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Friday, July 2, 2010

2010 BMW 3-Series has diesel power

Germany's BMW car company is known for its sporty cars and not for fuel efficiency. But buyers of the 2010 BMW 335d get sporty performance and the best fuel mileage of any mainstream BMW vehicle.
It's all because of the 3-liter, twin-turbodiesel, six-cylinder engine under the hood of this compact, 3-Series sedan. The powerplant delivers a forceful 425 foot-pounds of torque for quick acceleration, starting at a low engine speed of just 1,400 rpm. So, a driver can beat most any car away from a stoplight easily and get around slowed traffic in a flash.
Yet, the 335d carries a federal government fuel mileage rating of 23 miles per gallon in city driving and 36 mpg on the highway and can travel more than 500 miles on a tank of fuel.
In comparison, gasoline-powered, six-cylinder 3-Series sedans generate peak torque of 300 foot pounds or less and have government fuel efficiency ratings of 17-18 mpg in city driving and 26-28 mpg on the highway. Even a 2010 Chevrolet Corvette with 6.2-liter V-8 has to wait until engine rpms are up to 4,600 before the engine's 424 foot-pounds of torque all come into play. And the fuel mileage rating for this V-8-powered Corvette is just 16/26 mpg.
But there's a hefty price to pay for the spirited and fuel-conscious 335d.
It has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $44,825. This is $10,800 higher than the starting retail price for a gasoline-powered 3-Series sedan.
It's also $21,245 higher than the starting MSRP, including destination charge, of the diesel-powered, 2010 Volkswagen Jetta sedan, which also is a compact car.
A big reason for the price difference: The Jetta's diesel engine is a turbocharged four cylinder that puts out peak torque of 236 foot-pounds. Still, the smaller engine means the Jetta's fuel rating is a lot higher than that for the 335d — 30/41 mpg.
And clearly, there are many gasoline-powered, compact luxury sedans that are priced much lower than the 335d. These include the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which starts at $34,475 with gasoline V-6.
But none of the competitors has the look or image of a BMW.
Like other 3-Series BMWs, the 335d has the familiar BMW body, with kidney-shaped grilles, recognizable, eye-like headlights, and sleek side lines that make the car look like it's in motion even when it's not.
There's not much — beyond the badging with the letter "d" for diesel — on the car to indicate it's different from gasoline 3-Series cars.
That's until the engine is on. The test 335d immediately made a racket as the engine started up. The typical diesel sound — that clatter that diesels have long been associated with — was there all the time. I cringed in parking garages as the sound bounced off the concrete walls and magnified; and I was surprised, since Mercedes years ago reduced the diesel noise in its vehicles. There also was constant road noise from the tires.
There's only one transmission — a six-speed BMW Steptronic automatic that worked well in the test 335d to manage all the power from the 236-horsepower diesel engine. But there was less refinement than in some other BMWs.
Still, it's tough not to appreciate the hard-charging personality that the 335d can take on in aggressive driving. No middling luxury sedan has this kind of raw energy.
And despite my eager testing out of the low-end torque and quick accelerations, I averaged nearly 29 mpg in travel that was 65 percent city and 35 percent highway.
Better yet, I was on track to get almost 475 miles from one tank of diesel.
Inside, the 335d has the same crafted BMW interior as other 3-Series sedans. The seats were firm and helped reduce driver fatigue during long trips on congested roads. Optional saddle brown leather trim on the seats, with contrast stitching, was striking, and the dead pedal, to the left of the brake and accelerator, was big and comfortable for bracing the left leg during twists and turns.
The rear seat, however, is cramped for three people, especially since the outer portions of the rear seats are shaped to push people inward and keep them away from the doors.
A glass moonroof is standard, and even at 5 feet 4, I found myself ratcheted up quite close to the ceiling as I adjusted the seat height. And I couldn't see anything in front of me if I was following a truck, van or sport utility vehicle.
The 335d trunk opening is small, though 12 cubic feet of cargo space are available in the trunk. Most of it lies under the rear window and parcel shelf.
The 3-Series sedans earned four out of five stars in government frontal crash test ratings and five stars in side crash tests.
Standard safety equipment includes curtain air bags, electronic stability control and traction control. Even the super-bright Xenon headlights are standard. But some little things are options. Examples: An iPod and USB connection is priced at $400, and fold-down rear seats in the tester were part of a $1,150 package.
Even with a final price of $51,775, the tester didn't include navigation system or satellite radio.
The 335d is one of five 2010 car nameplates in the United States offered with a diesel engine. All are from German auto manufacturers, which is no surprise since diesels are popular in Europe for their fuel efficiency, spirited power and because taxes on diesel fuel give them a competitive advantage over gasoline at the pump.

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