Thursday, August 21, 2014
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BMW 328d a far cry from sluggish, sooty diesels of yore

Gallery: BMW 328d a far cry from sluggish, sooty diesels of yore

If Americans think of diesel engines at all, they remember the unreliable, gutless Oldsmobile diesel engine of the late 1970s and 1980s. Or they think of the diesels from Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz, which had their loyalists, many of them former owners. The rest of us remember following one of these machines, if not because of their sluggish acceleration, then for their clouds of sooty, smelly black smoke. Is it any wonder that there's little love for diesel engines in America?

Today's diesel powerplants are a different breed thanks to urea injection, which cleans the exhaust, and turbochargers, which help to boost their pokey pace.

Proof of this can be found in the diesel-powered 2014 BMW 328d sedan.

It possesses the classic 3 Series driving character. Its suspension is firm, holding the body in check through corners. A tenacious grip keeps the car on its intended course. The steering communicates to the driver, providing feedback that makes performance driving not only possible but rewarding.

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  • But there's a caveat under the hood, where a dual-overhead-cam 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine produces 180 horsepower and 280 foot-pounds of torque. That's significantly less power than the previous 3-Series diesel model, the 335d, which was rated at 265 horsepower and 425-foot-pounds of torque. As you'd expect, the 328d's performance suffers as a result. Getting to 60 mph takes 7.4 seconds, regardless of whether you opt for rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. By comparison, the 335d did that in 6 seconds. Thankfully, the 328d doesn't feel as slow as it actually is, which could be its saving grace. Still, losing two cylinders means that the 2.0-liter doesn't possess the refined character of some diesel engines. It clatters and vibrates rudely at idle, and moans noticeably when asked for oomph, although it quiets down at speed as the turbocharger effortlessly whisks the car along with the authority of a much larger engine.

    But one performance parameter shows noticeable improvement: fuel economy. The new engine returns 31 mpg city, 43 mpg highway, whereas the old one returned 23 mpg city, 36 mpg highway.

    Otherwise, the 328d is a stock 3-Series, with compact dimensions, good room up front, adequate room in the rear seat and a spacious trunk.

    If you don't mind the engine, you might think that this car would be a great compact luxury sedan and, from a pure driving standpoint, it is.

    The car's $40,600 base price, $5,550 worth of options and a destination charge are enough to get all-wheel drive, memory seats, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, automatic climate control, power front seats, ambient lighting, garage door opener, power windows, power mirrors, M Sport appearance package, adjustable suspension package, Bluetooth and a USB port.

    But it's not enough to get options some would typically expect. The seats are vinyl, not leather. There are no seat heaters. There's no navigation system or rearview back-up camera. Safety items available on lesser cars, such as blind-spot detection or adaptive cruise control, are absent at this price. It lacks SiriusXM satellite radio and plugging an iPod into the USB port requires a special cord from BMW.

    This may not bother BMW aficionados, who value performance above all else. But for those looking for comfort and convenience, well, it's going to cost you more.

    So yes, the BMW 328d is a wonderful car to drive, despite its raucous engine. It's fuel-efficient, fun to drive and smartly sized. But its lack of luxury features expected in this class at this price will be hard for some to overlook.

    If you'd like the added features, but don't want to pay more, opt for the gasoline-powered 320i xDrive instead. Its horsepower rating is identical and, although it has less torque than the 328d, it's faster. It's also $5,850 cheaper – enough to add some of the luxury that's missing.

    Yes, the 320i xDrive will cost you an extra $400 a year to fuel according to the EPA, but you'll have a car worthy of its badge.

    The choice is yours.

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    2014 BMW 328D SEDAN:

    –Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder turbocharged diesel

    –Horsepower/torque: 180/280

    –Wheelbase: 110.6 inches

    –Length: 182.2 inches

    –Weight: 3,620 pounds

    –Cargo space: 17 cubic feet

    –EPA rating (city/highway): 3\3 mpg

    –Fuel consumption: 39.6 mpg

    –Fuel type: Ultra-low-sulfur diesel

    –NHTSA safety rating: Five stars

    –Base price: $40,600

    –As tested, including destination charge: $47,075

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    ABOUT THE WRITER

    Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He can be reached at larry.printz@pilotonline.com.

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    (c)2014 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

    Visit The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) at pilotonline.com

    Distributed by MCT Information Services

    Larry Printz The Virginian-Pilot (MCT)