TDI HowTos

First Drive: BMW 335d xDrive Sedan

TDIBlog - Wed, 10/30/2013 - 20:07

True, we owe our love of diesels to the Volkswagen Group and their infamous “TDI” named diesel engines.  We cut our teeth on the first generation, 1.9L TDI motors, and today we sit on top of a wide range of new diesel offerings from many different manufacturers.  Recently we took a step away from our VWAG comfort zone and tested the new 2014 BMW 328d xDrive sedan.  Needless to say this test left us impressed and excited about the future, but with lots of questions too.

Our test vehicle was a 2014 BMW 328d xDrive sedan.  The 328d model is equipped with a 2.0L, twin-turbo (called “TwinPower”) diesel engine with common-rail injection and a variable-geometry turbocharger.  Attached to this motor is a new 8-speed automatic.  Our vehicle, being an xDrive edition, also had all-wheel drive, though rear-wheel drive editions are available as well.  As for options, our test vehicle was very close to the base model, with the exception of heated front seats.

Engine & Transmission

Most of us are familiar with the traditional 3-series formula, so we’ll cut to the interesting stuff first – the 2.0L engine and the new 8-speed automatic.

Most new common-rail motors are known for their noise, or lack thereof.  Common-rail injection allows modern diesels to run extremely quietly when compared to earlier diesel motors.  This BMW power plant is no exception and is much quieter than older diesel motors, but of all the modern 4-cylinder next-generation diesels we have driven, the BMW motor came across as the loudest and most rough by far.  We were genuinely surprised when, after starting the car, the BMW had nowhere near the smoothness and silence of the Mercedes GLK and was noticeably louder than even the VW 2.0L diesel engines.  BMW has detailed the lengths it has gone through to limit noise, so we can only wonder how much louder things could be with a “normal” amount of attention paid to noise suppression.

It is decidedly a rougher sound too.  This is extremely surprising when compared against its 5-series larger brother.  The 6-cylinder diesel in the 5-series is so quiet that you may not notice it running standing right next to it.  There is nowhere near this level of refinement in the 2.0L 4-cylinder unfortunately.

On the road engine noise expectedly smooths out considerably, but we still couldn’t shake the feeling that this motor was much rougher sounding than what we have been accustomed to.  It is worth mentioning that our test vehicle has less than 100 miles on it, and diesels typically smooth out significantly over the initial 5,000 miles or so.

All 3-series models are equipped with “Driving Dynamics Control” that gives the driver three “modes” to choose from – ECO PRO, COMFORT and SPORT.  Which mode you choose has a dramatic effect on the performance of the vehicle.  ECO PRO, predictably, strives to save fuel at all times and limits throttle, acceleration and keeps engine RPMs as low as possible by shifting into higher gears quickly.  ECO PRO should be labeled SLOW.  One driver actually thought that the 328d in ECO PRO mode was slower and harder to drive than his 1989 Mercedes 190D, which only made 90 horsepower from the factory and a 4-speed automatic.

Should be titled: DON’T PRESS

SPORT mode, as the name would suggest, is programmed to get the maximum amount of performance out of the drivetrain.  This means holding gears longer into higher RPMs and not upshifting when coasting.  SPORT keeps the engine in its sweet sport for responsiveness, but its programming would have been better matched to a gasoline power plant as its shifting patterns reflected a misunderstanding of how diesels should be driven.  Moreover, this too was a very rough mode to be in, shifts were nowhere near as crisp as the Volkswagen DSG transmission and the car was slow to match RPMs when shifting.

COMFORT was the best option.

Perhaps the xDrive all-wheel drive took some power away, but even in sport mode this 328d felt sluggish.  Back to back with a 2013 Passat TDI the BMW felt rather slow.  The Passat had a manual transmission rather than the BMW slush box, but the Passat is short two gears, 40 ft-lbs of torque and 60 horsepower.  With that type of advantage we expected the BMW to feel significantly faster than the Passat, but this wasn’t the case.  We are looking forward to driving the RWD version to see if our perceptions change.

