2009 BMW 335d; photo courtesy BMW
2009 BMW 335d; photo courtesy BMW. Click image to enlarge
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2009 BMW 3 Series

Kingston, Ontario – The diesel revolution will be a quiet one.

We’ve already seen the beginning of it, with Mercedes-Benz’s BlueTEC and Volkswagen’s newest TDI engines. The latest salvo comes from BMW as it introduces a new twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder diesel to its line-up.

The new diesel will be used in a 3 Series sedan dubbed the 335d, as well as an X5 crossover called the X5 xDrive 35d, which will be covered in a later review.

As a 2009 model, the 335d gets the same mild styling revisions (essentially new headlights and taillights) as the rest of the 3 Series line-up was treated to this year, but the engine is the real news.

The way this BMW motor goes about its business defies every preconceived notion that many drivers have of diesel engines. Those old enough to remember the 1970s and ’80s will recall the diesels of that day as noisy, smelly and slow.

2009 BMW 335d
2009 BMW 335d
2009 BMW 335d. Click image to enlarge

Not so here. Like other recent compression-ignition engines (diesels don’t use spark plugs like gasoline engines do; the fuel is ignited as the compressed intake air heats up), this BMW motor is hard to pick out as a diesel when it’s running. There’s a bit of clatter after a cold start, but once warm, the engine is smooth and quiet. The exhaust is invisible, aside from the usual white condensation seen in cold weather, and smells nothing like the sooty diesel exhaust you’d expect.

The typical upsides to diesel power – high torque and low fuel consumption – apply here. Output is 265 horsepower and 425 lb-ft of torque (peaking at 1,750 rpm), while average fuel consumption is 7.4 L/100 km, according to the company. The engine’s 89.3 horsepower-per-litre of displacement is the highest of any diesel in Europe, and BMW claims a zero-to-100 km/h sprint time of 6.3 seconds.

The 335d is as much of a joy to drive as any 3 Series sedan. A half-day of driving through rural eastern Ontario proved this car to be perfectly at home at highway speeds. The steering and brakes have the same satisfying feel you’d find elsewhere in the line-up, and the transmission’s gearing keeps engine speeds low – at 120 km/h, the tachometer indicated about 2,000 rpm. Suspension changes are limited to those necessary to accommodate the heavier powertrain, so the car maintains the same balanced handling as other 3 Series models.

The engine’s power delivery is terrific. Turbo lag is nonexistent, and the power, which comes on strong barely off idle, stays robust throughout the rev range. This engine lacks some of the ferocious pull of the twin-turbo gas engine, but it still propels the car with plenty of authority.

2009 BMW 335d
2009 BMW 335d. Click image to enlarge

Maybe most importantly, though, the diesel is quiet while doing all that work. Under a light right foot, the engine’s note barely makes it into the cabin, while when pressed, the sounds it does generate are actually more like a V8 than a six, complete with an aggressive exhaust note that should please drivers in search of a driving machine, rather than an appliance.

While the diesel uses a twin-turbo setup like the company’s range-topping gasoline six-cylinder (used in the 335i, among others), the two are not the same. This one is a sequential arrangement with two different-sized turbos, one to provide boost at lower engine speeds, and another that takes over at higher revs. In the gasoline turbo six, each of the two identical turbos provides boost to three cylinders.

Drivers happy to save on their fuel bills will like this engine’s low fuel consumption, while those looking to save the world will appreciate the fact that this engine generates fewer nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions than a comparable gasoline engine.

BluePerformance is the name BMW has given its new, clean diesel engine strategy, a name the company says is rooted in a desire to “preserve blue skies.” To ensure clean running, this engine uses a urea-injection system similar to that found in Mercedes-Benz’s diesel V6, along with a selective catalytic reduction catalyst in the exhaust.

