We're sounding like a diesel cheerleading squad of late--Colin Mathews is jittering with jealousy just reading this, he's such an oil-burner freak--but there's all sorts of reasons to get excited about the new crop of clean diesels. Audi and VW have their TDI cars and SUVs on sale or ready to roll, and Mercedes has pumped up its SUVs with oil-burning BlueTEC power.
BMW's diesel thrust starts this fall with a 335d sedan and an X5 xDrive 35d sport-ute. And now that BMW's joined its German compadres in switching on diesel power in its most popular vehicle, it's hard to see how diesel won't win more friends and influence more people, since the new 335d performs nearly identically to the 335i sedan with highway mileage solidly at 36 mpg--with real-world numbers likely to hit much higher.
It's amazing what little difference a diesel makes in the 2009 BMW 3 Series sedan, as I found out on a test drive of the newest 3 Series in the Dolomites to steer the new 335d through 8,000-foot mountain passes after an Oktoberfest evening. Even in the fog, it was plain to see the 335d is a high-mileage delight that cements the German automakers' position as diesel leaders.
The basics sound fitting for the BMW lineup. The 3.0-liter twin-turbo diesel in the 335d is an all-new in-line six-cylinder design, with common-rail direct fuel injection, two-stage turbocharging, a particulate filter, and an AdBlue system to purge more emissions from its exhaust. The 3.0-liter turbodiesel makes 265 horsepower and 425 pound-feet of torque, which compares well to the 335i twin-turbo gas engine's 300 hp and 300 pound-feet of torque.
BMW promises a 0-60 mph of 6.0 seconds with a standard six-speed automatic transmission. On the road, the diesel makes up for its horsepower deficit with all that extra torque, which makes it really well suited for the type of hairpin, tight-radius turns through the Italian Alps. There's no difference in tire and suspension tuning in the diesel, so all the usual 3 Series handling charm remains intact. There is no manual-transmission option, but with the Sport package, the automatic gains useful paddle shifters that up the entertainment value of the 5,000-rpm diesel to its maximum potential. It won't spin to the stratospheric heights of a Honda engine, but the diesel will steam along to a 130-mph top speed.
Other than fuel and fuel economy, the differences with the diesel 3 Series are slight. You notice the diesel buzz particular to all oil burners and noticeably more powertrain noise that's still pretty remote. There's more vibration, but it's not objectionable.
The remaining changes to the 2009 3 Series are more substantial. A mild exterior makeover adds some ribs to the hood that recall BMW's GINA concept car; new taillamps and side sills add more complexity to the spare shape. A spiffier interior sports more wood interior trim, new steering-wheel designs, and some relocated controls.
The biggest change comes to the revised joystick shifter, which looks a little out of place, and to BMW's iDrive controller. This year's version gets revised programming, more preset keys, a set of direct-select keys for major functions like audio and climate control. A temptingly high-resolution screen is larger than last year's readout, too. And for this year, BMW owners will be able to click on Google Maps at home and send their car a destination, to avoid iDrive's improved but still convoluted address-entry haptics.
The 3 Series is BMW's volume cow in the United States, accounting for almost half of its total sales. It comes in sedan, coupe/convertible or wagon form, with rear- or all-wheel drive, with super M-car performance or now, with refined, powerful diesel frugality. The diesel will have special appeal now that gas prices are leveling out to nearly the same value as some 401(k) plans.
BMW's putting it on sale in December for about $40,000, which it claims will be a smaller price premium than a comparable hybrid vehicle. Final prices will be announced for the sedan and the X5 diesel at November's Los Angeles auto show, so make sure to circle back here to the blog for more.
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