The steering and handling was classic 3-series – perfectly weighted steering (our tester was not equipped with the dynamic steering package) and with a 50/50 weight distribution this BMW never nosedives or pushes through turns.  Where the steering wheel points is where the car goes.  It’s uncanny how balanced this car feels.

Our test drive netted a mere 32mpg on the in-dash display, but that MPG basically meaningless on such a new motor on a test loop.

Interior & Exterior

BMW has a well established style that is instantly recognizable and the 3-series interior takes this style to a new level of perfection.  The in-dash screens that BMW use in their cars are simply the best in the industry.  No one matches the brightness, clarity and no-glare screen finish of BMW in-dash screens.  The super-slim screen border is a refreshing change from the clunky borders on many Mercedes and Audi models.  The screen is perfectly positioned at the very top of the dash, ensuring your eyes spend the maximum amount of time on the road rather than looking down searching for the in-dash screen.

The iDrive system is wonderful, just wonderful.  We recently drove a Mercedes GLK BlueTEC diesel and were so frustrated by the in-dash screen controls that we swore we’d never buy a GLK.  This BMW, in contrast, was really perfect.  From the navigation to the screen layout, navigating the MANY functions is a breeze.

BMW in-dash displays are large & easy to read, even in direct bright sunlight

Our only serious complaint with the interior was the display in the gauge cluster – it has a color screen but the size is way too. It doesn’t display much information and the text is bordering on tiny.  Upgrade to navigation and you’ll get a very spacious display, but the standard display seems to be a serious afterthought.  Even base-level Volkswagens costing half the price have more useful displays in the gauge cluster.

Finally, we are VW enthusiasts first and foremost, and VW is very good at making small cars feel spacious.  Historically no 3-series ever felt spacious – the tight cabin and low roofline make this a drivers car, but it made us feel cramped.

On the outside, the new F30 body is downright gorgeous.  Fit and finish of body panels is spot on, far surpassing that of recent Mercedes models and eclipsing even new Audi models.  This new body really ironed out the awkwardness of the previous generation and emerged as a spectacular looking car.  The wagon takes this to a whole other level.  Full disclosure – we are wagon fans in the first place, but everything on the new 3-series wagon is just perfect.

The 3-Series Wagon is a jaw-dropper

Price and Final Thoughts

At an as-tested price of just over $45,000 this 3-series is a hard sell in our minds, especially when compared to other offerings in the market.  We’d argue that a manual-shift Jetta TDI and Chevy Cruze diesels are more fun to drive – especially since the BMW 8-speed felt sluggish.  Time will tell where the BMW lands for average miles-per gallon, but initial reports seem to show that it falls behind class leaders like the Passat TDI.

We realize we have been very critical in this review, all in all we really liked the car.  The sticker price, however, really left us concentrating on the negatives.  With a price that borders on double that of some Volkswagen diesel models small things that might otherwise be excusable really become issues for us.  If one is going to pay nearly $50,000 for what really is a compact sedan or wagon, you would expect things to be perfect or at least be measurably superior than cheaper alternatives.  Perhaps other diesel offerings are just that good, but we don’t think that this 328d is a standout in the market today.

Categories: TDI HowTos

The Flood of New Diesels – 2014 BMW

TDIBlog - Wed, 10/02/2013 - 02:21

While VW, Audi and Mercedes are the veterans of diesel vehicles in the USA, BMW has been making their diesel push since the introduction of the 2010 335d and X5d.  For 2014, BMW pushes their offerings further, and gives VW and Mercedes a run for their money in the fuel economy department.

Like Mercedes, 2014 marks the first year that BMW is offering a 4-cylinder diesel model.  The 2.0 diesel has twin turbochargers and makes 180 horsepower (slightly less than the Mercedes counterpart).  But unlike Mercedes, BMW offers really fantastic combinations in its 3-series.

