June 23 2009   Story: Bryan Joslin, Photos by Stuart Fowle

Spring in Chicago is a notoriously short season; and even though summer has now decided to trounce upon us with its ruthless heat and humidity, at least our dreadfully long winter is a distant memory. That wasn't the case when our 2009 BMW 335d showed up, however. Almost hard to believe that five months have past already since its arrival.

Nevertheless, twenty weeks and nearly 10,000 of our own miles have been logged on the 335d, and in that short time it's made an indelible impression on most of the MWerks staff. Most of it is good.

Let's start with the obvious question that always comes up whenever we talk to anyone about our diesel BMW — what kind of fuel economy are we really seeing? The short answer is a little over 29 mpg overall. We've recorded as much as 36.9 mpg on a single tank, but our cumulative average is currently 29.4. The EPA rates city consumption at 23 mpg and estimates 36 mpg on the highway, so our observed mileage falls right in the groove.

After that question is answered, we typically find ourselves answering to the cost of diesel versus gas. For most of our time with the 335d, diesel fuel has cost 5-10% less than premium-grade unleaded gasoline, the recommended fuel for non-diesel BMWs. In recent weeks, as gasoline has continued to rise at rates not seen since. . . well, last summer, diesel has remained relatively steady both nationally and locally for us here in the Chicago area. We've spent $768.47 on diesel fuel, while those same 9481 miles in a gas-powered 335i would have cost us approximately $1025. This, of course, is based on an estimated 30% efficiency advantage of the diesel over the gas engine.

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But let's be real — despite EPA ratings that look like they belong on a base-model Civic, our $54,000 335d is not an economy car in the traditional sense at all. In fact, you should almost consider the fuel economy a bonus. The real joy of driving the sequential twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel is the torque. With 425 lb-ft of the twisty stuff under foot, the 335d gets away from a stop in a hurry. We recorded an honest 5.8-second 0-to-60 mph run even back in February with less than ideal traction. That's within a half-second of the 335i, which has more than 2500 additional rpms in its rev range. On-the-fly acceleration is equally impressive, with the 335d able to pass traffic as if on a mission from God.

The six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission makes easy work of handling all that torque. To be honest, the auto'box does such a fine job of shifting (when it actually needs to) that we've yet to really pine for a manual shifter. Everything about the 335d driving experience is so effortless and carefree that a manual would almost seem out of character for its personality. Just don't mistake it as a dull car; it's anything but.

Daily life with the 335d has so far been as ordinary as any other new BMW. So far we've not run out of fuel looking for an appropriate station (though we've come close on a couple occasions). We've had one scheduled service, which entailed an oil-and-filter change and a top-up of the AdBlue "diesel exhaust fluid" (thankfully, new muffler bearings were not required at this visit). A "Service Engine Soon" reminder has appeared and vanished from time to time, and we suspect that variations in fuel quality have triggered that; performance never waivered with the presence of the warning light, however.

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The one downside to the diesel ownership experience remains the diesel fuelling conditions. Given that diesel fuel is used primarily by trucks and commercial equipment here in the USofA, the pumps tend to be covered in the oily fuel. Apparently it's too much work for America's landscapers and construction workers and whoever else drives F350s and Bobcats to let the nozzle drain before replacing it into the pump. Overflow spillages seem to be much more common with heavy equipment too, based on the slimy puddles on which you must often stand when filling up the 335d. Since diesel is less volatile than gasoline, it doesn't simply evaporate when you spill; it lingers and accumulates. So far we've managed to keep the interior relatively free of the distinctive odor, but we can imagine that within, say, five years of ownership it'll be inevitable that the smell will have found its way in.

The only other issue we've had, through no particular fault of the car, is a puncture in the right rear tire. The combination of the sport package's performance rubber with BMW's insistence on run-flat tires made for a very expensive tire repair; it cost us $395 for a single replacement tire!

The one thing about the 335d that has yet to get old is convincing people that it's really a diesel. It's clear that the American public still has its mind set on what a diesel engine should be —loud, dirty and slow. So far BMW's interpretation of diesel power has been the total opposite.