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2010 BMW 335d: The Polar Opposite of What You Think Diesel Is

BMW_2009_335d_fillup.JPGWhile hybrids may be getting all of the attention when it comes to efficient motoring, the German automakers have long been preparing to show Americans a real alternative in the form of diesel engines. Because of much higher fuel prices in Europe, diesel has become the norm across the Atlantic due to their much greater fuel economy (up to 30% better than a comparable gasoline engine). In other words, the German automakers are already fully invested in diesel, and they would love to expand this technology into the U.S.
It isn’t an easy job, however. Whereas European emissions rules focus on CO2 emissions – a diesel strength since CO2 emissions are directly linked to fuel economy, American emissions rules tend to prioritize NOx and particulate emissions, which are two areas where diesels typically don’t do so well in. Furthermore, Americans associate diesels with dirty truck stops, smoky 18-wheelers, and pig-slow jalopies from the ’70s and ’80s that were unreliable and belched filth from their sooty tailpipes. On the other hand, Americans equate hybrids with high technology, clean air, and in many cases, a green future.

BMW_2009_335d_exterior.JPGThat’s a pretty tough PR battle for diesel to fight, especially since hybrids have a long head start on the new generation of clean diesels that have started to hit the showrooms over the last year. And only over the last few months has the price of diesel fuel started to come down to reasonable levels; for the last few years diesel had cost significantly more than gasoline, eliminating any financial benefit that diesels’ lower consumption presented. And, fuel prices are so volatile these days that we can’t predict where diesel fuel prices will be in the long term.
Fortunately, the diesel camp has a pretty compelling evangelist for the cause in the form of this BMW 335d. In short, the 335d is everything that the 3-Series is admired for, and then amped up with torque that simply has to be experienced to be believed.
BMW_2009_335d_rear_34.JPGI won’t talk too much about the car’s driving dynamics because it’s in line with everything you’ve ever heard about the 3-Series. In a nutshell, it steers and handles like a dream. But let’s talk about that engine. The 3.0L twin turbo diesel fires up instantly and quickly settles into a very quiet idle. There’s no noisy clatter or rumble. I never tried to stack champagne glasses on the hood like Lexus did in that commercial from years ago, but so smooth is this diesel at idle that I have no doubt it would pass that test.
Hit the accelerator pedal and hang on, because after an initial pause that lasts a couple tenths of a second, this car accelerates brutally fast, but in a different way than you might be used to from a gasoline engine. Because this is a diesel, the engine’s power and torque is at its best in the middle of the rev range. Thus, when accelerating full throttle, each shift is accompanied by a tidal wave of torque and acceleration as the engine returns to the middle of the rev range. BMW says the 335d’s 0-60 mph acceleration time is 5.9 seconds, but this does not tell the whole story. Because of the torque, passing maneuvers on the highway are unbelievably quick. It almost feels like God himself punting you from the rear.
BMW_2009_335d_fuel_economy.JPGAll this is comes with a delicious soundtrack. Because it’s an inline-six, the engine is uncommonly smooth and harmonically balanced. At higher revs, there’s a subdued baritone growl that reflects its refined power.
Oh, but wait. All this talk of performance and torque almost made me forget to mention fuel economy. Over 300 miles of driving, the trip computer told me I achieved 31 miles per gallon. This, from a car whose performance is a religious experience. By comparison, a Hyundai Elantra Touring we had during the same period achieved 26 miles per gallon.
One thing though: this particular 335d has a sticker of $49,000. And what do you get for that sum? No leather, no Bluetooth, no navigation! I think any vehicle that costs fifty grand had better include those features, no matter how nice the powertrain and chassis is. Heck, even that aforementioned Elantra had more amenities inside than this supposed luxury car.
BMW_2009_335d_interior.JPGNot taking cost into account, this is my favorite car I’ve driven all year. But I see the market for this car as fairly limited. Basically, the market for this car is someone who has little price sensitivity, thinks brand image is really important, loves performance, and has a green, socially responsible mindset. So, it’s the perfect car for Santa Monica, then.
But most of us can’t afford to live in Santa Monica. Still, great new tech usually starts at the upper echelons of the marketplace, and this 335d does make a very compelling case for diesel. Hopefully, in the coming years, we’ll get more cars like this at prices the rest of us can afford. That is, as long as the Germans can successfully carve out a space in the American market for diesel.

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