mpg get below 30 mpg. Only in extreme circumstances did it dip into the 20s for more than a few minutes. On the highway things were more impressive. I averaged over 37 mpg on a 200 mile jaunt up to Wisconsin and regularly saw 40 mpg when cruising just below 70 mph. To put that into perspective, that is in the same ball park of a MINI Cooper – a car with 1/4 the torque. Technically the US Government rates the car at 23/36 mpg but that seems quite conservative.

Would I choose the 335d over a 335i? It would depend what else I had in the garage to compliment it. The 335d is a torque monster with mid-range performance and efficiency that blows almost anything else away on the road let alone other BMW sedans. It exudes effortless performance in a way that no 3 series ever has. Yet it ‘s heavy (3825 lbs – 200 lbs more than the 335i) and it lacks that classic petrol powered engine sound track and rev ability. So the question comes down to what you value more. For me it ‘s those intangibles that BMW petrol power-plants have in abundance that put a smile on my face every day. It would be hard for me to give that up unless I had another outlet for that kind of hoonage.

335d sticker price and options list as tested / PDF

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  • Nice review Gabe! Sounds like you enjoyed the car as much as I did. The passing ability in the car is scary, it goes from 60-100+ with a whoosh of power that is effortless.

    I loved it, still looking to add one to the stable. The other thing worth mentioning is that it comes standard with the auto so the price increase also includes that.

    If readers are unaware of how the Advanced Diesels are so clean they can check here for the break down: How the Diesels pass 50 state emissions

  • Ben

    This is fantastic. Great review.

  • Dan

    Nice review. I would love one of these, but the ~50k+ price tag is hard to justify. It’s difficult to tell what fuel prices are going to do in the next several years in terms of the spread between premium and diesel. For me, diesel is around the same price as regular right now, but when prices were $4/gallon, diesel was around $5. I think I will be waiting to see what they bring to the US for 4-cyl diesel and/or petrol models.

  • California Lawyer

    Dan made a good point. The problem with diesel cars in the U.S. is that diesel fuel typically costs more than even premium unleaded gasoline. In Europe the reverse is typically the case, so you get significantly better mileage from cheaper fuel; win-win. I haven’t done the math, but I bet the higher price of diesel fuel in the U.S. pretty much off-sets the higher mileage. I assume that this is totally driven by the taxes on gasoline vs. diesel fuel. It’s really a shame since it keeps a lot of fine cars effective off the U.S. market (see, e.g., Top Gear’s review of the BMW 535d).

  • @Dan: BMW made a big point about the historical difference between diesel and petrol prices in the US at the press introduction. Historically there hasn’t been a huge difference and at many times diesel has been cheaper. Of course where it goes over the next few years no one knows but there’s a good chance it won’t get near the 25% penalty it was last fall any time soon.

  • Aaron

    I wish they’d brought over the smaller engine (maybe a 328d?) and wish they’d put a manual transmission in it. Any chance on those two requests coming to US markets?

  • Paul

    What is the punch out in the lower section of the rear fender just behind the wheel well for?

  • Dylan

    @gabe is there any chance we could see more of the iDrive video? It seems to cut out before you’ve finished 🙂 Great review

  • Hunter

    @Aaron, no manual transmission exists within BMW that can handle the torque output of the 335d. That’s the only reason that there isn’t one.

  • njpaguy

    If you love performance driving and love a great powerplant, you owe it to yourself to drive this beast. cleanmpg.com also reviewed the 335d and the results of their Chicago to New York drive show fuel economy numbers of just under 50 mpg!

    Through the end of this month, BMW has some serious rebate money available on the 3-series. $1500 finance rebate plus $3000 manufacturer-to-dealer cash. Plus, most dealers are selling the 3-series around $1000 over invoice before rebates. That totals about $7500 off MSRP.

    We’re taking delivery of our Alpine White/Saddle Leather 335d Memorial Day weekend.

  • Dr Obnxs

    Here’s another view on the car. I got to drive one (and a X3 or X5 with the same engine) for a bit at a media event. Really, it’s a good street car, but a crappy track car. Here’s why…. Turbo lag…. I drove the 335d at Laguna Seca. The cork screw is a set of turns where you’re off power for a bit(you basically feel like you fall off a cliff, then you short shift 2-3 and slowly get back on the gas for the next set of turns), and the delay to go back on power is a killer. Press pedal… Count 1-2-3 slowly… and then get power.) Now I too have read reviews where the 335d lap times were just a tiny bit off the 335i, but this must have been on a higher speed track with little or no places where you’re off throttle. If you’re thinking about tracking your car at all, then the lag is a killer.

