Vail Valley: New diesel-powered BMW is a pleasure
Vail, CO, Colorado
For a Vail Valley driving experience that couldn’t be more European if it tried, the thoroughly modern, efficient and moderately costly BMW 335d brings a taste of continental style to those who’d like an “alternative fuel” vehicle that’s not a dork magnet like a Prius.
The economics of diesel in America still play heavily at the center of the mystery surrounding BMW’s newest creation: As an apparent tax penalty to America’s long-distance trucking and rail industry, diesel’s still hella expensive here, although new-generation engines such as those found in the 335d make it a cleaner and much more efficient proposition than those nasty 1970s oil-burners.
Driven in a light-footed fashion, the 265-horsepower 335d will generate around 40 miles per gallon and can travel almost 600 miles on a tank of gas; the fantastic torque (425 pound-feet) generated by the turbocharged inline-six makes acceleration feel like you’ve got a nitro system under the hood.
However, unlike America’s most promising foreign diesel import, the much in-demand VW Jetta TDI, BMW’s offering is not cheap. A gasoline-powered 335i, sans options, lists at $40,300; the moderately well-appointed 335d I drove was a whopping $55,445, equipped with nearly $11,000 in options.
Clearly, at that price, the price differential in fuel savings is not the primary motivator. Green-minded folks still flush with cash may decide instead to emphasize BMW’s “Blue Performance” diesel system, the company’s own interpretation of a urea-infused exhaust scrubbing system which eradicates the smoke once associated with automotive diesel power.
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The engine does, admittedly, still clatter a bit at idle and is noticeably louder than a gas engine on heavy acceleration, but it’s nothing like a big diesel truck. At highway speeds, the noise evens out, and the added confidence of universally accessible acceleration is certainly nothing to sneeze at.
All of the new 3-series’ admirable attributes remain, most notably its sporty styling and feel, but the 2009 335d provided my first opportunity to try out the new and, yes, really very much improved version of the much-hated iDrive information and entertainment control system.
A wider screen with crisper, almost Windows-styled graphics is controlled by a knob, but just up in front are five clearly-labeled buttons (CD, Radio, Menu, Telephone and Navigation) which instantly access the appropriate menus without the frustrating pumping and poking of the old system.
Navigation maps are fantastically rendered and even feature live traffic and construction information for the Front Range ” play with it for an hour or so and it becomes second nature, as BMW initially intended with the old spinning knob of death.
Driving the 335d is a dream. Steering feel is somewhat heavier than I remember with all-wheel-drive variations of the 3-series coupe, but that’s about the only difference. Overall handling is smooth and sharp, enhanced by a sport suspension package, although the crispness makes potholes a little more worth avoiding.
Looks, both inside and out, are standard 3-series clean and cool, with an interior resplendent in black-on-black-on-black, heavy on the leather and real hardwood highlights.
A fully ergonomic setup, clear instrumentation and easy-to-use controls are the name of the game. I did find the seating a tad smallish, and the cabin space is as restrained as you’ll find in all of the 3-series offerings, so Larger Americans may want to explore the 5 and 7 series as alternatives.
As a truly wonderful alternative fuel vehicle, the 335d is a winner, just a bit pricey. So it goes.
2009 BMW 335d Sedan
Price (as tested): $55,445
Powertrain: 265-horsepower 3.0-liter turbo inline-six engine, six-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive
Includes: 18-inch wheels, steering wheel-mounted shift paddles, sport seats, sport suspension, moonroof, new-generation iDrive navigation, xenon headlights, power front seats, park distance control
EPA mileage: 23 city, 36 highway