ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: I didn't think I was going to enjoy this 2014 BMW 328d xDrive sedan very much -- the 328i I drove a while ago didn't quite satisfy, and it even had a manual. Then there was the more recent 328i, which had the makings of a good car but was hobbled by both the so-so turbo four and eight-speed automatic.
On paper, any advantages the oil-burning 328d might have over the gasoline-powered 328i seem scant. You get a bit more torque, but way less horsepower. Base price is higher (but then, it is an AWD diesel). Both cars get the same basic chassis and steering setups (a good -- nay, great -- thing) but they're also both down two cylinders from the BMW powerplant that everyone actually wants.
The 328d's exhaust note isn't much to write home about, either -- it's not as wheezy as the four, but it doesn't sing like the six. It just kind of grumbles from time to time, with a bit of a rattle (at least in the cold) as the revs climb.
But the powertrain overall was smooth and capable, with, I thought, plenty of torque on tap from the get-go. Maybe the $500 sport automatic transmission made the difference; I'd like to do a back-to-back test to see if it's worth it. Power was adequate at all speeds, even when flying down the expressway. Necks aren't going to be snapped here, but you can burn as much autobahn as you want without a hint of discomfort. And that sort of touring is really what this car is about, not track times.
As with the 535i xDrive we recently tested, the pricey M Sport package doesn't add much overall value. The exterior enhancements are welcome, but the interior suffers from that aluminum hexagon trim in my mind. This is, of course, a matter of taste. And if you really need that enhanced top speed, check the box by all means, but don't do it just for the sake of having those M sill plates. No one is going to be fooled into thinking this is an M3, and I'd rather have tech must-haves like navigation and a backup camera than some more shiny bits.
Beyond that, I'm surprised to say that, for what it is, this car actually seems like something of a value buy -- something pretty rare where German luxury vehicles are concerned. Diesel fuel is expensive, but so is the premium gasoline that regular BMWs demand. For oil-burning fanatics who need that roundel, this is a satisfying option. For eco-nuts who likewise must have a Bimmer, this makes way more sense (financially and, I suspect, ecologically) than the silly ActiveHybrid 3.
ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: Wow, we were able to get above 30 mpg in this 2014 BMW 328d xDrive sedan. That's still a little shy of the EPA city rating of 31 mpg, but it's still admirable considering the lead-footed folks we have around here. I've been a fan of diesels, with the torque they offer and the fuel efficiency they return when driven normally. I don't doubt that this 328d would be able to return 40+ mpg on the highway during a road trip while delivering gobs of torque and doing it without a weird-feeling brake pedal, electric motors and a battery pack stuffed somewhere, most likely cutting into cargo space.
Of course, there are still some downsides to diesels. They are usually more expensive than their gas counterparts. In the case of this Bimmer, the 328d xDrive sedan has a base price that's $1,300 more than the 328i xDrive sedan. Graham makes an excellent point above that diesel fuel is expensive, but since BMWs usually require premium it's a wash. However, diesels that billow a ton of smoke out the exhaust is a thing of the past and so are the really loud clanking idles.
With the diesel punch, it's easy to exploit the 3-series' stellar drive dynamics. Steering feels precise with loads of feedback available through the wheel, and the brakes deliver confident stopping muscle with firm pedal feel. The adjustable suspension when firmed up keeps the car planted in corners with only a hint of roll and dive under braking. I also have to admit that run-flat tire development has come a long way in terms of ride comfort and noise because you can cruise around normally on this rubber and not get beat up or be bugged by excessive noise.
The cabin is well built and the front sport seats are supportive to keep you held in place. Our particular test car was equipped with minimal options with manual seats, no satellite radio or navigation and regular halogen headlights. It's kind of surprising to have none of those above options for a car that stickers at over $48K, but the hardcore enthusiast in me is OK with it because the options that this car does have are all performance-focused.
The couple of complaints I have after a weekend are that the engine does sound a little coarse and grumbles at low rpm as Graham mentions above, and the transmission tuning did seem a little off as if it wasn't quite in the right gear a lot of times. Of course, that last complaint could be remedied if they offered the diesel with a manual, which would be awesome.
2014 BMW 328d xDrive sedan
Base Price: $41,525
As-Tested Price: $48,525
Drivetrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel I4; AWD, eight-speed automatic
Output: 180 hp @ 4,000 rpm, 280 lb-ft @ 1,750-2,750 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,620 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 31/43/35 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 30.1 mpg
Options: M Sport package including 18-inch 400M HP tires, sport seats, highlight trim features, aluminum hexagon interior trim, M steering wheel, aerodynamic kit, shadowline exterior trim, anthracite headliner, increased top speed ($3,500); black Dakota leather ($1,450); dynamic handling package including adaptive M suspension, variable sport steering ($1,000); Melbourne Red metallic paint ($550); sport automatic transmission ($500)
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