This month (12/08) sees the arrival of the new BMW 335d, a car so good it could be the best diesel in the world. It's certainly going to be the best diesel on sale in North America. If the VW Jetta TDI is the perfect entry-level ice-breaker for the new clean-diesel revolution, then the BMW 335d is the perfect entry-level sportscar.
OK, these are bold claims for an oil-burning sedan but the 335d's combination of frugality, practicality and outright performance make it an almost impossible combination to beat.
At the heart of the machine is BMW's award-winning 3.0 24v Piezo common rail six-cylinder diesel motor with variable twin-turbo system and 80 lb aluminum crankcase. Using a small turbo at low engine speeds, and a larger one as revs increase, the sophisticated electronics provide a seamless wave of torque that peaks at a neck-snapping 425 lb-ft at 1750rpm. They carefully control the injectors that run up to 29400psi, pulsing at up to five times per combustion stroke to ensure the perfect fuel delivery.
With 265hp - about 20hp less than the 286hp European version - the 335d will accelerate to 60mph in an astonishing 6.0sec and goes on to an autobahn-verified and electronically limited 130mph.
The reason US cars claim less power is the sophisticated emissions equipment onboard. Required by US regulations, the motor combines a diesel particulate filter with EGR and SCR systems.
It's the SCR that's unique to North American diesels (although the less potent Jetta doesn't require it) and consists of a 20 liter tank of urea. This is injected ahead of the car's second catalytic converter specifically to eradicate nitrous oxide emission - a gas that's less regulated in Europe.
Reducing NOx output by as much as 90%, the tank is claimed to easily last between 15000 mile service intervals and will be filled by the dealer, free of charge, during your regular, free servicing.?If, however, you're heavy-footed and empty the urea reservoir before the service interval (something BMW claims is highly unlikely), you can't simply pull over and pee in the tank. Once the dashboard light illuminates to warn you of an empty tank, you are given a small number of engine starts to get to your dealer before the car will refuse to start again. This is stipulated by regulations and designed to prevent these turbo-diesels running around without the NOx-killing urea onboard.
Now while your impression of diesels may be based on the smokey tragedies of the past, European manufacturers like BMW, VW, Audi and Mercedes are hoping you've been able to sample their new technology while vacationing in Europe. If not, then you're in for a shock. Not only are these new diesels smoke-free, they possess the kind of performance that will require a mind recalibration.
In the 335d, with its impeccable six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission, you simply mash the pedal and wave goodbye to everybody at the traffic lights. And on the freeway, the ridiculous levels of torque endow it with some of the fastest in-gear acceleration times in the business.
And all the while, you'll be grinning as the dashboard display records 23mpg city and 36mpg highway. In our experience, we were easily able to exceed these figures during our mix of city and autobahn driving. And a diversion onto twisting alpine roads revealed this BMW hasn't sacrificed any of its legendary handling prowess in the search for economy. The silken gear changes (with manual paddles) and abundant torque had us powering uphill and wheelspinning out of hairpin corners.
You wouldn't expect a diesel to be this much fun but the 335d is as entertaining as anything in the 3-Series line-up (M3 excepted). It certainly offers a thoughtful alternative to the 335i, but with prices (yet to be announced) in the low $40s, its advanced technology does attract a premium.
The extra cost should be returned at the fuel pumps over the life of the vehicle. And with the price of low-sulfur diesel dropping at the gas stations to the equivalent of premium gas, a car such as this will appear even more attractive to long distance commuters and high-mileage drivers.
Supported by incredible sports seats, enjoying music from the optional onboard hard-drive and following instruction from the new 8.8" navigation screen, this facelifted 3-Series retains its welcoming cabin. You can also hook-up your iPod and iPhone with full functionality and they've even added new functionality to the iDrive controller to make it more user-friendly. These include function buttons to shortcut access as well as bookmarks to go directly to more frequently used areas.
From the outside, the new E90s are easily identified by a dramatically sculpted hood, sharper character lines, re-profiled front spoiler and side skirts, wider kidney grilles, angel eyes in new headlamps, new mirrors and L-shape LED tail lights. Overall, the car appears slightly softer but more distinctive than before, and new interior finishes enhance its legendary quality feel.
The facelifted 3-Series will be available in the familiar 328i and 335i models as well as the new 335d. And with diesels accounting for 64% of 3-Series sales (71% of all BMW sales) in Europe, the company is an acknowledged leader in the field. So while the US was previously thought to be hostile to diesel technology, recent increases in the cost of fuel mean BMW has decided to send us its very best turbo-diesel from a line-up of five engines available in Europe.
Only time will tell if this was the correct decision, but we've certainly been given the very best of what's on offer.
It's interesting to study BMW's diesel development in this context. The first engines were produced in 1983 and they offered a 25% improvement in torque and economy over the gasoline equivalents. In the subsequent years up until 2007, BMW has been able to cut the emissions from its diesels by 99%, reduce economy by 20% and increase torque by 170% as well as power by 135% compared to that original engine - quite an achievement.
The same 3.0 turbo-diesel will be available in the BMW X5 xDrive 35d as well, which goes on sale in December. And BMW representatives didn't close the door to the suggestion of more diesel models to follow if these cars prove successful.
So if you're a BMW fan or diesel-curious, we advise you to get down to your BMW dealer and check out this fascinating addition to BMW's legendary lineup.
Back in et 2/08, we visted BMW Welt, the incredible building in Munich designed to showcase BMW's talents and provide a base for its European delivery program.
As part of the BMW 335d schedule, we got to visit the Welt and experience European Delivery of the cars that would eventually end up on the North American press fleet.
This service is open to any US customer but must be arranged through your dealer. You must also pay for your airfare, but the delivery service is free.
You will be given a meeting time and will be checked in at the reception area. From there, you go upstairs where they confirm your details and invite you to use the lounge, which is a wonderfully relaxing area with food, drink, couches, etc.
You're then met by an assigned tour guide who takes you to a technical area in one of the 1152 rooms within the Welt. Fancy projection tables introduce your car in the exact specification you have ordered. Then they take you through much of the technology in the car, explaining how it works and the advantages of it.
Furthermore, there are simulators that allow them to show you the traits of traction control, etc from the safety of a comfy chair.
This briefing can take up to an hour before you go upstairs to the lounge area. And from here you descend down a giant staircase to the impressive handover area, where your car is waiting. The guide will then use spotlights and a turntable to show you the car from above and as you approach it to increase the excitement. Even thought this wasn't our car, we were all thrilled to be getting such incredible treatment.
Another 30min or so are spent going through the car's systems in person. Your luggage is also brought up from reception and loaded in the car. From here, you drive out of the Welt and can spend a week or more exploring Europe. The staff are even able to help you plan an itinerary if necessary.
When you're done, return to Munich, leave the car at the Welt and make your way home. The car will then join you in a few weeks after its Atlantic voyage, and you will have had a unique European adventure in your new car, coming to appreciate German technology and efficiency in a whole new way.
If you plan to visit the Welt, we strongly recommend you arrange a tour of the 3-Series assembly plant, BMW museum and the Olympic site, since all are within a few meters of each other (et 2/08). The Welt staff or your local BMW dealer can help you with this. (www.bmwusa.com or www.bmw-welt.com)