  • 2014 BMW 328d Sedan – rear wheel drive, BMW famous handling but with 180 horsepower, 280 ft/lbs of torque and 45 mpg. 

    2014 BMW 328d

  • 2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sedan – same as above, but with all-wheel-drive.  Fuel economy takes a small hit, dropping to 43 mpg highway.
  • 2014 BMW 328d xDrive Wagon -…..wait….what…..WOW!  The holy grail for diesel drivers – all wheel drive, wagon, diesel.  Plus its a BMW which doesn’t hurt either.  Same 43mpg highway as the sedan, and starting at around $43,000, BMW should sell these faster than they can make them.  The only problem – no manual transmission, though the 8-speed automatic is no slouch

    2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

  • 2014 535d Sedan – the 5-series trades the fuel sipping 4-cylinder for BMW’s version of the 3.0L V6 diesel.  Making 255 in this application, the 535d is quick.  This doesn’t come at much of a cost – highway MPG remains at a high 38 mpg.  The 5-series is available with a dizzying array of really amazing options, though prices can break $80k with ease even though base prices start at $58,000.

    2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

  • 2014 535 xDrive Sedan – all-wheel-drive in the 5-series diesel only costs 1mpg on the highway (dropping to 37 mpg) and brings the entry MSRP up $2,000.  Unfortunately, no 5-series wagon is offered in the US for 2014 (diesel or gasoline).
  • 2014 X5 xDive35d – outside of a horrendous name (why is it this long?!)  the X5 diesel delivers.  Making 255 horsepower, the BMW 3.0L diesel is the most powerful 3-liter diesel on the market today.  Unfortunately the 26mpg highway doesn’t compare favorably to other offerings in the luxury SUV segment from Audi, VW, Mercedes Benz or even the Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel.

    2014 BMW X5 xDrive35d

Overall the BMW offerings are what you would expect from BMW.  However, with the 328 xDrive wagon, its clear that someone inside BMW is a true diesel enthusiast and helped along this really brilliant combination to make it to US shores.

Categories: TDI HowTos

The Flood of New Diesels – 2014 Mercedes-Benz

TDIBlog - Wed, 10/02/2013 - 02:02

For the past 6 years or so, Mercedes has offered its 3.0L V6 diesel engine (OM642) in the E-Class, ML, GL, and R-Class models.  This motor underwent some small upgrades through the years, bringing more power and more fuel efficiency.  The S-Class BlueTEC made the most power out of this unit, making 240 horsepower and 466 ft/lbs of torque.  Overall the 3.0L engine has proved durable and reliable, though not incredibly fuel efficient.

For 2014 the 3.0L stays in some models, but most exciting is the new 2.1L twin-turbo 4-cylinder diesel.  Dropping 2 cylinders doesn’t make this motor any slouch, however, as it still puts out an impressive 195 horsepower.

Mercedes has offered diesel models in the USA off an on throughout the years.  This year, Mercedes has made the shift from focusing on making diesels perform similar (or better) to their gasoline counterparts, to offering diesels where they are most at an advantage – great fuel efficiency without an appreciable change in performance.  In addition, as of 2014 all Mercedes Benz models have received updates, more aggressive styling.

  • 2014 GLK 250 BlueTEC Diesel – a really special vehicle, a 2.1L 4-cylinder motor, all-wheel drive, 33 mpg highway.  Amazingly, and perhaps an industry first, the GLK 250 diesel is LESS expensive than its gasoline counterpart (when 4matic is included, that is).  And with a base price under $40k, the GLK 250 BlueTEC is the most affordable entry-luxury model by nearly $10,000.  Be careful though, options add up quickly and push the price of the GLK over $50k easily.

