BMW 3 Series diesel is sporty, efficient

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Germany's BMW car company is known for its sporty cars and not for fuel efficiency, but buyers of the 2010 335d get sporty performance and the best fuel mileage of any mainstream BMW vehicle.

The 2010 BMW 335d is a diesel-powered sport sedan that holds its own with its gasoline-powered competitors, including the Chevrolet Corvette.   Associated Press
Associated Press
The 2010 BMW 335d is a diesel-powered sport sedan that holds its own with its gasoline-powered competitors, including the Chevrolet Corvette.

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.

Still, the 335d carries a federal government fuel mileage rating of 23 mpg in city driving and 36 mpg on the highway, and can travel more than 500 miles on a tank of diesel.

In comparison, gasoline-powered, six-cylinder 3 Series sedans generate peak torque of 300 foot-pounds or less and have fuel 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 rpms are up to 4,600 before the engine's 424 foot-pounds of torque all come into play. The mileage rating for the Corvette is just 16/26 mpg.

There's a hefty price to pay for the spirited and fuel-conscious 335d, however.

It has a starting price, including destination charge, of $44,825. That is $10,800 higher than the price for a gasoline-powered 3 Series sedan.

It's also $21,245 higher than the starting price of the diesel-powered 2010 Volkswagen Jetta sedan, which also is a compact.

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.

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.

None of the competitors has the look or image of a BMW, though.

Like other 3 Series, the 335d has the familiar BMW body, with kidney-shape grilles, recognizable, eyelike headlights, and sleek side lines that make the car look as though it's in motion even when it's not.

There's not much -- beyond the badging with "d," for diesel -- on the car to indicate it's different from gasoline 3 Series cars.

That is, 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. I was surprised, because Mercedes years ago reduced the diesel noise in its vehicles.

There also was constant road noise from the tires.

Still, it's tough not to appreciate the hard-charging personality that the sedan can take on in aggressive driving. No middling luxury sedan has this kind of raw energy.

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 car 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 cars in the United States offered with a diesel engine. All are from German 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 an advantage over gasoline at the pump.

Specs

THE VEHICLE: 2010 BMW 335d, a rear-wheel-drive, five-passenger, compact sport sedan

BASE PRICE: $43,950

DESTINATION CHARGE: $875

AS TESTED: $51,775

ENGINE: 3-liter, double-overhead-cam, twin-turbo, inline diesel six-cylinder

TRANSMISSION: Six-speed automatic

EPA MILEAGE: 23 mpg city, 36 mpg highway

TOP SPEED: 149 mph

LENGTH: 178.8 inches

WHEELBASE: 108.7 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 3,830 pounds

BUILT IN: Germany

OPTIONS INCLUDE: Sport package (18-inch performance tires, leather-wrapped steering wheel, sport seats, sport suspension), $2,150; Dakota seat leather, $1,450; cold-weather package, $1,150; front and rear parking sensors, $750; Tasman green metallic paint, $550; keyless remote entry $500; iPod and USB connector, $400

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