The first thing I noticed when climbing into this updated 3-series was the new iDrive interface. Wow, is it ever impressive. It is very intuitive and has very impressive graphics. I instantly felt at home juggling through the various menus. Well done, BMW.
The next thing you notice, of course, is the torque of the twin-turbo diesel engine. In the cold and wet conditions of winter, the traction/stability control is working overtime keeping the rear tires in check. It’s a good thing BMW has a good, smooth stability control system. The 335d is fast and the rest of the car is typical of a BMW. It has a slightly choppy ride on rough Michigan roads but it seems to be better than our Four Seasons 330i was, when I compare both on 17-inch wheels. This is no doubt helped by the fact that this 335d lacks the optional sport package. The steering is still lovely and most of the controls are intuitive and feel robust.
Still, I can’t help thinking that the 335d is a bit of a lost soul in America. We don’t offer cheaper car registration on vehicles that emit less CO2, like many European countries do, and we pay a substantial premium for diesel fuel in many regions of the country. Add in the fact that BMW’s gasoline engines make good power and get pretty impressive fuel economy given their performance and I don’t see a strong case for an expensive, mega powerful diesel sedan. I would happily give up some of the 335d’s torque and fuel economy for the 335i, which is cheaper and less expensive to fill up (and purchase). Add in the fact that the gasoline engine sounds better, has more horsepower, and is offered with a manual transmission, and I’m going to have to say no to Dr. Diesel’s sales pitch in this case. Now in a heavier, less sporty vehicle like the X5, I may sway back the other way. We’ll see when we drive one.
Marc Noordeloos, Road Test Editor
It’s been a while since I spent time behind the wheel of a 3-series and I forgot how different the car feels from a 1-series. For one thing, this 335d feels huge compared with our Four Seasons 135i, particularly when you look across the dashboard. I didn’t forget how well the 3-series drives, but the refresher in driving dynamics was quite welcome. I loved every minute behind the wheel last night, even though most of that time was spent sitting in traffic due to a little snow activity. Speaking of snow, the 3-series performed flawlessly in the snow despite the fact it lacked winter rubber; it was equipped with all-season tires. I found the 335d to be just as easy to drive in the white stuff as our 135i equipped with winter tires.
The new iDrive is spectacular and very easy to use. I can’t imagine anyone having a difficult time using this system, but I’m willing to bet at least a few journalists dismiss it entirely because they remember iDrive 1.0 and all the shortcomings of that system. For members of the iPod generation, this is a very intuitive way to control most of the infotainment equipment in the car. As a bonus, the iPod connector charges my second-generation iPod touch (our Four Seasons Jaguar XF and Four Seasons Infiniti EX35 only charge the first-generation models) in addition to playing the music.
As far as the 335d engine goes, I’d like a little less power. The fuel economy rating of 23/36 mpg isn’t BAD, but those numbers don’t scream economy to me in the way we’ve come to expect from a diesel engine. I’d imagine a 3-series capable of 40 mpg on the highway would do BMW a lot of good for marketing purposes, but the reality is this 335d engine can be used to power larger vehicles like the X5 or 7-series and it costs a lot less for BMW to certify one diesel engine for the U.S. line than two or three, even if that means each of the three vehicles doesn’t have the ideal diesel under the hood.
If you’re a diehard fan of diesel engines and the 3-series, this may be just what you’re looking for. But if you just want a 3-series that’s economical, the 328i isn’t a bad choice, and the saving on the sticker will fill your tank for a few years.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
As Phil notes, the 3-series feels very big compared to our Four Seasons 1-series. There’s no doubt in my mind as to which one is the “right” size. Whereas the 1-series sometimes feels overmatched by the stump-pulling 3.0 inline-six, the 3-series always feels perfectly balanced and well behaved. I took it to a nearby parking lot for some fun in the packed-down snow and was absolutely astonished by how hard it is to make the rear end lose its composure, even with stability disengaged. In situations where most cars would become unsettled and snap around, the 3-series merely shuffled the weight and continued in the intended direction.
The diesel engine is likewise very impressive, if only for how similar it is to the gasoline version. It feels and sounds almost exactly like the engine in the 1-series, and the automatic prevents you from noticing its low rev-line. If it weren’t for the giant diesel decals, I’m not certain I’d have known I was in anything other than a regular BMW. That said, I can’t see why BMW goes through all this trouble to make a car with relatively poor fuel economy (17/26 mpg) get relatively good fuel economy (23/36 mpg). I’m not sure buyers are going to see any novelty in it, either.
I must part company with Marc and Phil regarding the iDrive. Perhaps it’s quite good to those who spent lots of time with the truly horrid first generation, but for someone who’s hardly ever used it at all, it’s still a bit obtuse. Having driven an Infiniti G37 sedan earlier in the week, I have zero doubt as to who has the better system.
On a side note, I realized the key fob does not need to be inserted into the dash in order for the car to start and run, so it’s truly a keyless ignition. I think I realized this at one point in the 1-series, and then forgot – not surprising given that I am the world’s most senile 23-year-old. I’m in love with Scarlett Johansson, but more often than not, can’t recall her name and must refer to her as, “That beautiful blond actress who was in the Japanese movie with Bill Murray.”
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
It seemed as if the BMW 335d was screaming at me when I walked up to it. “EFFICIENT DYNAMICS” and “BMW Advanced Diesel,” read the huge decals affixed to the side of the car. If not for those giant signs, however, I’d have to say that the diesel-ness of this vehicle is well camouflaged. Other than some extra low-end torque, the 335d feels very much like a gasoline-powered 3-series. As on all BMWs, the steering is precise, the brakes are well-modulated, and the interior is well put-together. As for the new iDrive, I’ll side with David. Yes, it’s a vast improvement over the original system, but still – for me – it’s not intuitive. On the other hand, were I to own a BMW and use iDrive every day, it would likely become second nature to operate iDrive.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Like Phil Floraday, I have not spent time in a 3-series for a while, and I am really surprised by how different the 335d feels compared with the 1-series. The 335d definitely feels larger than the 1-series, but the power and torque of the twin-turbo diesel is a perfect match to the size and weight, where the 135i can feel totally overpowered. As usual, this car is perfectly balanced, and I had a great time getting the tail end out in the snow. The break with traction is so undramatic and graceful that after several twists and turns it was as if the 335d and I were performing Swan Lake at the Bolshoi. If only I could feel this graceful and athletic on my own two feet.
I think the new iDrive is a cinch to operate especially when compared with the first generation. Granted, similar systems from other manufacturers are still a bit more intuitive. The iDrive knob feels a touch smaller and more comfortable in the hand than I remember, too.
Upon startup, the diesel definitely makes itself heard, especially on single-digit mornings, if only for a few minutes. The “service engine soon” light made itself seen on these same mornings. On several occassions I restarted the car thinking that would reset the alert to no avail. But after a weekend with the car, I determined that the light would go off after about 20 minutes or more of driving and it never lit up on a warm start.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
2009 BMW 335d
Base Price (with destination): $44,725
Price as tested: $50,770
-Cold Weather Package – $1,150
-Premium Package – $2,650
-Comfort Access System – $500
-iPod and USB adapter – $400
-Satellite radio with 1-year subscription – $595
-Park Distance Control – $750
-Destination & Handling – $825
-Inline 6, Twin Turbo
-Size: 3.0 L
-Horsepower: 265 HP
-Torque: 425 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm
17 in. Alloy