Saturday, April 19, 2014


The last time BMW tried mixing oil and rubber in a U.S.-market car was the E90 335d of 2009. That Bimmer’s 425 lb-ft of tire-smoking thrust tickled our collective fancy by enabling a fleet 5.7-second run to 60, but its 3.0-liter six didn’t turn heads with its EPA mileage (23 mpg city, 36 highway), and its near-$50,000 base price placed it awfully close to 5-series territory.

Enter the 328d. Bumper to bumper, it stretches about as long as a VW Jetta TDI but weighs roughly 400 more pounds with the xDrive all-wheel drive of our test car. (The gap shrinks to 205 pounds with the rear-drive version.) In place of the burly but thirstier six of the 335d, the 328d employs a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, and it tips the fuel-economy/performance ratio in favor of the former. The new diesel has EPA estimates of 31/43 for the xDrive model (or 32/45 with rear drive) actually exceed the Jetta TDI’s 30/42 numbers. We saw 35 mpg over the course of 874 miles. Our most recent Jetta TDI test netted 40 mpg observed, but the Bimmer’s miles were mostly suburban, whereas the last Jetta racked up many of its mile markers on an interstate slog to Iowa and back.

The flip side is that the 328d’s 181 horsepower just barely exceeds that of the 180-hp gas-fed turbo four-cylinder in the entry-level 320i. At 7.2 seconds to 60 mph, the 328d xDrive is about as quick to 60 as is a rear-drive Cadillac ATS with its base 2.5-liter four (7.4 seconds), but it’s still 0.7 second slower than the rear-drive 320i. That makes the 328d the slowest new 3-series BMW one can buy.But the 328d doesn’t feel slow. The 328d’s ample low-rpm torque (280 lb-ft at 1750 rpm) and strong part-throttle response are suited to the way most people drive, well, 99.99999 percent of the time. The diesel’s twin-scroll turbo delivers fairly seamless response, the only discernible lag being a half-second interlude occurring if you hammer the accelerator from rest. Other than that, be prepared to let Old Man Torque and his many pound-feet kick you down the road. Diesels love highway miles, and once freeway velocity is attained, this turbo oil burner maintains momentum with dogged determination and minimal effort.

The 328d holds up the Ultimate Driving Machine end of the bargain, too. Despite the added diesel plumbing and urea after-treatment system, the 328d adheres to BMW’s vaunted front-to-rear weight balance, with 50.7 percent of its 3660 pounds assigned to the front axle. The 328d’s steering is as obedient (if also as overboosted), its damping as nuanced, and its brakes as confidence inspiring as those of any gas-fired 3-series. And its 225/45-18 run-flats deliver about as much lateral grip (0.88 g) as we recorded from the ATS. There is a low-frequency thrum from the bowels of the engine room that can be heard and felt in the steering wheel, floor, and seat whenever the diesel is lit, especially when accelerating or climbing a grade.

That’s nothing we haven’t experienced or felt in every other diesel we’ve driven, but it’s not the sweet baritone of BMW’s legendary inline-six, now limited to the 335i. Our 328d test subject arrived with a full complement of standard gear, plus the $3500 M Sport package (18-inch aluminum wheels, sport seats, M steering wheel, aero body kit, black headliner, aluminum interior trim, and Shadowline exterior trim), Melbourne Red Metallic paint ($550), Dakota leather seats ($1450), sport programming for the eight-speed automatic ($500), and the $1000 Dynamic Handling package consisting of adaptive M suspension and variable sport steering.

The big question: With almost everything else being equal with the gas turbo 328i, will buyers part with an additional $1300 to trade a second and a half of 0-to-60 performance for 9 to 10 more mpg? Although those votes have yet to be tallied, it won’t help matters that diesel-powered drivers’ cars have been rare on these shores, limiting customer awareness. But that should change, as the genre has been fleshed out some by Audi’s latest diesels, and the upcoming VW GTD and diesel Mazda 6 will serve in lower price classes. BMW went a step too far with the previous-gen 335d—its burly engine was shared with the diesel X5 SUV for cost reasons—but this time the automaker seems to have gotten the formula just right.

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