AutomobilesExtra

[REVIEW] 2014 BMW 328d xDrive – The ultimate diesel experience

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Ever since I drove the previous generation E90 BMW 3-series diesel sedan back in 2008, I’ve been an advocate of small rear wheel or all-wheel-drive sport sedans with torquey turbo diesel engines.

Although the previous 335d was a huge performance boon for BMW enthusiasts with its powerful 3.0L twin turbo 6 cylinder diesel engine that produced 265hp and 425 ft-lbs of torque, its lack of xDrive all-wheel-drive and so-so fuel economy didn’t win over many people shopping for economy.

In truth, BMW was testing consumers’ acceptance of diesel engines with only one engine for the North American market. Since that engine had to be powerful enough for our tastes even when motivating the much heavier BMW X5 SUV, the engine that was selected was too large to deliver fuel economy bragging rights when fitted to the 3-series sedan.

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Fast forward to 2014 and diesel vehicles are now more commonplace than ever. The tide is changing and consumers are now far more accepting of diesel engines in vehicles other than dually pickup trucks and commercial vehicles (a la Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans). No surprise as fuel prices have risen dramatically since the 335d was introduced in 2008.

Not only are diesel luxury SUVs selling in droves, but manufacturers like Mazda are even planning on offering diesel versions of their mainstream vehicles (e.g. the Mazda6 family sedan) in the upcoming few months.

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With this latest F30 chassis 3-series, BMW Canada has rethought its diesel offering with the 328d. It has a smaller aluminium block 2.0L single turbo diesel 4 cylinder engine with 180 hp  (same as the BMW 320i I recently reviewed) but with a whopping 280 ft-lbs of torque (80 ft-lbs more than the 320i).

Peak turbo boost pressure is 22 psi, and the direct-injection system squirts fuel into the cylinders at up to 26,000 psi. Note: In Canada, the diesel is only available with xDrive all-wheel-drive.

While the gasoline powered 328i offers up 241hp, 255 ft-lbs of torque and consequently a faster 0-100 km/hr time, there is more to the numbers alone.

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Keep reading to find out why I thought that the 2014 328d xDrive was arguably ultimate diesel sports sedan experience, and why I can honestly say that I would consider owning one as my personal vehicle.

Overview:

My test car for this review was a Glacier Silver Metallic 2014 BMW 328d xDrive sedan equipped with BMW’s Sport Line package. Jump over to my BMW 320i review to read more about the 4 different trim packages that BMW offers on its 3-series sedan.

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Unlike the 320i that I drove, I was delighted to see that this 328d xDrive, price starting at $47,700, was far from being a base model. Major options on this car included the Driver Assistance Package (+$1,350), the ConnectedDrive Services Professional with Advanced Real Time Traffic Info (+$850), and the Premium package (+$3,000).

As I mentioned before, I spend a lot of time behind the wheel. So if I’m in a luxury vehicle, I do prefer all of the modern amenities a manufacturer has to offer rather than a stripped down version. That being said however, I was surprised (and rather disappointed) to see that in order to get lumbar support added to the excellent Sport seats along with the Homelink universal garage door opener, one would’ve had to spend an additional $2,000 on the Executive Package. There is no way to add these two options a la carte, so you either buy the full package or do without them.

While the $2,000 does also include a very nice upgraded harmon/kardon surround sound system and a heads-up display, it seems a bit excessive to have to buy additional two features just for a garage door opener and lumbar support. Mind you this is on a relatively loaded 328d with already $7,595 in additional options.

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Furthermore, you can increase the list price even higher by adding on a self-park system for another $400, or Active Cruise Control with a Stop and Go function (for bumper-to-bumper traffic) for $1,000.

Exterior:

This well-equipped 328d xDrive includes a few niceties that were missing on the basic 320i xDrive I drove earlier this year. The iconic BMW corona daytime running lights (or LED angel eyes if you prefer) make their appearance, as do the Bi-Xenon headlamps.

