Last week, BMW revealed most of the details on its first new 50-state legal clean diesels and we've now had the chance to spend some quality time behind the wheel of the new US-spec 335d. Following our arrival at Los Angeles International Airport, we were sent off in a brand new US-spec, 50 state legal diesel 3-series for a driving tour of the freeways, surface streets and canyons north of the city.
The 3-series is BMW's biggest selling model by a wide margin, accounting for 45 percent of all the brand's sales so far this year. For the 2009 model year, the 3-series received a minor exterior face-lift with a re-sculpted nose and tail. On the inside, the 2009 3 is the first US-market BMW to get the new redesigned version of the previously dreaded i-Drive interface. Of course, the real reason for ABG's interest is the introduction of the most fuel efficient BMW ever offered for sale in the United States, the 335d. Find out about our first impression after the jump.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Having driven a European-spec 535d last December, we already had an idea of what to expect with the 335d. The same basic engine has been updated with the necessary bits to make it legal for sale in all 50 states including diesel-averse California. Power - plenty of it - comes courtesy of a 3.0L in-line six cylinder engine fitted with a third-generation common rail fuel injection system and two turbochargers. In Europe, BMW offers this power-plant in three different power levels. The two weaker variants only use a single turbo.
The dual turbo has small and large turbos that operate in sequence. At low engine speeds, the exhaust gas is routed primarily to a smaller unit with low inertia, allowing it to spin up faster to generate boost for quick response to driver demands. As engine revs build, the exhaust gases are redirected to a larger turbocharger with greater flow capacity. The result is a progressive increase in power all the way up to a peak of 265 hp with a stump-pulling 425 lb-ft of torque.
For once the American market isn't left behind when it comes to transmissions. The 335d is only available with a 6-speed automatic, the same as everyone else. According to BMW, that's because the diesel makes more torque than any other engine in the car-maker's lineup and no manual is available in the company with enough torque capacity. Given that Americans generally have an aversion to clutch pedals, this shouldn't pose a problem here.
As one would expect of a car with a price tag in the mid $40,000 price range, the interior of the 3-series has a high quality look. The center console and dash are trimmed in a choice of either aluminum or wood and the seats, shift knob and steering wheel are all trimmed in a realistic looking leatherette. For the usual premium on the bottom line you can get actual animal hides. The base front seats are comfortable with firm cushioning. The bottom cushions are relatively flat with most of the lateral support coming from the side bolsters on the seat back. However, those who intend drive the 335d in a manner befitting its "ultimate driving machine" tag-line will want to check off the sport package on the option list. That package adds more aggressive sport seats and re-tuned suspension with bigger 18" wheels and tires.
The 3-series is a relatively compact car and that shows in the back seat. The center seat-belt is best left unused unless you have three very slim and friendly passengers back there. The driver will find this cockpit a very functional working environment. The gauges are large and legible with simple white text on a black background. The central display atop the dash now has a higher resolution, more colorful screen and benefits from the new version of BMW's iDrive control interface. The new iDrive debuted on the latest 7-series last summer and is now included in the 2009 3-series as well. The basic hardware control knob of iDrive has never been the problem with the system, rather it was the obtuse graphical interface. The new interface is laid out much more logically and you can actually find options in the menu structure without spending a week pouring over the manual.
Unlike BMW's other new diesel, the X5 xDrive35d, the 335d has a conventional mechanical automatic shift lever. The X5 uses a funky electrical switch with a several buttons for engaging park and reverse. The 3-series is just a simple forward and back lever. Nothing fancy, but it works. From Drive, tapping the lever to the left enables manual shift mode. From there, tapping the lever fore-aft induces down/up shifts. The 335d doesn't offer paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
For our first drive in Southern California, we set off on a 140-mile route. Our drive route included a mix of some rural canyon roads, open freeways, stop and go city driving and the stereotypical 405 traffic jam. The 425 lb-ft of torque from the dual turbo six means the 335 accelerates briskly from a stand-still and absolutely storms when you step on the accelerator at speed. Accelerating to merge with traffic on a freeway is absolutely effortless.
One of the beauties of in-line six cylinder engines is their inherent smooth operation and this diesel is no exception. The 335 engine is one of the silkiest engines you'll find, regardless of fuel type. It's also quiet. At speed it's almost imperceptible. Only at idle is there a barely audible ticking from the injectors. Most direct injected gasoline engines make more noise than this diesel. With no particular attempt at maximizing fuel efficiency we managed a very respectable 34 mpg over the drive route. The 335d certainly doesn't come cheap. But for those that want a sports sedan with excellent performance and fuel economy, it's a fine choice. If it matters at all to you, it also offers whatever cache you might feel the BMW brand offers. If the 335d does as well in its segment as the Jetta TDI is doing, it's highly likely that BMW will add four cylinder diesels to the lineup as well. The 3-series is already available in the Europe with the same 2.0L diesel used in the 123d we drove last summer. That would make an excellent combination with mileage approaching 40 mpg and an available manual transmission for those who appreciate it.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Our travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.