Tight backseat for taller folks, sparsely equipped for this price point, finicky climate controls, short on bins and cubbies.
Hearing that the 2009 BMW 335d runs on diesel won't bring a smile to the typical American's face. On the contrary, it's likely to elicit an expression of distaste. In this country, the word "diesel" evokes images of big-rig smokestacks belching out ominous black clouds, or slug-slow, sulfur-spewing Mercedes 240Ds simultaneously clogging the fast lane and the atmosphere. The prevailing attitude is that diesel-happy Europe can have these presumably primitive, polluting power plants — we're doing just fine with good old gasoline, thank you very much.
Clearly, diesel could use a makeover for the American market. That's where the 335d comes in. Thanks to a preposterous 425 pound-feet of torque at just 1,750 rpm from its 3.0-liter turbodiesel inline-6, the 335d dusts most sport sedans off the line — yet it's EPA-rated at a belief-beggaring 36 miles per gallon on the highway, yielding a maximum range of nearly 580 miles. As for emissions, the 335d's sophisticated exhaust system injects a pollutant-neutralizing urea mixture into the exhaust stream, yielding air pollution scores roughly on par with gasoline-powered 3 Series sedans. No one will leave the 335d's driver seat without a newfound appreciation for diesel technology; indeed, most will have spent the test-drive giggling uncontrollably at the colossal low-end kick, not to mention the hair-raising baritone roar at full throttle.
In other respects, the 2009 BMW 335d is every bit a 3 Series, which is to say, it's the automotive version of that annoying kid who's good at everything. What the 335d lacks in standard features and affordability, it makes up for with sports-carlike handling and braking, a supple ride and an intimate cabin awash in high-quality materials. Provided you don't blanch at a starting price of almost $45,000 for a compact sedan, the 335d will win you over with its stunning combination of performance, efficiency and refinement. Drive one — we dare you — and just try to keep that anti-diesel frown from turning upside-down.
The rear-wheel-drive 2009 BMW 335d is propelled by a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged diesel inline-6 that cranks out 265 horsepower and 425 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic is the only available transmission. Our test car's sport steering wheel had the optional shift paddles, but we rarely used them — the transmission's telepathic shift logic means you can just leave it in Drive and let the car do the rest. We recorded a swift 0-60-mph sprint of 5.9 seconds en route to a quarter-mile time of 14.1 seconds at 99.1 mph.
Eagle-eyed readers will note that the gasoline-powered 335i has consistently returned 0-60 times in the low 5s, along with significantly better quarter-mile performances than the "oil-burning" 335d. As is often the case, though, the numbers don't tell the whole story. While the 335i does provide extraordinary low-end torque for a six-cylinder gasoline engine, it doesn't start making landscape-blurring power until up around 4,000 rpm, whereas the diesel-powered 3 Series delivers a seamless wave of face-flattening thrust from 2,000 rpm on up. As such, the 335d feels like a muscle-bound monster in real-world driving, whether accelerating from stoplights or darting around slow-lane dawdlers.
The complexity of the 335d's diesel engine proved to be a disadvantage on our scales. At a portly 3,804 pounds, our 335d outweighed a 335i we tested recently by more than 150 pounds. Perhaps that explains why it lagged a bit through our slalom course, registering 67.3 mph to that 335i's 68.9. Nonetheless, the weight is distributed as evenly as in any other 3 Series — 51 percent front, 49 percent rear — so the 335d remains balanced and predictable in tight corners, with an athletic grace that belies its heft. Everything just comes together remarkably well when you push this car hard: Body roll is negligible, brake feel and performance are spot-on, and the wonderfully precise steering opens a direct line of communication between the contact patches and your palms. If you're looking for a genuine four-door sports car, the Sport-packaged 335d is a compelling proposition.
Just know that the 2009 BMW 335d won't burn fuel like a sports car. Against EPA estimates of 23 mpg city/36 highway and 27 combined, we averaged 29.6 miles per gallon over 1,517 miles. Our best tank — 33.9 mpg — was recorded during rapid highway transit with three adults in the car. These are remarkable numbers for such a powerful sedan.
The 335d's ride quality is marvelously supple given its handling capabilities — there's hardly any impact harshness to speak of. Wind and road noise are nonissues under most circumstances. The driving position is beyond reproach, with excellent sight lines and a dead pedal that's perfectly placed and tall enough to accommodate larger shoe sizes.
Accommodations are hard to fault, at least up front. The Sport package provides a set of power sport seats for front passengers, and they're among the best you'll find in any car, with firmly supportive cushioning and an extraordinary range of adjustments. We missed the power-adjustable lumbar support, however, which can only be had via the pricey Premium package. At least there were power-operated side bolsters on the seatbacks to hold us in place during spirited driving. Rear-seat comfort depends on passenger dimensions — while average-size adults will be perfectly content back there, lankier specimens will find both head- and legroom lacking. In any case, the rear cushion is nicely shaped, and its occupants are treated to their own air vents with limited temperature control.
The traditional analog gauge design is refreshingly clear and simple, though we'd like to see an oil temperature gauge in place of the hokey instant fuel-economy meter. The center stack controls, on the other hand, take some getting used to. This is particularly true of the climate control system, which can only be turned off by tap-tap-tapping the fan-speed "down" button. There is also no "foot defrost" setting — if you want to clear the windshield, your feet are going to be left out in the cold.
Our test car was equipped with the base stereo, and that's fine with us. This is one of the best base stereos in the business — clarity and separation could be better, but low-frequency response from the twin subwoofers is remarkably full and rich, and our ears cried uncle before we could detect any distortion or rattling trim panels. At this lofty price point, though, we'd like to see a CD changer in place of our car's single-CD slot. We were also surprised that Bluetooth wasn't standard, and you'll have to pony up even more if you want a navigation system (and the revised iDrive interface that comes with it).
In our real-world usability tests, the 335d's smallish 12-cubic-foot trunk swallowed our standard suitcase and golf bag without issue, though the narrow trunk opening may impede golf bags containing longer-shafted drivers. Child safety seat installation is feasible, but the small rear door opening can pose a challenge, and the front seatbacks may need to be pulled forward a bit once the seat is in place.
Design/Fit and Finish
While the 3 Series still won't win any beauty contests, its numerous styling updates for 2009 were mostly well-received by our staffers. The new taillights in particular were deemed a notable improvement. Inside, the 2009 BMW 335d continues to feature a traditional dashboard layout that some find uninspired, although we're always impressed with the 3 Series' consistently high materials quality. Fit and finish was superb on our squeak-and-rattle-less tester, with consistent panel gaps and an overall sense of solidity.
Who should consider this vehicle
Those who like the sound of muscle-car acceleration, sports-car handling and economy-car fuel-efficiency in a refined and stylish package.