2014 BMW 328d first drive review: It’s about time

Two-liter turbodiesel engin e for the BMW 328d

Two-liter turbodiesel engin e for the BMW 328d (click to enlarge)

It’s about time. Later this summer, August 2013, you’ll be able to buy a BMW 3-Series powered by a diesel engine. It’s the first time BMW will be selling Herr Diesel’s compression ignition engines in the U.S. since the 5-series briefly hosted one in the mid-Eighties. But it’s soon to be back in the BMW 328d, it’s coming here and we drove it.

The intent of the BMW 328d is two-fold, first being fuel efficient in a diesel sort of way, and second, being a BMW. To do that, BMW started with an all-aluminum 2-liter diesel engine and put it in a BMW 3-series. When it arrives, it will come as a 328d sedan, a 328d xDrive all-wheel drive sedan, and a 328d xDrive Sportwagon version.

All engines BMW sells in the U.S. will use AdBlue, the urea compound/soot trap diesel emissions control system. The system adds not insignificant cost, so relatively inexpensive models in the U.S.—including the Jetta tdi diesels—don’t use AdBlue, and why the compact crossover-SUV Volkswagen Tiguan doesn’t have a diesel engine: it’s higher weight pushes it into a category that needs AdBlue to meet emissions rules, and at that price point it doesn’t make financial sense. But it does for a small BMW model.

The BMW 328d will be equipped only with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, with a paddle-shifted manual mode, functioning identically with a similar transmission in a gas version.

The requirement that a diesel engine BMW 328d had to meet included not only emissions but also, according to BMW’s Victor Leleu, allow the BMW driver to jump from gas to diesel without compromise or sacrifice. To that end, all performance, trim and luxury available on other 3-series models, other than a manual transmission, will available on the BMW 328d.

And more importantly, performance of the diesel-engined 328d must be as entertaining as its gasoline-fueled equivalent. And that comes down to the driving. Because the suspension is the same between the two, handling won’t differ. On the other hand, don’t expect performance to be equal. Typical of diesel engines, horsepower is only 180, but torque is 280 lb-ft, peaking at a mere 1750 rpm. Expect 0-60 mph time in the low 7-second range with a top speed limited to 130 mph.

The different power delivery results in a different feel. Although the diesel doesn’t rev like its gas equitant, the 328d’s torque is—looking for the right word—delightful. Our moderate speed route included an upgrade that wholly unfazed the 328d, just as if the hill hadn’t been there.

While at idle or at steady speed, very little of the characteristic diesel sound, absent the traditional diesel rattle, comes through, under acceleration the guttural diesel voice comes through. It’s unadulterated enthusiasm, however. Gasoline engine purists will turn up their noses, of course, but there’s no stink, for that matter. There’s none of the following-a-bus aroma of yore, although of course if you spill during refilling, that’s your fault.

On the other hand, refueling will be less frequent. According to Leleu, fuel economy will be “well into 40 miles per gallon highway.” Think more or less 45 mpg. Expect the EPA city mpg estimate to be in low 30 mpg territory.

 

This same 3-series/diesel engine combo will be sold in Europe but will be called the BMW 320d, after its displacement. We’ll know it as the 328d because, BMW cynically reasons, American’s love the “28” part of 328.

BMW is banking on Americans accepting, or better embracing the “d” part of the name, particularly the diesel enthusiasts—and you know who you are—who’ll be saying, it’s about time.