2009 BMW 335d
2009 BMW 335d
2009 BMW 335d. Click image to enlarge

In Europe, the fluid used is called AdBlue; here, it will be marketed simply as exhaust fluid. The 25-litre reservoir, accessible through a port in the car’s rear bumper cover, is designed to hold enough fluid to last the engine’s 20,000-24,000 km oil change interval, and its replacement is covered by the car’s warranty as a regular maintenance item.

Because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dictates that the 335d’s engine can’t run without exhaust fluid, the car is equipped with a low-fluid warning system that issues reminders when enough fluid is remaining for 1,000 miles (1,600 km), and then 200 miles (320 km, as the original figures were provided by BMW’s U.S. engineers). Ignore this and run the system dry, and the car won’t start. Thankfully, the exhaust fluid will be widely available, and the system can easily be filled by the owner. Fill the reservoir with the wrong liquid, however, and the warning system will jump to that 200 mile warning mark – enough to get you to the nearest BMW dealer, where the system will have to be drained. BMW says urea is typically priced below $10 per gallon (approximately 4 litres).

Potential buyers in Canada and the northern U.S. might be interested to know that the exhaust fluid freezes at minus 12 degrees Celsius. A heated reservoir ensures that the fluid is thawed by the time the engine reaches its normal operating temperature.

Also, while the 3.0-litre diesel does use glow plugs (these pre-ignition combustion-chamber heating elements have been used in diesels for years to ease cold-weather starting), BMW says they don’t function until the ambient temperature reaches minus 20 degrees Celsius.

Performance purists will be disappointed to find that this engine will not be offered with a manual transmission. BMW considers this diesel to be a “premium” engine, and that most prospective buyers won’t miss the lack of a manual gearbox. Almost as a reassurance that we in North America aren’t missing out on anything available elsewhere, the company said that this engine isn’t offered with a manual transmission in Europe either. (Of course, we are missing out on something, and that is the rest of BMW’s diesel engine range.)

2009 BMW 335d
2009 BMW 335d. Click image to enlarge

BMW also points out that the diesel generates almost as much twist as the company’s V12 engine, so the six-speed automatic normally used with that motor was a natural choice for the diesel, too.

There may be more diesels in BMW’s future here, but only if the market reacts well to this engine. In its experience, the company says Canada has been more accepting of diesels than the U.S., but the hope – both mine and BMW’s – is that this engine’s enhanced performance helps it catch on stateside, to improve the chances of seeing more diesels here in coming years. (As a side note, the 320d, which is sold in other markets with a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine, is BMW’s most popular model worldwide.)

To that end, the diesel sold here incorporates a few technical differences designed to reduce noise and vibration. Most are upgrades to the engine’s internals – there’s a reinforced crankcase, offset piston wrist pins and swirl valves in the intake air stream – along with an under-vehicle trim piece that reduces engine noise heard from outside the car, and reduces aerodynamic drag, too.

2009 BMW 335d
2009 BMW 335d. Click image to enlarge

Of the changes, a ceramic heating element built into the car’s climate control system is the only one most drivers are likely to think about with any regularity. Diesels run as efficiently as they do because less of the fuel’s energy is turned into heat. The downside is less warmth from the car’s heater, particularly when the engine isn’t working very hard. The ceramic heater will offset this, coming on in particularly chilly conditions to provide the warmth needed to defrost windows and partially-frozen occupants.

As a premium model, the 335d will command a premium price in the 3 Series lineup: its starting MSRP of $49,700 is $800 more than a manual-equipped 335i. BMW says the higher sale price is offset by the diesel’s lower fuel consumption and higher resale value (diesel engines typically last longer than gas motors, thanks to their more robust construction and the diesel fuel’s lubricating qualities, which reduce cylinder wear).

At $50,000, there are certainly cheaper, clean-running, fuel-efficient cars on the market. But as a showcase for what a modern diesel can do – run smoothly and cleanly while providing generous performance – this car is worth every penny. The BMW 335d is on sale now.

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