According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the mean commute time (to travel to work, not roundtrip) among U.S. workers was 25.1 minutes in 2011 which is about 15 miles. I drive more than twice that far – 36 miles each way, to be precise. My 2008 Cadillac CTS can get about 25 MPG if driven delicately, but I don’t drive a 304-horsepower car so that I can drive it delicately. Just over 20 miles per gallon is typical for me, and the damn thing is eating me out of house and home. I have to refuel twice a week at that pace; I’m spending more on gas than I used to on car payments for the thing. So what might a solution be?
The Ultimate Driving Machine could become the Ultimate Commuting Machine late this summer, when BMW begins selling its 328d (note the ‘d’ suffix denotes a diesel engine) in the U.S. BMW’s gasoline-fueled 328i, with a 2.0 liter turbo four cylinder already delivers excellent fuel economy, with ratings of 23 city/33 highway/26 combined. Swap in an oil burning 2.0 liter four cylinder, and this will easily be the most efficient 3 Series sold in the U.S., probably ever.
Though the car that we sampled was just a prototype, so final EPA fuel economy ratings are not yet available, there are whispers that the highway number will top 40 MPG, and possibly approach 45 MPG.
Other than the diesel engine, the 328d drove like any ordinary 3 Series (for instance, check out our review of the then-new 2012 BMW 328i Modern Line). Steering, braking, and handling are all above average in feel and performance, though lack some of the sharpness of the car’s ancestors. But because the engine is the story here, let’s focus on it and how it changes the car’s character.
First, the bad news – it’s a slow 3 Series. As in, probably the slowest one sold here. Rated at 180 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, it falls short of the 328i’s 240 horsepower/260 lb-ft output, but tops the entry-level 320i’s 180 horsepower/200 lb-ft, at least on paper. The 328i’s engine is almost surely underrated, as that car can really move well given its power rating. Zero to sixty for the 328d is in the low-7 second range, which actually isn’t bad.
But that figure probably only occurs when brake-torquing the car. Pull away from a stop like a normal human being and momentary turbo lag is very much a force to deal with. If you brake torque the car in critical situations, there’s basically no perceptible lag. When you confuse the 328d’s 8-speed transmission by lifting or stabbing the accelerator suddenly, the lag also appears, but under steady accelerator application, the car starts to use its torque to keep pulling.
Refinement-wise, the 328d is no louder than the 328i, and could possibly be even quieter. We all know that modern turbodiesels are nothing at all like their smoky Oldsmobile predecessors; that is true for the 328d as well. Combine that with the fact that the 328i’s direct-injection gasoline engine is not the sweetest-sounding four available, and the diesel may get the gold star for refinement against its gasoline-fueled counterpart. Of course, the sweet inline-6 of the 335i still takes the refinement crown in the 3 Series lineup.
My seat time in the 328d was limited to about 15 minutes, so it was little more than a test drive. Foolishly, it didn’t occur to me to reset the trip computer until I was halfway finished with my time in the car, so I can’t tell you what kind of fuel economy I was getting (and that may not be a good benchmark anyway, since the terrain at Bear Mountain State Park was anything but flat).
It’s too bad that the economics of car ownership do not favor me trading in a paid-off car for a new one that can go twice as far on a tank of
gas diesel, because I suspect that I’d be stopping for fuel much less frequently with a 328d as my daily driver. But as they say, you can buy a hell of a lot of gasoline for the difference between the old car’s trade-in value and the price of a new car. Plus, though there’s no official word on pricing for the 328d yet, expect it to come in about $3,000 more expensive than the gasoline version’s MSRP.
When we drove the 2009 335d, which shared the X5 xDrive35d’s 3.0 liter turbodiesel (and its 425 lb-ft of torque) a few years ago, we loved the locomotive-like torque from the diesel inline-6. That car returned some nice fuel economy figures for BMW, but it wasn’t the right engine for the 3 Series, at least as the entry-level (and only) diesel. Adding an efficient four-banger diesel is definitely the right move for BMW, and buying one might be the right move for BMW-loving middle managers who have a lot of highway travel and want to save as much fuel as possible.