First Drive: 2009 BMW 335d
This 2009 review is representative of model years 2006 to 2011.
By Sam Mitani of Road & Track
Wörgl, Austria — It's no secret that diesels have been a tough sell in the U.S. Despite their overwhelming popularity in Europe, we just can't seem to get past the perception that they're noisy and dirty. And, to add fuel to the fire (pun intended), unlike in much of Europe, diesel fuel is more expensive than gasoline in the U.S. But that's not stopping the Germans from persistently trying to popularize diesels in America.
The most recent company to join the cause is BMW, as it gets set to introduce the 335d. Keen eyes will notice that the 335d looks a bit different from the current 3 Series — that's because it features a new body style that will grace the entire model line in 2009.
The new exterior styling gives the 3 Series a more aggressive overall appearance, highlighted by a freshened face that includes new headlights. Creases in the hood give the car a more ominous presence when looking at it head-on, while new taillights and a wider rear track enhance the sedan's sporty look. Inside, the changes include an iDrive that's much easier to operate with direct-select keys.
But the big story here isn't the reshaped hood, it's what's underneath: BMW's sequential twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 diesel. Like the story with most of today's clean diesels, this one exhibits excellent performance (gobs of low-end torque) and exceptional fuel economy. The aluminum-block powerplant, equipped with high-pressure direct fuel injection with piezoelectric injectors (also a feature of BMW's twin-turbo gasoline engines), produces 265 bhp at 3200 rpm and 425 lb.-ft. of torque at a low 1750. This translates to a 0-60-mph time of 6.0 seconds and a top speed of 131 mph, according to BMW. More important, it achieves an astounding 23/36 mpg city/highway, which puts it in the same fuel-economy league as many of today's subcompacts.
Like most diesels sold in America, the 335d requires urea injection. Injected into the exhaust system, urea drastically reduces NOX emissions, allowing the 335d to comply with the emissions standards in all 50 states. With the 335d, owners will be required to refill the urea tank every 15,000 miles. While some may consider it a pain, BMW contends that this service is no big deal because it coincides with recommended oil change intervals, and it's covered by the company's free maintenance program for the first four years or 50,000 miles. So what if you ignore the urea? A warning on the dash will be followed by not being able to start the car.
We sampled the new 335d in Europe, on the Autobahn and through the mountain roads of the Austrian Alps. While its performance on the high-speed straights was impressive, effortlessly cruising at its 131-mph top speed, it absolutely shined on the twisty stuff. The broad powerband from the diesel engine was immediate and forceful coming out of corners. The diesel is so torquey that you can actually be in 4th for a 2nd-gear corner and still get a good punch when getting back on the accelerator.
As for the car's handling, you can expect the same great balance that has become a 3 Series trademark. It turns in crisply and remains stable throughout all types of tricky corners. The suspension consists of double-pivot struts up front and a 5-link system out back. The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is fast and precise, and the 6-speed automatic gearbox provides smooth upshifts and quick downshifts.
As impressive as the 335d is, it won't likely be the company's best-selling model in the U.S. any time soon. But it does serve as a powerful argument for diesels in America. It offers gobs of performance with great fuel economy, and it'll convince anyone who gets behind its wheel that diesels are no longer dirty, noisy and slow. The 335d is already on sale at BMW dealers, priced at $43,000.