Review: 2009 BMW 335d, Performance and Fuel Economy
Over the last two years BMW has started making a major push for its new EfficientDynamics technology in Europe and more recently in North America. The premise is that the company that has long promoted itself as the "Ultimate Driving Machine" can retain all the qualities that made it so ultimate while drastically cutting fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. In Europe, BMW offers a suite of technologies like automatic start-stop for engines, brake energy regeneration and smaller four cylinder engines. The most important near term technology however is diesel engines.
Late in 2008, BMW launched its first two new clean diesel vehicles here in the United States, the X5 xDrive35d SUV and the 335d sedan. We recently had a chance to spend a week with the 335d to determine if it truly can provide the driving experience that customers expect of a BMW with better fuel efficiency. Read on to find out if the automaker succeeded.
Gallery: Review: 2009 BMW 335d
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Since the 3-series debuted in the mid 1970s to replace the old 2002, BMW's compact sport sedan has built a reputation as one of the finest driving cars on the market. It is also considered the defining icon for a segment that virtually every premium automotive brand has aimed for with a model of its own. Now in its fifth generation, the styling of the 3-series has evolved from a relatively conservative, boxy upright sedan to a look that is decidedly more sporting. Like the last two generations, the current E90 (BMW's internal platform designation) features proportions that telegraph its capabilities.
The 3-series has a relatively long hood with the passenger cabin set well back and the front axle pushed forward. In profile the 3 has a very short front overhang allowing the in-line 6-cylinder engine to be set well back in the chassis giving it a perfect 50/50 front-rear weight distribution. The latest 3-series debuted as 2006 model and got a minor face-lift last year although it didn't change dramatically. At the front it still has the face that instantly says "I'm a BMW!" with the twin kidney grilles and the quad round headlamps. Of course those grilles have squashed down vertically and stretched horizontally over the years and the lamps are now under glass but the intent is clear.
The standard xenon projector beam lamps have integrated LED running lamps around their perimeters while fog-lights sit in the pockets below the bumper. The body surfaces of the latest 3-series have more development than past models but are still much more subdued that some other BMWs of this decade including the last Z4 and the current 5-series. Besides the fascia, the other stylistic defining element of a BMW is the greenhouse including the requisite "Hofmeister Kink" at the trailing edge of the side windows. The kink has been on virtually every BMW sedan and coupe since the 1961 1500 and will continue into the indefinite future according to BMW.
While the 3-series has grown significantly over the years, it remains a relatively compact machine by modern standards. At 178.2 inches long, it is one inch shorter than a VW Jetta sedan and from 2-7 inches shorter than the Lexus IS, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-class. That adds to its sporty character but detracts from its usability as a five passenger sedan. It's not terrible but you'll probably want to put your tallest passenger in the shotgun position and restrict the rear center spot only to small children. In spite of its smaller external dimensions the BMW is actually quite a bit roomier in back than the Lexus with four inches more leg room and over an inch of head clearance advantage.
But this is of course a BMW which means it's a drivers car. So the really important seat is front-left (unless you are reading this in the UK, Australia, Japan or otherRHD countries) and so that is where we'll concentrate. BMW built an early reputation for excellent ergonomics with most of the controls canted toward the driver. However, through the 1990s and into this decade the availability of modern electronics led to a features arms race among premium car-makers. More features means more buttons and switches to control them. BMW engineers sought to address this with the iDrive control knob that allowed drivers to manage everything through a virtual interface in the dash board LCD screen. This wouldn't have been such a bad idea except that the software menu interface was absolutely atrocious and unnavigable.
The 3-series refresh last year brought with it the third generation of iDrive and a huge step forward. It still isn't nearly as good as old fashioned knobs and switches, but they are getting there. The screen itself is larger and higher resolution making map reading much easier than before. The menu structure is much more intuitive but the voice activation still leaves much to be desired. For example when trying to use the voice control for the navigation system, if you try to select a point of interest, the system tells you to use the iDrive knob to spell it out. The system in Ford vehicles does a very reliable job of detecting names and picking out the right place without having to touch any controls.
