2014 BMW 328d to New York
2014 BMW 328d to New York. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Paul Williams

Like many people, my partner, Susan, is a fan of the painting titled “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” Created in 1665, this work by Dutch master Johannes Vermeer is the subject of books, articles, theses, a recent novel and a popular movie starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson.

It lives at the Mauritshuis Gallery in the Netherlands, and doesn’t go out much. Unless the Mauritshuis needs renovation, at which time some of its valuable artworks may be lent to galleries around the world.

So it was that the Vermeer masterpiece, along with two others by the same artist and some famous works by Rembrandt and Franz Hals, made their way to New York City’s Frick Collection in October, 2013 for a brief, three-month visit. I found out about this in late December with the exhibition nearing its January 19, 2014 close, meaning we had to get going, right? And being an auto writer, we had to drive and we had to drive something interesting.

The vehicle of choice was a 2014 BMW 328d we had adopted for a long-term test. The “d” is for diesel, which in this case is a four-cylinder turbocharged engine making 181 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. This is the first four-cylinder 3 Series diesel we’ve seen in North America, although similar models have been commonplace in rest-of-the-world markets for years.

We’ve already reported on this very $58,260 vehicle (silver, red leather interior, loaded with options) as part of our long-term test and found it very agreeable, although prone to displaying various warning and alert lights on the dashboard. Nothing serious, it turned out, but not something one would expect.

So I wanted to see whether all would be well on a long trip (it had better be) and I wanted to see how the 328d would manage in some more of our wintry weather. And would I match the stated highway fuel consumption of 4.5 L/100 km when stretching its legs on this extended journey?

Turns out we were enduring a particularly cold spell in my part of the world. After a couple of weeks of minus-30°C temperatures in Ottawa, I was surprised that just about anything started in the morning, let alone a diesel, whose fuel tends to get a bit gelatinous when it gets this cold.

2014 BMW 328d to New York2014 BMW 328d to New York
2014 BMW 328d to New York. Click image to enlarge

However, back in November/December during my initial test drive I had no issues – the car started and ran fine, warming up quickly – and other reviewers subsequently managed okay, too. But the day before I was to pick up the car for the drive to New York on January 8, the 328d apparently turned into a lump of ice and the “urea line” (part of the emissions system) froze to the point that the car had to be taken to the local dealership to thaw out. Then it had to be reprogrammed, which, I was surprisingly told, “may not take.”

Hmmm. That didn’t sound encouraging.

As we were planning to leave at 9:00 AM the next day, I certainly was hoping for the best and as it turned out, all was eventually well. No “check engine” lights, no fuel or emissions issues, the programming “took” (although the process lasted for three hours) and the car was delivered as clean as a pin; like new. The weather seemed to be changing for the better, too, which was welcome after the relentless cold.

Our route from Ottawa to New York was fairly simple. South to the Prescott, Ontario/Ogdensburg, New York border, west to join the I-81 interstate highway which runs almost to New York City, then over the George Washington Bridge to Manhattan. It should take about eight hours.

That’s assuming the I-81 is open, and who wouldn’t assume that? We learned at the border, however, that it was not. Clear, cold weather lasts only for so long, you know, and then the barometer drops, the temperature rises and precipitation inevitably begins. The border guard informed us that due to the “improving” weather, the I-81 was covered in almost two-metre snowdrifts and was impassable all the way to Syracuse. We would have to drive southeast to Albany, joining the I-87 there, and then head south to New York. That’s the way you’d go if you live in Montreal; too bad we weren’t starting from there!

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