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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 effortlessly until 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 that performance (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.