April 12, 2009
When putting fuel-efficient vehicles on a shopping list, most wouldn't mark down any BMWs, which are better known for 0-to-60-m.p.h. performance than for sipping liquid energy.
Take the newest member of the family: the 2009 335 sedan. It takes only 6 seconds to go from standing start to 60, thanks to its 3-liter, 265-horsepower, twin-turbo inline 6 with 6-speed automatic.
More noteworthy is that it's the 335d, with "d" for diesel, a class of engines once known for raising a big stink—in sound as well as smell. BMW last offered a diesel in the mid-'80s. Emissions concerns and high-sulfur fuel kept it out of the U.S. diesel market until now.
While a member of the performance club, it's the most fuel-efficient vehicle in BMW's lineup, at 23 m.p.g. city and 36 highway.
With its ability to nurse a drink, the 335d can go nearly 600 miles before needing a refill, a most impressive range for those who like to travel in style, surrounded by the latest in high-tech gadgetry.
We tested the 335d, and when pulling away from the light, into the passing lane or along the merger ramp, there was no diesel lumber, clatter or odor.
The smaller of the twin turbos gets the car going, the larger one then kicks in a little later to steadily build power without turbo lag.
BMW's BluePerformance diesel comes with a particulate filter and a special catalytic converter to treat emissions. With low-sulfur diesel fuel available, the 335d meets emissions standards in all 50 states; past diesels couldn't be sold in California or New York, two high-volume markets with tougher emissions laws.
You have to strain to detect the muffled ping of diesel combustion—no more sound of steel bolts bouncing in a metal drum.
The diesel gives BMW an alternative to gas/electrics and plug-in hybrids. However, there's no free pass, and like hybrids and plug-ins the 335d comes at a premium price. The $43,900 base is about $3,000 more than the gas-powered 335i and about $10,000 more than the lowest-priced 3-Series, the 328i, with its 3-liter, 230-h.p. 6-cylinder gas engine.
And that premium is before pulling into the station and seeing lead-free gas: $2.07; diesel: $2.27. The spread varies, but diesel's rarely less. Yet, at 20 cents more per gallon, diesel runs only $3.30 more for a tank.
Though the diesel powerplant is a heavyweight, the car handles like the sports sedan it is. But for that nimbleness, the ride is a little firm in the saddle, a trait that's long been part of the BMW DNA.
Stability control with traction control is standard, and along with low-profile, 18-inch, all-season radials, ensures excellent road manners.
Room is ample upfront, and front seat cushions help reduce ride firmness, but the rear seat backs/bottoms feel as if chiseled from marble. Trunk space is massive and, with the $1,150 cold-weather package, those seat backs fold to carry the skis inside. But the fold lever is in the trunk, not the cabin.
The 335d comes standard with power glass moonroof, climate control, rain-sensing wipers, AM/FM stereo with CD/MP3 system, heated power mirrors and power windows/locks/seats, to name a few.
Options are costly: $2,100 for navigation system; $2,650 for premium package with a digital compass in the rearview mirror and a universal garage-door opener; $1,150 for a cold-weather package with heated steering wheel/front seats; $700 for park distance control to warn when one is too close to a bumper when parking; $400 for iPod/USB adapter; $595 for satellite radio; and $500 for a comfort access system—push-button start to mere mortals. The test car didn't have active cruise control, which, for $2,400, helps keep you from getting too close to the vehicle ahead.
And while the 335d shares the same diesel offered in BMW's X5 xDrive35d sport-utility, it lacks the SUV's all-wheel-drive. Though it would be a welcome addition, the car wasn't designed to handle AWD, so it can't be added until Gen II at the earliest.
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Rides. Contact him at email@example.com
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