BMW 335d – mileage and performance for the UDM

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

What’s going to become of high-performance, gas-guzzling sports sedans and sports cars as the government’s increasing gas mileage requirements climb into the stratosphere over the next decade?

We hope they don’t eventually go the way of the dinosaur as manufacturers are faced with meeting ever-increasing fleet mileage standards.

But in this world of incredible change, who can say for sure?

There are many people in high places, people who have never owned a car or are chauffeured from place to place, who think driving is and should be for all people simply a means of getting from point A to point B. Driving enjoyment is not in their lexicon. Passion for a car is verboten.

So what are driving enthusiasts to do? Fear not. We discovered that exciting non-electric cars won’t anytime soon be legislated away and there’s a viable solution that’s here right now and it doesn’t involve electricity or hydrogen.

We found that high mileage and performance can live in harmony and the solution is as old as the motor car itself — oil; or in other words, diesel-powered vehicles, vehicles that are now 50-state compliant.

Diesels are popular in Europe in part because of subsidies and tax reductions. Diesels also provide more go for the dough. We’re talking about fuel economy that for the most part, achieves more than 40 miles per gallon. Diesels now account for more than half of all vehicles sold there each year. In the U.S. market diesels account for less than 5 percent of passenger car sales.

We think that percentage will grow now that diesel engines have become cleaner and quieter. Even more so as diesel prices fall in line with gas prices and deep-seated consumer misconceptions are overcome.

A recent study by Morpace Powertrain Acceptance & Consumer Engagement (PACE) found that 62 percent of new vehicle owners feel that diesel-powered vehicles have “gotten better” over the past 10 years, and 35 percent now say they will “consider” clean diesel technology for their next vehicle.

Not surprisingly it’s the Europeans who are playing a leadership role in developing modern diesel engines that are amazingly powerful while at the same time amazingly fuel efficient.

It’s the fuel efficient part that will surely increase diesel’s acceptance in the U.S. — check out the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI that is rated at 41 mpg highway — but it’s the high performance part that will keep diesel engines readily available in luxury showrooms as fleet standards rise to 35 mpg by 2016.

Enter the 2009 BMW 335d, the first BMW diesel to reach our shores in more than 25 years. To prove our performance plus fuel efficiency point, we will compare the turbocharged inline six diesels with the turbocharged inline six gas engines in the 3-Series.

First know that the diesel powered car comes at about a $3,000 price premium over the gas model. But there is some mitigation: it is rated at 23 mpg city and 36 mpg highway, a significant advantage over the 335i, which is rated at 17 mpg city, 26 mpg highway on premium gas. And there’s a $900 tax credit for the diesel at the time of purchase.

Not many months ago you could argue that the fuel savings was negligible because of the higher cost of diesel. That argument has dissolved in current pump prices. Diesel on the West Coast is now selling for about the price of 87-octane, and on the East Coast for 10-to-15 cents less than regular gas.

Additionally there is vehicle performance. We can show there’s little difference.

Unlike the gas engine, the diesel lives and dies on torque, which measures an astounding 425 pound-feet in the 335d. Torque is the muscle that snaps your neck back when you floor the accelerator. Torque is the commodity that slingshots you around traffic on daily commutes. Oh yeah, there is a nice quantity of horsepower, too, measured at 265.

Measuring apples to apples — in this case automotive magazine Road & Track’s testing — the diesel was clocked at 5.3 seconds from 0 to 60 (BMW’s official time is 6 seconds) and 14.4 seconds at 97.5 seconds in the quarter mile. The 335i was measured from 0 to 60 in 4.8 seconds and in 13.4 seconds at 105 miles per hour in the quarter, its superior 300 horses taking over at the top end.

Then there is the ultimate driving machine experience. We think the diesel is every bit a BMW as the gas-powered car. Nothing has been left out in handling, cornering and overall feel.

Unfortunately, for the person who equates sports sedans with a manual transmission, there’s not one available in the diesel. BMW says there’s just too much torque. You must settle for a six-speed automatic, and to get shift paddles on the steering wheel you will have to mark the $100 sports steering wheel option.

There is a caveat here (isn’t there always?).

The new high-tech diesel engine requires 5.4-gallons of “urea” additive every 12,000 to 15,000 miles. This is the stuff that cleans up the exhaust gases to make the engine 50-state compliant. When the reservoir runs dry, the car cannot be started. You don’t have a choice but to refill at about $10 a gallon. Really, in the scheme of things a small price to pay.

The good news is that BMW will pick up all maintenance costs, including oil changes, for the first four years or 50,000 miles. That alone will save you a lot more than the cost of the “urea.”

The starting price for the 335d is $44,725 including destination charge. The comparable 335i starts at $41,125.

For that price you get a large assortment of standard features and a full compliment of safety equipment including such cutting-edge brake technology that periodically wipes the brake rotors dry when the windshield wipers are in use and automatically snug the pads to the rotors when the driver abruptly lifts of the throttle.

There are several attractive options that may be hard to pass up, but can run the bottom line well into 50 grand. They include navigation, active cruise control, special Dakota leather upholstery, a sports package that includes 18-inch alloy wheels with performance tires, modified suspension, increased top-speed limiter and 10-way power sports seats.
Our test car with seven options came to $52,820.

We are excited about one of the world’s premier sports sedans capable of incredible mileage without losing its competitive edge. If this is the direction European performance is headed because of more stringent mileage requirements we stand and applaud.


Base price: $44,725; as driven, $52,820
Engine: 3.0-liter inline 6 twin-turbo diesel
Horsepower: 265 @ 4,200 rpm
Torque: 425 pound-feet @ 1,750 rpm
Drive: rear wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 108.7 inches
Length: 178.8 inches
Curb weight: 3,800 pounds
Turning circle: 36.1 feet
Luggage capacity: 12 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16.1 gallons (diesel)
EPA mileage: 36 mpg highway, 23 city
0-60: 5.3 seconds (Road & Track)
Also consider: Audi A4 3.2, Cadillac CTS, Mercedes C-Clas

The Good:

• Incredible mileage from diesel engine rated at 23/36
• Wonderful driving dynamics
• Refined 50-state compliant diesel engine

The Bad:

• Small trunk and interior storage space is at a premium

The Ugly:

• Base price nearly 45 grand