Drive a BMW 335d, as I just did for a week, and you don't attract a second glance. Aside from one changed letter in the badge on the trunk, there is nothing to distinguish the BMW 3 Series diesel from the multitudes of 3 Series BMWs on the road. But while the 335d does not make a visual statement, it does say a lot about its driver. It says, "I want excellent fuel economy, and I don't want to sacrifice performance to get it." In the 335d, perhaps more so than any other car on the road, you get both.
The 3 Series has received the adulation of car magazines since time immemorial, and with good reason. It displays an athleticism that has seduced one test driver after another. And the diesel is no different - steering, brakes, suspension, all the BMW good stuff is here. So, too is the optional sport suspension with its eighteen-inch wheels and high-performance tires (although the standard set-up makes for a bit less busy ride and at least merits a try before you buy).
True, there are some things missing with the diesel. A choice of body style is one. The 335d comes only as a sedan. One option that's not available is active steering, but why would you want it? All-wheel drive isn't offered here either, although if you're out for maximum fuel economy, you'd pass it up anyway. You also can't get a manual transmission, which is a shame, because BMW's stick shifts are among the best in the business.
That said, the 3.0-liter turbodiesel makes so much torque (425 pound-feet), so low in the rev range (at only 1750 rpm), that the automatic transmission is a perfectly suited partner. It's not like you have to keep the revs up to get the most out of this engine. Although unlike some diesels, the BMW six continues to pull impressively all the way up the rev range. What's also unusual is that this diesel actually sounds good when you cane it - even if it is a bit gravelly at idle.
The factory-measured 0-to-60 mph time of 6.0 seconds is just a fraction behind that of the 335i turbo six (5.6 seconds). Pulling quickly out into traffic frequently results in such thrust that the traction control has to intervene. Where the diesel really shines, though, is in passing maneuvers, blasting from 40 to 90 mph in what seems like no time flat.
If there's really no downside to the diesel driving experience, there certainly is an upside when you go to refuel. That is: You won't have to do it very often. The 335d's EPA rating of 23 mpg city spanks the 335i's 17 mpg rating, and the diesel's highway figure of 36 mpg beats the gasoline-powered car by an even more impressive 10 mpg. The range on a full tank can easily exceed 500 miles.
The price you pay for this blend of performance and parsimony is $3600. At least that's difference in the base sticker price of the 335d versus the 335i sedan. But it's actually a lot less. The 335i does not come with an automatic transmission, so add that and the gap narrows by $1325. Then there's the federal government, which wants to throw $900 at you (in the form a tax credit) for treating yourself to a new BMW diesel. So the actual extra outlay is more like $1375. But with the diesel likely to enjoy better resale value, the diesel premium probably is even less.
The 335d is the eco-friendly machine that doesn't just bolster your environmentalist cred, it flatters your intellect as well. Or it would, if other people could tell you're driving one. That little "d" on the trunk lid, though, is pretty hard to spot.