Diesel Power Has Arrived

2009, BMW, 335d Wagon

Finally, you can get a Diesel engine in a BMW. Why is this significant? Well, think zero to 60 in six seconds combined with 27.6 miles per gallon. And boy, this car feels different from the usual 3 Series cars thanks to its prodigious low-rpm torque.

Diesels haven't been available in significant quantities or in some states at all (including California) because of emissions issues and low buyer demand. However, the arrival of clean Diesel, with the sulfur removed, has made these cars suitable for sale and more desirable once again.

My gleaming Alpine White test sedan featured 15-inch high lettering along the side advertising BMW's EfficiencyDynamics program. Despite this billboard, nobody approached me during my test week, which surprised me.

All 2009 3 Series cars receive some mild midcycle styling and content changes. The headlamps get chrome tubes so they pop visually. The side sills are refined and the taillamps incorporate their backup lights more subtly, while maintaining the odd break in their upper edge at the trunk line, a BMW design trait. My Audi-driving wife didn't care for that.

Inside, you'll find slightly upgraded materials. The instrument panel, doors and console interact with the panel in a play of interconnected surfaces that alternate from convex to concave. This is a remnant of the controversial but popular styling of former chief designer Chris Bangle. My tester's standard black Dakota leather seats were very supportive and attractive.

The 335d drives pretty much the same as any other car. You do hear a little "clatter" at startup, but not much else during travel. The 3.0-liter engine has 265 horsepower versus 300 in the gasoline 3-liter engine in the 335i, but its massive 425 lb.-ft. of torque yanks it forward when you place your foot on the accelerator.

Diesels work at lower rpm than gas engines, so the engine reaches maximum torque at 1750-2250 rpm versus 1400-5000 rpm for the gas engine. The final drive ratio in the six-speed automatic transmission is much lower, too-2.81:1 instead of 3.46:1-for the same reason. So, an automatic transmission is perfect for the Diesel 3 Series, and there's no manual available.

Diesel engines use pressure rather than spark plugs for ignition, so the engine's compression ratio is 16.5:1 versus 10.2:1 in the 335i. That means the engine has to be stronger, and as it turns out, the 335d outweighs the 335i by 220 pounds.

I was pleasantly surprised to purchase Diesel fuel at 10 cents per gallon less than regular--$2.49.9. The new clean Diesel is nearly odorless, so using the special pump at my local Chevron station was no big deal. Gasoline and Diesel fuel are refined differently and are not interchangeable.

The EPA gives the 335d fuel economy ratings of 23 City, 36 Highway (27 combined), versus 17/26 for the gasoline version. That's significant. The Air Pollution score is just 4, but the Greenhouse Gas score is a well-above-average 7.

I had an easy time using the upgraded iDrive control system. Starting in 2002, BMW debuted iDrive, which employs a high-mounted information screen and a dial mounted on the lower console. It replicates the computer monitor/mouse relationship and its complexity of use for things like radio and climate selections wasn't appreciated by many drivers. BMW has added some programmable direct selection keys around the dial, which make it much quicker and easier to use. The 8.8-inch high-resolution screen is sharper now, as well.

I played with the Navigation system, which worked smoothly with iDrive. Amusements included hearing the female guide's tone of voice rise at the end of some sentences in a way that made it sound like a question. I also chuckled over her naming of the highway as "Interstate six hundred and eighty."

The list price of the 335d is $1,600 higher than the 335i with automatic, but there is a $900 tax credit to soften the impact. And, with the difference in fuel economy, you should be able to make up the rest. My tester's MSRP was $43,900, but with a plethora of options, came to $52,800. The cheapest 3 Series sedan in the U.S., the 328i, starts at $34,225.

The best part of this car, of course, is that it's the fifth generation of the more than 40-year tradition of compact rear-wheel-drive sports sedans-a category BMW created with the original 2002 (model, not year). There's so much driving pleasure and engagement with a 3 Series that it has been a Car and Driver Top Ten favorite for decades. The Diesel model is no less enjoyable.

Now, how about bringing us the 318d four-cylinder Diesel sedan from Europe? I want to get 60 miles per gallon too.

By Steve Schaefer

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Images of the 2009, BMW 335d Wagon

2009 BMW 335d Wagon front shot
2009 BMW 335d Wagon front shot
2009 BMW 335d Wagon interior
2009 BMW 335d Wagon interior
2009 BMW 335d Wagon has a large cargo space
2009 BMW 335d Wagon has a large cargo space
2009 BMW 335d Wagon from the side
2009 BMW 335d Wagon from the side