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The Sport Line trim package also swaps out all of the chrome or matte silver window trim on the outside for what BMW calls their “High-Gloss Shadow Line” accent. In essence a sportier high gloss black finish on the window surrounds.

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My test vehicle also sported a dealer optional BMW 17” winter wheel package with high performance Pirelli 210 Winter Sottozero runflat winter tires. While definitely not the nicest looking wheels or tires, in a drive up to Whistler BC, they proved why the combination of careful driving, xDrive permanent all-wheel-drive, and winter tires were all but unstoppable for the winter months (more on that later).

Interior:

Red leather seats appear to be all the rage these days with the German auto manufacturers. BMW was arguably first to the party to really popularize the colour, but Audi and Mercedes-Benz have also offered up this option as of late. While the Coral Red may seem a bit too loud to traditional older buyers, I happened to think that it was very fitting of this car’s character. Plus it breaks up the usually stoic and business-like black leather interiors in most German cars.

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Most of my friends (also in their 30’s) agreed that the Coral Red leather would likely be their colour of choice as well. Kudos to the BMW product planners for hitting a home run on this one.

There’s not too much in the 328d’s interior to complain about but plenty to praise. My only niggle was that the glossy interior black plastic trim was already showing a few scratches, despite the relatively low mileage of my test vehicle. I wonder how the black will fare over several years of ownership.

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I found the iDrive system a relative breeze now that I have some usage under my belt. Like anything else in life, with practice, it gets easier to use. Thankfully, most of the controls and menus are quite logical despite the level of detail you can delve into the system.

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I still maintain that BMW makes one of the most beautifully detailed GPS satellite navigation maps in the industry, on par with the latest offerings from Audi, Cadillac, and Mercedes-Benz (in their new S-Class flagship). Not only are the 3D graphics really detailed, but the screen refresh rate is smooth with no lagging or stuttering between zooming and scrolling.

With the ConnectedDrive option, real time traffic info is added onto the map and overlaid onto the major routes. Dynamic traffic guidance means that the system can now offer up an alternate route to get you around major obstructions far in advance. No more excuses being late for work or for a date!

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ConnectedDrive also adds the ability to search for addresses and Points of Interests using Google search. You aren’t limited to the car’s map database. You can even search for an address on Google Maps on your home computer, then send it to the car over the air.

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Naturally this ability also adds internet browsing, a Concierge-like Service, Remote Services (if you lock yourself out or are in an accident), and even the ability to view the weather forecast and news headlines via the iDrive system. Note that most of these functions are disabled when the vehicle is on the move, and probably for good reason.

The addition of the Driver Assistance Package added a few new buttons and instrument cluster displays compared to my experience with the 320i.

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This includes centre console mounted switches for the SurroundView cameras, wing mirror warning indicators for the Active Blind Spot Detection system, and an instrument cluster display for the Lane Departure and Collision Warning system.

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A couple of noteworthy points

Let’s start with the SurroundView cameras, which also include two front fender mounted intersection view cameras. These came in immensely useful for watching for oncoming traffic when sandwiched between taller vehicles in a parking stall.

The SurroundView camera system’s top-down virtual display made parallel parking or between the painted lines in a stall a breeze, and almost like a video-game.

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Being a technology fiend, I can say with absolute authority – after having experienced many cars with similar systems – that BMW probably makes the best overall Surround view system in the industry. High quality cameras with fantastically fast frame rates and great low light sensitivity make this system a truly useful option. One that I would actually spend my hard earned money on.

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Combine that with the high resolution iDrive screen and a headunit that adequate graphical processing power and you have a winning combination. The video feed remained smooth, clear, and relatively noise-free even in almost pitch black conditions or in poor weather. The system works well when you need it to the most, something that I can’t say with as much confidence on competitors’ vehicles. Kudos to the BMW engineers on a proper job well done.