    2014 GLK BlueTEC Diesel

  • 2014 E250 BlueTEC – just last year the E-Class had the 3.0L V6 in the E350 BlueTEC.  Not so for 2014 as the E-Class also gets the 2.1L, 4-cylinder power plant that powers the GLK diesel.  MSRP starts at just over $51,000, but the fuel economy is superb! 28 city, and 45 highway! Along with updated-for-2014 styling, the E 250 BlueTEC is a sedan you want to own.  The downsides? No 4Matic all-wheel-drive is offered in the diesel model, and the diesel isn’t offered in the Wagon (please?) or Coupe.

    2014 E250 BlueTEC

  • 2014 ML350 BlueTEC – the 3.0L OM642 lives on in the 2014 ML, making 240 horsepower and rated for 20 mpg city, 28 highway.  The ML was completely redesigned and reengineered for 2013, so technology abounds and prices start at a reasonable $51,790.  We think the ML has gotten a bit too large in this generation, and we preferred the previous generations exterior styling, but the new ML interior is just out of this world.

    2014 ML350 BlueTEC

  • 2014 GL350 BlueTEC – the Mercedes monster, with a full three rows of seating, this is one massive SUV.  It’s size causes fuel economy to drop to 19 city, 26 highway.  That compares really well to the gasoline version’s 14/19, though 0-60 takes a pokey 8.3 seconds in the diesel edition compared to a quite fast6.2 seconds in the gasoline model.  Whatever the case, this is the largest diesel powered SUV available anywhere.  Prices start at $65,000.

    2014 GL350 BlueTEC

  • 2014 S350 BlueTEC – not listed on the Mercedes Benz website as of this writing, it has been reported that the 3.0L diesel will reappear in 2014 after being available in 2012 and 2013.  The 2014 S-Class is an all new design with some really groundbreaking new features.  This new chassis may delay the introduction of the diesel model until mid-2014.  With an expected entry price of over $90,000, we’re not sure where the economic argument is for buying one…

    S350 – expensive but damn it looks good…

With 5 diesel-powered models in the showroom, Mercedes once again has a full lineup for 2014.  Form the compact GLK & the fuel economy champion E 250 BlueTEC to the monster G-Class, if  you have the funds to look at Mercedes they won’t disappoint.

Categories: TDI HowTos

The Flood of New Diesels – 2014 Audi

TDIBlog - Tue, 10/01/2013 - 14:28
Audi TDI

Being part of the VW group, we always wondered why Audi didn’t offer diesel engines in their models like VW has done.  As of 2014, Audi has began the diesel push in earnest.  

Here is a list of all 2014 Audi TDI models.  All Audi TDI use 3.0L, V6 diesel engines.

  • 2014 Q7 TDI – related to the Touareg, also received the 240HP engine upgrade in 2013 and keeps everything the same in that regard for 2014.  19 city/28 highway.
  • 2014 Q5 TDI – competing with the Mercedes GLK in the compact-luxury SUV segment, the Q5 uses the same 240HP V6 TDI as larger Audi models, making it quicker than most other diesel offerings.  24 city/31 highway.
  • 2014 A6 quattro TDI – at 24 city, 38 highway, this is a very strong combination in the all new A6 model that is more spacious, luxurious and better equipped than ever before.  The A6 TDI starts at under $59,000.
  • 2014 A7 TDI – the lines of a coupe in a sedan, the A7 5-door has a love-it-or-hate it exterior along with Audi’s typical interior perfection.  The TDI model starts just below $68,000
  • 2014 A8L TDI – AMAZING car, now the S-Class Mercedes BlueTEC has some competition in the ultra-luxury diesel segment.  Even though the A8L is much larger than the A6, it only takes a 2mpg hit in highway MPG at the EPA rated 24 city/36 highway.  Getting 36mpg driving an absolutely huge A8L would be a very comfortable experience!

