My first introduction to the BMW 3 series came way back in the first half of the Eighties when a buddy’s private school girlfriend arrived at our public high school to pick him up in her new 320i. The car was small and sporty yet actually held 4 people. Even better, it was priced low enough that us poor high school students could actually envision the possibility of affording one. Unfortunately, this is the image I had in my head when I picked up our 2009 BMW 335D tester.
Normally, when I review a car I don’t look at the press kit prior to driving the car. In this case, I had laid it on the seat and something jumped off the page at me. Price as tested: $62,200.
We’re not in the Eighties any more Toto!
It took me a couple of days to get over the shell shock of having my perception shattered. Lest the dear reader think that tainted my view of the car, I’ll be clear that the 335D is one of the most stunning sedans I’ve driven on many levels. It just took me a few days to get there.
On approach, one first notices the deep glow of the special black sapphire metalic paint with flakes that catch the sunlight in just the right way to accentuate the car’s subtle curves. Equally subtle is the sparing use of chrome trim coupled with jewel like lamps set off by the optional 18″ double spoke alloy wheels. Visually, the 335D looks like it can get down to business on the way to the office.
Peering inside, one is struck by the richness of the Chestnut Brown Dakota Leather that wraps the optional sport seats in our tester. In addition to the sport package, our tester also came with the executive package with added burled walnut trim to the visual and tactile experience in the cabin. Any plastic surface was made of high quality, low gloss material that looked and felt just right. There is no question that one is seated in a BMW.
If I had any complaints about the interior it was the fact that I had a heck of a time entering the sport seats without whacking my head on the a-pillar. This may be because I’m a fat guy with a bad back, but I’ve had an easier time getting my butt into a full on rally car. Once in the seats however, they are deep and comfy with super supportive bolsters that keep both front seat passengers in place even during spirited cornering. Couple this support with a myriad of adjustments and you have heaven for a bad back. Until you try to get out again.
Leading up to driving the 335D I had great expectations in the driving experience thanks to gushing comments from several fellow writers who fell in love with the car. Let’s face it, a BMW’s reason for being is the driving experience so I was excited. Once ensconced in the cabin, with mirrors and radio adjusted I planted my foot on the brake and pressed the starter button. The 3.0 liter, twin turbo straight 6 diesel rumbled to life. This is no clattering diesel of old, rather a smooth rumble is barely audible when the throttle is applied.
As I creep out of the press fleet office onto the empty industrial road, I roll gently into the throttle. The beast within responds with nothing more than a swift kick in the pants. With a whopping 425 ft/lbs of torque on hand, the 1735 kg (3800lb) sedan feels like it has silent booster rockets on it! As at idle, the diesel is never noisy, at full throttle there is just a confident rumble from beneath the hood. At first I was disappointed that the 335D isn’t available with a manual transmission, but there really is no need. The 6 speed automatic transmission is truly a magnificent device. Shifts are almost imperceptible and it always seems to be in exactly the right gear to make full use of all of that torque. Nowhere is this more evident than at the exit of just about any highway on ramp as one begins to apply throttle and notices that the engine is spinning at exactly 2,000 rpm and the big sedan launches hard down the road. This wicked acceleration is beyond addictive.
Whenever I have a fun to drive tester, dread sets in as I approach the pumps. Of course the pumps in this case are diesel and this is said to be the 335D’s strongest point. Nevertheless, I had been having some serious fun enjoying the wickedly quiet acceleration so I was doubly concerned. There was no need, as the D performed like a champ at the pumps too. Over 860 km of combined city and highway driving I averaged 8.3 l/100 km (33.1 mpg imperial)! From a 3800 lb car with 425 ft/lb of torque! Absolutely incredible!
To put this fuel economy into even greater perspective, let’s compare this to the gas powered 335. The performance numbers of both cars are very similar (though they probably feel different getting there) and the fuel tanks are the same size. The government test ratings for the gas model show 9.9 l/100 combined city and highway using premium unleaded gasoline. At the time of our fillup, diesel was 83 cents per liter, while premium rang in at $1.11 a liter. A little bit of quick math (not that I’m very quick) shows that the gas model would consume almost $36 more to cover that same 860 km! Given that the 335D’s base price of $49,700 is only $800 more than the gas version, it would seem that buying the diesel would actually be an incredibly smart financial choice.
Thinking of the title of this review, how exactly is 3 the new 5? Well, the 3 series has definitely moved upscale from it’s position as the entry level BMW. That space has been taken over by the 1. The 2009 BMW 335D is certainly far more upscale than the 5 series that existed way back in the Eighties while the 5 series has also been moved farther up the scale. The 335D combines the traditional BMW driving experience with modern green technology while actually having a smaller long term impact on the wallet than the gasoline powered variant. There aren’t many other manufacturers that can say the same about their alternate fuel vehicles.