Driven: 2009 BMW 330d

By Matt Davis

September 09, 2008

Just as we recently wrote about the new BMW 7-Series, the midlife fifth-generation 3-Series also makes its first impressions with its exterior and passenger cabin. What’s different in the case of the E90 3-Series four-door is that the all-new version introduced in 2005 has been an enthusiast favorite, whereas the 7-Series has received little else but sharp ridicule for its exterior design and the horrid earlier versions of the iDrive system, since going on sale in 2000.

All we can think of to criticize the E90, in fact, is the mainstream pinched look of the tail end, because so far as driving dynamics go, the 3-Series never displeases with class-best handling and ride characteristics. Close to half of all BMW production is made up of 3-Series models, and the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class (not to mention any Japanese competitor) have spent their entire lives trying to keep up. Just as the newest C-Class seemed to catch the 3-Series, however, now we get this new 3 to keep the premium Bimmer on top of the pile.

At the start of 2009 after January’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, BMW introduces its diesel initiative to the North American market with the 335d. At the time of its announcement several months back this move was a little surprising, since we only expected the X5 to come with the 35d motor. Well, times in the U.S. market have changed drastically for the worse and now the 335d almost doesn’t seem to be strong enough medicine. What we drove on this test for most of the day was the outstanding new 330d with its variable turbine geometry turbocharger. The 335i sedan we also drove is still spectacular, too, but it’s cars like the 330d that could have Americans warming to diesel in droves.

First, of greatest exterior significance is the new hood and face, as well as the wider and bolder rear track and fascia. The headlights are more feline, the twin kidney grille is now more prominent, and the hood gets bulgy and angry with two major contour lines running the length. In back, if a buyer selects the largest optional wheel/tire set at nineteen inches, the rear track is up to 0.95 of an inch wider. (The front track gets just little bit wider over the current E90.) Adding more attitude as well is the larger and flatter rear fascia with a larger taillight configuration.

Inside, the cabin adopts much of the comfort and driver-oriented styling first seen in the midlife 5-Series and in the soon-to-launch new 7-Series. There is now more storage for knicks and knacks, the dash area is more driver-focused, the armrests are incredibly ergonomic at last, and the the freshened iDrive system is finally a user-friendly situation. The larger 8.8-inch screen is supremely readable at all times and the menus all make clear sense.

America’s 335i sedan does really well already, going from 0-60 miles per hour in 5.4 seconds with the manual shifter and 5.6 seconds with the six-speed manu-matic. The 335d sedan that’s arriving here in 2009 will hit the same speed in 5.8 seconds with the manual and a stunning 5.6 seconds with the upcoming seven-speed dual-clutch manu-matic electronic gearbox that will be available with the start of deliveries in the U.S. With much better fuel mileage (41 miles per gallon average versus 35 mpg in the 335d), the latest aluminum block 3.0-liter direct-injection inline-six-cylinder diesel with 241 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque gets the 330d sedan to 60 mph in just one-tenth of a second more than the 335d, and faster than the 330i. Several BMW executives at the drive event were frank in saying that if they had known the global situation would degenerate so quickly, they would have brought the 330d over instead of focusing on the twin-turbo 335d so much. At least we get this new engine with enhanced Blue Performance technology in the 335d so it can sell in all fifty states with the help of AdBlue urea injection.

Overall handling is rendered even finer now with the wider stance fore and aft, while the steering feel is, if possible, more connected to our brain waves. Yep, the 3-Series is firmly back on top.