Convertible BMW Cars : Cruise With The Top Down...

Video: A look at the new BMW 335D

NBC News
Published: June 12, 2009

Some things just don’t mix. Oil and water. Fire and rain. Empathy and Simon Cowell. Add to that list automotive performance and fuel economy. Let’s face it, no one confuses a Prius for a high-speed hot rod except maybe Al Gore’s son. Give the guy credit for proving Toyota's hybrid can be clocked at 100 MPH+ (although Orange County law enforcement failed to see any virtue in it). Common sense dictates good gas mileage means a boring vehicle. You can already sense where this is going, can’t you?

BMW’s 335d breaks that pesky trend by offering up tried and true 3 Series performance with decent fuel economy. The only hitch is that this car doesn't use gasoline. The letter “d” that replaces the “i” normally found on the tail end of a BMW’s model number means this sport sedan is packing a diesel engine. Let us pause and give thanks to the automotive Gods for allowing these power plants back into the U.S. market. They offer two things we all love - power and epic range before fill-ups.

A brief primer: Some of us remember diesels of the 70s that were not only smoky and loud but severely unreliable when made by General Motors. More recently, California and the states that have adapted their strict pollution control standards banned diesel sales because of the higher particulates they produce. BMW, Mercedes and VW now have diesels that can now be bought in all 50 states.

Why so clean? For one thing diesel fuel itself has been reformulated to contain 97 percent less sulfur. Also, CDI technology (common-rail direct injection) has made diesels much quieter and cleaner. Taking it a step further, BMW and Mercedes use a liquid called AdBlue. It’s very similar to what children would euphemistically call No. 1 (hey, no snickering). The exhaust gets spritzed with this urea solution, making things nice for Mother Earth. Volkswagen’s Jetta TDI manages to skip the AdBlue treatment but the Touareg V6 diesel needs it.

BMW’s 3.0-liter inline 6 continues the cleaner, quieter trend that diesels are enjoying. It employs twin turbos, one smaller than the other, to achieve 265 horsepower and, more importantly 425 ft-lbs of torque. It’s in that torque figure that diesels enjoy their advantage. I like torque. You like torque. Torque is our friend. Torque is that Hand of God push off the line that feels oh-so-satisfying. From a stoplight the 335d feels like it’s strapped to a Saturn V rocket for the first few seconds.

That said, the 335d is a few ticks slower than its fraternal twin, the gasoline drinking 335i. Come on though, 0-60 in just under 6 seconds is hardly under achieving and the “d” offers two things the “i” can"t - enormous grunt off the line plus fuel economy that's 33 percent higher. In mixed driving I’m seeing 29 miles to the gallon, pretty dang good for a performance car. A national survey now finds diesel fuel costs less than standard unleaded gasoline. Locally in Seattle I find it’s about the same as mid-grade gas.

At idle there’s a different engine note that most casual observers will overlook. During acceleration there's slightly more gravelly engine growl than I’ve experienced with VW and Mercedes diesels but cruising is very quiet. The 335d you might buy is subtly badged with only the “d” on the deck lid to show the difference. Watching the streaming video you’ll see my tester is a whole different story. It’s a promotional vehicle with graphics that are certainly louder than the engine.

Enthusiasts will love the bountiful power and responsiveness of the pedals but a word of warning; in stop and go traffic some drivers will find the 335d a bit much. Those used to laid-back throttle control may find the immediate nature of the powerful 335d twitchy because of all that low-end grunt. Same with the very touchy brakes. Personally I like that the binders do their job the moment toe touches pedal but not everyone enjoys such a Type A experience. That’s what test drives are for.

Let’s not forget that handling is what makes a BMW and that remains the same with the diesel. I’m not sure what kind of deal they’ve made with the devil but the 3 Series seems telepathic on twisty roads. The body is rigid and flex-free and the ride quality is firm but comfortable. No reason to complain here. No reason at all.

Those hoping to row their own gears will be saddened to learn there is no manual transmission offered with the 335d. Apparently there’s just too much tranny twisting torque for BMW’s existing gearboxes so a 6-speed automatic with manual shift control will have to do. Steering wheel paddle shifters are available by checking the Sport Steering Wheel option box.

The interior is classic 3 Series right down to turn signals that take some time to get comfortable with (though ultimately well done) and cup-holders that are a bit of a reach. Not much storage in the small center console either. At least we Yanks get the Big Gulp holders we all seem to cherish. I was recently in Italy and my 318d Budget rent-a-car was stripped of the ones that spring from the instrument panel. Yes, Budget rents BMWs.

You might remember I’ve whined and complained about BMWs user interface called iDrive. Everyone has. Thank goodness it's better now. Shortcut buttons for the CD player, radio, menu, telephone, and navigation conveniently surround the multifunction knob that gets twisted, turned and nudged to select stuff on screen. A huge improvement? Sure as rain in Seattle. Still, after a week of use I wouldn't call it overly intuitive. A nice touch? Gently graze the radio-preset buttons (that seem to be larger now) and the info screen previews the station setting before you commit.

Seats are nice and supportive, not overly bolstered on the sides. I’m a big fan of keeping my keys in my pocket so keyless entry and ignition is appreciated. For all my friends and family back in Minnesota I’ll point out the toasty heated steering wheel.
For those who press the 3 into carpool duty, two average adults will be OK in the back seat, three will be a bit snug. BMWs are rear drive (and yes, all-wheel drive) so there’s a drive shaft tunnel to deal with. On top of that foot room is not overly generous. Nice to know the 3 Series has spit and fold seatbacks to expand the trunk capacity.

Open up the trunk lid and one thing is clear - no spare tire. The 335d dances on run flat tires which are a little harder to find and expensive when you do. When it comes to TP capacity the 335d is the same as all 3 Series, 5 packs of Kirkland brand bath tissue. FYI, the average sedan's trunk holds 6.

Starting at around $45,000, 335d is around $1,600 more than the gas-powered 335i when figuring in a $900 federal tax credit. BMW picks up all the maintenance for four years, including the AdBlue (which goes for around $10-12 a gallon when it eventually goes on your tab).

If the 335d and ungainly named X5 xDrive35d do well in the states there’s always the possibility of other BMW diesels coming to the U.S. Getting back to my 318d wagon rent-a-car, three of us put over 1,200 miles on it in five days. Even loaded down with TV equipment and suitcases, it performed well. I figure 0-60 in around 9.5 seconds is about right. It wasn't nearly as fast as the 335d but it could be a good choice for those who feel the extreme low-end grunt of the 335d is too much. For now though, let's be happy with what we do have. The BMW 335d is a poster child for performance done efficiently. With those big splashy decals? It's a billboard

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*I love all Convertible BMW Cars. They're just made for the Summer.

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