February 25 2009

A diesel 3 Series may not seem like an enthusiast's first choice for a project car, but we were so impressed with our first drive of 335d last fall that we decided to try one out. After all, it's hard to argue with the combination of 265 horsepower and 425 lb-ft of torque. And while fuel prices are currently low, last year proved how volatile a commodity gasoline and diesel fuel can be (no pun intended). We figured, in light of today's economic climate, it might be better to hedge on the side of caution, taking the roughly 30 percent increase in fuel economy while enjoying the bounty of torque.

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Our Space Gray Metallic 335d arrived about a month ago with about 2600 break-in miles on the odometer. Like all 335ds, ours is an automatic (BMW doesn't have a manual that can deal with the torque). We equipped it with black leather and aluminum dash trim, a sport package (ZSP), a cold weather package (ZCP), comfort access, navigation, HD and satellite radio, park distance control and an iPod/USB adapter. The optional equipment brings our car from a base price of $44,725 (including destination) to a grand total of $54,470.

While we're still mapping out just what we're going to do with the 335d as a project car, we have at least decided on a convenient way for you to keep track of the progress. We've launched a micro-site for the project, www.project335d.com, which we'll keep current with regular blog postings, along with links to feature articles and our image galleries. We've also included a virtual logbook, allowing you can check up on our ongoing fuel economy and costs. Speaking of fuel costs, the Project335d site also includes a widget that tracks the national average price for diesel and all grades of gasoline, so you can see, at-a-glance, the spread in price between the various fuels.

So far we've been averaging 25.1 mpg in mixed suburban driving, a lot of which has included snowy conditions. We're hoping we see that number increase substantially as the engine breaks in and the weather improves. For what it's worth, the EPA rating is 23 mpg city and 36 highway, and we've yet to have it out for a long highway trip. As soon as we can get our hands on an automatic-equipped 335i sedan, we'll take the two for a daylong trip in tandem in an effort to determine the diesel’s efficiency advantage.

The one bright spot is that the difference between premium gasoline and diesel fuel has always been less than 10 percent (diesel still being more expensive), at least at the suburban Chicago stations we've visited so far. It has been as low as 4 percent, with the trend moving toward a possible crossover in prices. Assuming the difference remains little or nothing, the benefits of the diesel engine could pay off the $2400 premium for the option in a reasonable amount of time.

So far the performance aspect of the 335d has lived up to expectations; we recorded a 5.8-second 0-to-60 run with our vBox data recorder. Until the weather improves, we'll continue to make plans for the project aspect of our 335d. But for now, track our ongoing daily progress on project335d.com.

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