Auto 2014
Auto 2014

2009 BMW 335d Fuel-Efficient Sedan Review

Today's diesels, like the BMW 335d, are powerful, clean and fuel efficient, and have overcome previous drawbacks.

Dr. Ronald Golden, my periodontist, had one question beyond the usual inquiry into how I am going so very wrong with his brushing technique.

"Where do you get the diesel fuel?"

Told that BMW's new 335d is my current test car, Dr. Golden, a long-time BMW driver and auto enthusiast, is curious and wide open to the concept of a high-torque engine powering the superb 3-Series chassis. Chasing all over the city for diesel fuel, though, he doesn't fancy.

My usual Petro-Canada self-serve station doesn't offer diesel, it's true, but the Loblaw's just a few blocks further does. The former is 1.7 km from home, the latter 2.8 km, so for me it's no big deal. But how far Dr. Golden's nearest diesel outlet is out of his way requires some research.

And on the topic of FAQs, another is how long your hands stink after filling up. Before the sulphur content of diesel fuel was greatly reduced to 15 ppm in September, 2006, handling a diesel left a lasting stench. The reduction of sulphur has erased the stigma.

A personal experience is illustrative. BMW Canada supplied a filler adapter with our test car because some diesel pump nozzles won't fit. A full-serve attendant at a Sunoco station on Whitby's Thickson Road demonstrated that by sticking a finger in the filler and depressing a doodad, you could insert the nozzle without using the adapter and suggested I try. Thereafter, my finger would have condemned me socially for the remainder of the day, prior to model-year 2007. Today, not a whiff.

Many BMW fanciers will march past such concerns because the 335d is such an exceptional drive. As word spreads of its powerful throttle response and wonderful fuel efficiency (along with the silky ride and handling associated with other 3-Series models), drivers new to the brand will shop the car as well.

It does fall short of this EcoDriver column's standard of consuming no more than 10 litres/100 km in our city area driving. The 335d's EnerGuide city rating is 9.0 L/100 km, which qualifies it for consideration, but driving in the depths of winter, we averaged 11.2.

Considerable spinning of the rear wheels is a factor. Slush freezes overnight, capturing the Bridgestone Blizzak snow tires in icy cavities. The test car is well and truly stuck. Applications of salt, kitty litter and scrap Christmas tree branches purchase no traction. Finally two neighbours push the car free.

Which introduces another FAQ: is all-wheel-drive available in combination with the diesel? Not in the 3-Series in North America, not yet. The company's product planners chose to introduce diesel in only two models in the United States and Canada, the rear-drive 335d and the towering X5 wagon with all-wheel-drive.

This sedan is special. The X5 offers real advantages in practicality, but in terms of driving sensation it is not comparable to the 335d. The perfectly weighted steering, the balance in the handling that makes the car feel slotted into the road, the compliance regardless of surface irregularities, makes the 3-Series the international standard for premium cars of its size.

The twin-turbo diesel motor truly enhances the package. Its 265-horsepower rating is impressive, but the extraordinarily meaty throttle response is attributable to the 425 lb-ft of torque that is felt at only 1,750 rpm. The 3-Series' strongest gasoline engine, by contrast, has more horsepower at 300, but not nearly as much torque at 300 lb-ft.

The only comparable diesel-powered sedan in North America, the Mercedes-Benz E330 BlueTec, isn't a direct competitor. The Benz is larger, leans more to luxury than sportiness and occupies a higher price range as well: $68,100 compared with this car's base $49,700. It's rated at 210 hp and 388 lb-ft of torque, and has the same 9.0 L/100 km EnerGuide city rating as the 335d. It, too, is not offered here with all-wheel-drive.

Acceleration to 60 km/h, EcoDriver's usual measure of in-town get-up-and-go, averages 4.1 seconds in the 335d. Such effortless acceleration affords a measure of safety in accident avoidance, as does superior braking, and the 335d offers premium performance in each over less-expensive vehicles with similar fuel efficiency.

Various electronic stability controls that are standard equipment also come into play in our icy test week. Corner too quickly for the Blizzak winter tires to avoid skidding and the stability control quickly restores control. Indeed, BMW's advanced control technology renders this rear-drive sedan reassuringly easy to drive in winter's worst. Cold starts at -15 C are instantaneous. Waiting for glow plugs to warm up - once a diesel ritual - has gone the way of the stinky finger.

One new peculiarity is a subdued whirring noise sometimes heard from the rear of the car after turning it off, related to the tank that injects urea (commercially known as AdBlue) into the exhaust to eliminate nitrogen oxide emissions.

This diesel meets California air standards - as does the Mercedes-Benz using similar urea injection. The AdBlue is routinely topped up by BMW dealerships during annual services. Sharp-eyed observers will spot the pop-out access location on the driver's side of the rear bumper cover.

Any departure from the norm can cause a consumer to look elsewhere - and perhaps all the more so in a premium-priced sedan. BMW expects its globetrotting customers to have taken note of the predominance of diesel-powered luxury vehicles in Europe, and believes a test drive will make it obvious why this is so.

As for Dr. Golden's first concern, a few minutes on the web turned up a Shell station a few blocks south of his office at Yonge and St. Clair - 1.1 km away.

A final FAQ: isn't diesel fuel more expensive than regular gasoline? In our final fill-up, the price of a litre is 86.9 cents at the Sunoco on Thickson Road "we serve" pump. The station doesn't have a diesel among its "serve yourself" pumps where regular gasoline that day rounds off to 81 cents, premium 89 cents and Ultra 94 premium 93 cents.

On this day, at least, fuelling the diesel test car costs less per litre than would a gasoline-powered 335i with its mandated premium fuel. And remember, fewer litres are required with the diesel's superior efficiency. The price paid for its fuel, then, is part of the pleasure, along with its powerful character.

2009 BMW 335d

TYPE: Four-door sedan

BASE PRICE: $49,700; as tested, $59,605

ENGINE: Twin-turbo, inline-six diesel

HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 265 hp/425 lb-ft

TRANSMISSION: Six-speed automatic

DRIVE: Rear-wheel-drive

FUEL ECONOMY (litres/100 km): 9.0 city/5.4 highway; actual urban driving, 11.2; diesel fuel

ALTERNATIVES: Mercedes-Benz E320 BlueTec, Volkswagen Jetta TDI, Lexus GS450h