    I’m not as good a track driver as many, so I wondered if it was just me and I asked a couple other (much better) drivers what they though. Same impression I had: Good for the street (if you like the mix of options) crappy on the track.

    Now, on the street, it’s a different story: If you can live with the auto instead of the manual, the lag isn’t as much of a problem, the torque is great, nice and fat in the middle of the engines RPM range, where it needs to be for a good street car drive.

    Personally, there are four reasons why I’d never buy this car:

    1) Turbo lag. 2) Price point. (applies to the 335i as well) 3) Vehicle weight. (applies to the 335i as well) 4) Auto tranny.

    Matt

  • @Paul-

    That is where the filler for the DEF (Diesel emissions fluid) or “AdBlue” is. Here is a quote from a past article on the Advanced Diesels. We have covered them here a great deal and some of the info is really interesting. I also put a link to a post about all the emissions systems in them above… If you have any other questions please ask away!

    The urea injection system is comprised of two tanks, a dosage pump, some plumbing between them and the exhaust manifold. The smaller 1.6 gallon active tank and dosage lines are heated to prevent temperatures below 12Ëš F from freezing the liquid. The 4.5 gallon passive (extra storage) tank is not heated. Depending on the application the tanks may be located in the rear of the car or in/near the engine bay (X5).

    The size of the tanks should only require additional fluid when the vehicle requires an oil change. BMW is including the price for the refills of the AdBlue as part of the BMW maintenance program for 4 year 50K miles.

  • WDG

    Beware of BMW servicing the 335d. At scheduled oil changes they are not filling the 4.5 gallon DEF tank, only the 1.5 gallon tank. The service manual tells everyone how to fill the small tank but not the one that takes your spare tire slot, thus after about 7 thousand miles the DEF low light trips. This has been e-mailed to bmwusa by me as of 29 march 2010. if you open the DEF fill cover you’ll see 2 plastic screw on covers…lower one for 1.5 gallon tank upper for 4.5 gallon tank. Oh by the way bmw DEF is 40.00 per half gallon. Use vw DEF 17.00 per 2.5 gallon….same stuff.

  • Brenton

    While it may be true that no current BMW in-production manual transmissions or clutches exist for a 3-series, they certainly have those aforementioned components in larger truck platforms. There is nothing special about a clutch and manual transmission that can handle >425 ft-lbs of torque. Chevy, Ford and Ram produce them everyday. I think BMW’s reason for no manual transmission is that offering two transmission options significantly increases cost and complexity at assembly. The 335d is a feeler for the US market’s demand for a diesel sedan.

    As for the engine reving slower than gas, that is much more a function of time to combust that heavier components. A diesel revs slower and red lines quicker rpm-wise because the combustion has no spark plug to help. It takes time to heat and compress the air in the cylinder.

    I wonder if BMW has improved cold winter starts with their diesels. My 5.9L Cummins in my 3500 Dodge Ram does not like being started in the cold (less than 20 degrees F) without being plugged in a few hours prior. If it is 5 degrees F and you didn’t plug in then plug in, go pour a cup of coffee and relax for a while. This isn’t acceptable for most consumers.

    • Brenton- the 335d is not offered in any market with a manual- there is no point to it. A manual would be heavier, less efficient and be little fun to drive bc of the low rev range.

      The engine is made of aluminum- so it is not as heavy as most diesels. There have been no issues with cold starts- and there is no block warmer.

  • mellowmcs

    The coldest temp that I had to start my 335d was around 30F and there was only a brief 1-2second where the glow plug light was on then the engine fired up with no problem at all. Many others in much colder states have reported the same even in temps as low as in the low teens.

  • I own a 2009 335d. It is the finest automobile I have ever driven. Monstrous power, incredible handling and unbelievable mileage. Better than a ford focus, an underpowered, fuel sipping tranny-wagon. I was unsure of this car when I bought it because of the turbo lag, but you get to the point where you can adjust your driving timing and style to compensate and it is all acceleration squishing your eyeballs into the back of your head and going around corners like you are riding a bullet train after that.