Back in the day when the original 3-series was born, plenty of less expensive cars used vinyl to cover the seats as an alternative to leather. Unfortunately in those days their was no way you could ever confuse the synthetic material for animal hides. Not so today. The latest leatherette materials from companies like BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Volkswagen are extremely difficult to distinguish from skins and likely wear a lot better over time. Such is the case with the materials that cover the seats of the 335d we tested. Those who prefer not to use animal products won't have to give up any of the luxury feel with this leatherette. Real cow hides are of course an option as are more robust sport seats. Even the standard seats in the 3 provide plenty of support and are comfortable to sit in whether you are bombing around back roads or heading out on a road trip.
A road trip is of course the ideal use for a diesel engine which just loves to cruise all day long. This however is not your father's 1982 Oldsmobile diesel. Over in Europe some 60 percent of all BMWs sold are powered by diesels and in some markets as many as 80 percent. To most Americans a diesel is the thing that makes all that racket, black smoke and stench when you are stuck behind a big truck or bus in traffic. Those who do remember those 80s diesels will also recall them as being gutless and excruciatingly slow. These days however, all new diesels are turbocharged and use modern common rail fuel injection systems. Diesels have always made healthy amounts of torque and they still do but they also produce plenty of power. Equally important they do it with all the refinement one expects of any other modern gasoline fueled engine.
Hop into this 335d insert the fob and press the start button and it fires up and settles into a nice smooth idle. The clatter one typically expects of a diesel is virtually gone now. The 3.0-liter in-line 6-cylinder diesel generates 265 hp and a massive 425 lb-ft of torque at just 1,750 rpm. That latter figure is more than the capacity of any of BMW's current manual transmissions so the 335d is only available with a 6-speed automatic. That's actually just fine because this is a strong gearbox with quick and smooth shifts. With the lever in drive stepping on the accelerator gives a slightly leisurely response right off the line because it's calibrated for optimum fuel efficiency. If you move the shift lever back to the sport mode, the engine and transmission responses become much more aggressive and the 335d virtually leaps off the line.
Regardless of which position you leave the shifter in, once underway it's a whole different story. Squeeze the accelerator at almost any speed, and the 335d simply builds velocity in a wonderfully linear way. You can be cruising down the highway at 70 mph and press the go-pedal and before you know it, the speedometer will be at 100 and beyond. When you push it hard, the BMW diesel emanates a beautiful bass growl, but never seems like the old fashioned diesels you remember.
When the roads get twisty, the 335d also lives up to the reputation built up over three decades of 3-series. The combination of all the modern features drivers expect and the heavier diesel engine mean the 335d weighs in at just over 3,800 pounds. Nonetheless when it's pushed hard down a canyon road in southern California, the 335d feels beautifully balanced with only minimal understeer. The thick rimmed steering wheel tries to unwind itself in proportion to the forces built up at the front wheels while changing direction. Coming out the corners, the massive diesel torque sends you rushing to the next corner. In a straight line from a standing start, BMW claims the 335d can accelerate to 60 mph in just 6.0 seconds and our experience was consistent with this.
Of course the diesel engine is not just about performance but about fuel efficiency. The EPA rates the 335d at 23 mpg city and 36 mpg highway with a 27 mpg combined rating. In our own time with the car, we averaged 30 mpg in mix of city and highway driving. An extended road trip at constant highway speeds can easily yield mileage in the upper 30s. By way of comparison the gas powered 335i which also has a twin turbocharged 3.0-liter in-line 6 is rated 17/26 mpg city and highway. The 335d starts at $43,900 which is about $1,700 more than the similar automatic transmission 335i. The 335d (and the diesel powered X5) are currently eligible for a $900 federal tax credit due to their fuel efficiency. Of course like any other premium German machine, that starting price is just that. Injudicious use of the option list can easily elevated the out the door price to nearly $70 grand. Even with a bottom line closer to the base price, the 335d provides all the characteristics one expects of a BMW with excellent fuel economy. This is the "ultimate efficient driving machine." Oh by the way the EfficientDynamics graphics are not included on customer cars, they are only on the press cars.
Gallery: Review: 2009 BMW 335d
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.