BMW BURNS THE MIDNIGHT OIL
Published on Fri, May 20, 2011
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
The oil burner (AKA diesel) version of the BMW 335 loses the upper RPMs of its gas burner sister. However, it gains 30 percent on the miles per gallon and enough torque at the low end to pull tree stumps. Outside of that, the 335d is every bit the ultimate driving machine that one expects from the sign of the spinning blue propeller. Editor John Grafman reports. By John Grafman If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, is it a duck? It’s hard not to think like this when you experience the BMW 335d. It looks like a 3 Series, and aside from the badging and tachometer it might be hard to distinguish the difference between this and your everyday gasoline driven 335. That is, until you drive it.
Really, this has the same great qualities that we know and love about the current 3 Series model. In fact, this really is the same aside from the drivetrain related elements. The body and interior has evolved over the years to become a yardstick that the rest get measured by. But the reason why the 3 has really been a benchmark is the performance. Driving the gasoline powered 335 around the track at Fontana several times I feel good. Good as in feeling confident, and that confidence is based on control. And, real control is a reflection of the interaction the driver enjoys with the car. With the BMW’s steering, brakes, shifting, and throttle response, the driver quickly becomes one with the car. The interaction is tight and natural. If you wanted to create your own sports car this would be the end result. This is where the story takes a turn. The gas driven 335 is really the charmer, with a fast spooling single twin-scroll turbo and 300 horses. What can the diesel possibly offer to compare with a class standout?
Everything else being equal, the diesel has a few aces up its sleeve. But first it’s time to dispel some myths. Number one, diesel fuel does not cost grossly more money than premium gasoline. In fact, at one over-priced station the price was the same. Typically in the local area (Southern California) the price has been about ten cents more per gallon than gasoline. So, really it comes out to about 2.5 percent more for diesel. Number two, this car does not produce obnoxious emissions. No smoke, no smell. Lastly, the noise from the motor is marginal. A slight ticking is indeed heard when outside of the car while the motor is on. However, with the windows closed, or once the car is moving, it is all but unnoticeable. All we hear is a nice deep exhaust tone, just as we would expect. It does take a little getting used to the low redline of 4,800. Perhaps this is why the only choice in transmissions is an automatic. Normally, this isn’t my favorite choice on a sporty car. However, the six-speed transmission is a perfect match, and it always keeps the car from frying the motor by over-revving, which would be easy to do in a manual. The wide range of gears provides for smoothness, power, and economy.
On the subject of power there is good news and bad. The downside of the diesel is that it puts out 35 horsepower less than the 335 with a gas powered motor. Still, 265 ponies can be plenty in a car of this size. As promised, there is an upside. 425 pound feet of torque, and it comes in at a low 1,800 rpm. This is in part due to the high-pressure direct fuel injection with piezo injectors, and a turbocharging system using both a small and larger turbocharger for a wider range of power. To translate, this is enough grunt to jump off the line, and charge up inclines with a car load of people as if it the hill wasn’t even there, and eat up the rear tires if given the chance. The diesel isn’t as engaging as the gas powered version, simply due to the redline limit. But, this is not far off in the fun department. As one gets used to the behavior of the diesel the car is very rewarding.The acceleration is really half the story. The handling is almost what I expect out of a BMW 3. Without having a regular 335 to compare with side-by-side it is hard to be 100 percent fair. Nonetheless, the car weighs in a few hundred pounds heavier, and the front of the car does feel a bit nose heavy when driving in a spirited manner. Still, this is a car that I would love to take to the track or canyons.
Looking at the sticker price, these models are close enough in price for the cost to be an insignificant factor of about one percent. Half of Europe wouldn’t be driving in diesels if there wasn’t a good reason. This BMW, like diesels in general, has far greater fuel efficiency when compared to its gasoline powered sibling. The 335d is rated at 36 mpg on the highway, but it is possible to do better by keeping the cruise control on and the speed set to the legal limit. This is an 8 mpg improvement over the gasoline powered car--nearly a 30 percent gain. This is damn impressive. Even when playing hard this still better than a similar gasoline powered 3 Series. In a few days I warm up to this nicely. After a week I’m smitten. Can one have their cake and eat it too? It also doesn’t hurt that diesel motors have a reputation for being more durable. While there aren’t many, one of the few concerns that come to mind is not all fueling stations sell diesel. This can be a problem, or at the very least a nuisance. However, build more diesels and I am positive more fueling stations will want in on that action.
This does have paddle shifters, but it is a little congested in that area with other control stalks, which can lead to unintended blinker or wiper activation. The other option is to use the center console shifter to row through the gears. Perhaps the most unusual part of the car isn’t in under the hood, but inside the cabin. While BMW might be trying to capture the vegan car buyer, I still find it strange that this car comes standard with vinyl seating. Of course, that can be remedied by optioning up to leather, but its’ still odd for a car of this type. The fundamental goodness of the 335 shines through in the 335d, and that is very compelling. BMW should be proud. It is one of the few OEMs that have taken a bold step in offering a diesel on these shores that can be appreciated in something other than a SUV. The gasoline powered 335 might be the benchmark, but the 335d is the trendsetter. SUMMARY JUDGMENT This is the alternative fuel performance vehicle for those that aren’t looking for one. For more information about BMW products, go to bmwusa.com SPECIFICATIONS
Name of vehicle: BMW 335d Price: Base $43,950, as tested $49,975 EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 23/36 Engine type: 3-liter, Inline 6 cylinder, 4-valve per cylinder, Diesel, Common Rail, sequential twin turbo Horsepower: 265 @ 4,200 rpm Torque: 425 lb.-ft @ 1,750 rpm Drive configuration: Front engine / rear-wheel drive Transmission type: 6-speed automatic with Steptronic, 6HP26 TU Front suspension: Independent, double-pivot strut-type with aluminum components Rear suspension: Independent, 5-link setup Wheels and tires: Front: 225/45 R17, 8x17 Light alloy, (optional - 225/40 R18 W, 8x18 Light alloy) Rear: 225/45 R17, 8x17 Light alloy, (optional - 255/35 R18 W, 8.5x18 Light alloy) Brakes: Front: Vented discs 348 mm, 13.7” diameter Rear: Vented discs 336 mm, 13.2 diameter Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), Dynamic Brake Control (DBC). Overall length: 178.8” Overall width: 71.5” Overall height: 55.9” Curb weight (lb.): 3,825 Performance 0-60 mph: 6.0 seconds Top Speed, mph: 130, w/optional sport package 150