Before the year is out Audi is expected to finish the lineup with an A4 diesel.  Unfortunately, all the models above are only available in automatic transmission formats.  Plus, unlike their VW TDI siblings, none of the Audi TDI models are equipped with DSG transmissions – only the 8-speed Tiptronic (also in the VW Touareg) is available.

All in all this is a pretty impressive lineup, but it reveals that Audi is prioritizing performance over efficiency.  By only offering the 240hp, 3.0L V6 and not offering a 4-cylinder diesel model, Audi clearly feels that their target customer will want more power versus getting 40+ mpg.

Mercedes made a similar conclusion a few years earlier, but this year is trying something new.  Read on to the 2014 Mercedes Diesels…




Categories: TDI HowTos

The Flood of New Diesels – 2014 Volkswagens

TDIBlog - Tue, 10/01/2013 - 14:27
Volkswagen TDI

Historically the most diesel supportive manufacturer in North America, Volkswagen has a full line up of TDI diesel models for 2014.  Even with no new models for 2014, these 2013 carry over still gives VW the largest diesel offering in the United States with 6 different models (7 if you consider the Beetle Convertible separate from the Beetle Coupe).

Here is a full list of the 2014 VW TDI models:

  • 2014 Passat TDI – 140HP 2.0L common rail diesel, along with DEF exhaust treatment, the Passat TDI gets the best average fuel economy of any diesel in the USA  with the EPA ratings of 31/43 for the manual & 30/40 for the automatic transmission.  Owners report breaking 50 mpg regularly with the manual transmission, and automatic owners seem to be averaging in the low 40s, beating its Jetta/Golf/Beetle cousins even with its extra size.  Remains unchanged from 2013.
  • 2014 Jetta TDI – 140HP 2.0L common rail, no DEF, the 2014 TDI model just received some significant upgrades, most importantly independent rear suspension.  An upgraded dash is scheduled for mid-year 2014 too!  30 city/42 highway for the 6-speed manual transmission.
  • 2014 Sportwagen TDI – same 140HP 2.0 engine in the Jetta, the Sportwagen is due for a refresh in 2015! 30 city/42 highway for the 6-speed manual transmission.
  • 2014 Golf TDI – perhaps the final year of the Golf VI, still made in Germany (!!!).  Also uses the same 2.0L TDI motor as the Jetta and Sportwagen. 30 city/42 highway for the 6-speed manual transmission.
  • Beetle TDI – new for 2013, no big changes in 2014, though the availability of the Beetle Convertible diesel should improve.  The Beetle convertible diesel was the first of its kind in the US, and may not last long.  Get yours while you still can!  Also uses the 2.0L common-rail motor.  Unfortunately the lowest MPG of the VW 2.0L offerings at 28 city/41 highway.
  • Touareg TDI – 2013 saw an upgraded 3.0L V6 TDI make it into this luxury SUV that made more power (240HP) .  The base price is raised in 2014 as the “Sport” edition seems to have disappeared.  20 city/29 highway MPG.

Unfortunately for Volkswagen (and all of us) the Tiguan isn’t yet on this list.  Even after you see all the offerings below, there is an obvious opening for an entry-level, compact diesel SUV.   Sign us up for a Tiguan with the 2.0L cylinder engine and a manual transmission!

Categories: TDI HowTos

The Flood of New Diesels – 2014 Overview

TDIBlog - Tue, 10/01/2013 - 14:26

Things have changed in the last 10 years.  In 2003 there was one diesel game in town – Volkswagen and their Golf/Jetta/Beetle MkIV series with the venerable 1.9L ALH motor.  Between 2004 and today there have been many “false starts” for diesel engines in the industry, most notably Jeep’s Liberty and Grand Cherokee in 2005-2008.  Now, as 2013 wraps up and the 2014 model year is here, there are more diesels than ever.

In this series of articles we will overview, manufacturer by manufacturer, the wide array of 2014 diesel offerings, concentrating on price, fuel efficiency and what these new, next-generation diesels bring to the market.


Categories: TDI HowTos