Lastly, I really liked the positioning of the blindspot warning triangles on the mirror housing versus in the outside edges of the wing mirrors’ glass. Although this is just a small thing, moving the lit triangles closer to the driver meant that I could actually see them in my peripheral vision. There was no need to take my attention away from the road to glance at the mirrors. The system also worked well at warning against fast moving traffic coming up from behind, not just when there was a car next to me.

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Superior calibration meant that the 328d’s blindspot warning system produced minimal false alarms, especially when on the outside left turn lane mid intersection (I’m looking at you, Mazda).

So, how does it drive?

In short, the 328d delivers a very nice mix of amazing fuel economy, sport, luxury, and ride comfort. It’s even fun to drive! Who would’ve ever thought that the words “fun” and “diesel” would be in the same car review?

I’ve praised the F30 chassis before for its 50/50 weight balance, rigidity and athleticism. The torquey 2.0L turbo diesel engine makes the experience even better than before. This internally code-named N47 engine has been around in Europe for years, so naysayers should be held at bay when bringing up any reliability concerns.

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In day-to-day driving, the 328d’s acceleration is practically on par with the gasoline 320i and plenty quick for everyday driving. But it’s far more fun to drive than the 320i despite what the numbers may suggest.

The diesel’s copious low-end torque makes moving around in traffic and off-the-line surges effortless. The powertrain is responsive with very little turbo lag and the car feels a bit like a jumbo jet building up for take-off. You really do get pinned back into the Sport seats.

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To meet ever tightening smog standards, the 328d requires the addition of a urea reduction catalyst to control nitrous oxide emissions. All you will notice that is different is a small cap/nozzle next to the diesel fuel filler under a slightly enlarged fuel flap.

This location makes it easy to add the AdBlue fluid to the separate tank located near the trunk. A full tank of AdBlue will last between normal oil-charge intervals, so you won’t ever have to worry about running out as long as you stick to the scheduled maintenance intervals.

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The 328d blends all of the typical BMW attributes but adds a level of frugality despite the fun. Over my week with the car, I averaged 7.0L/100 kms including a lot of city driving during the week and a jaunt up North to Whistler on the snow covered Sea-to-Sky highway.

xDrive and the Pirelli winter tires proved their worth enroute to Whistler as we passed two serious accidents on the early morning trek after a fresh overnight snowfall. Fortunately all parties involved were okay with only minor injuries.

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xDrive and its intelligent torque shifting abilities ensured that power was delivered to the wheels that gripped. Not once did the 328d put its foot wrong. On these low friction surfaces, this latest generation xDrive’s ability to assist with cornering was exactly as advertised. I could feel it working to sort out power to the proper wheels keep the 328d pointed in the direction I wanted it pointed. The vehicle felt stable and as if it was on rails the whole time.

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The low end grunt from the diesel engine, the fast shifting ZF 8 speed automatic transmission, and the driver selectable chassis tuning modes combined well together to make my drive enjoyable. Enroute to Whistler, I spent most of the time in Sport mode allowing the transmission to do most of the work.

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The only exception was in certain twisty sections or in passing lanes where I wanted extra control for acceleration or engine braking via the steering mounted paddles.

This is, after all, supposed to be the Ultimate (Diesel) Driving Machine isn’t it?

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There are a couple of small kinks to the overall experience though. Firstly, I still lament the legendary steering feel of BMW’s hydraulic power steering racks of yesteryear. This is the price that we pay for increased fuel economy and so be it.

However Cadillac’s ATS, despite also having an electric-based system, has better road feel. Therefore improvements can still be made here.

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Secondly, the diesel engine sounds a bit rough and grumbly when cold. Unlike the company’s 535d, you will notice this diesel engine’s increased low frequency noise and some vibration compared to the gasoline engine 3-series. It’s never intrusive, but it’s there and something to get used to.

At cruising speeds, the diesel’s clattering is not really audible unless the windows are down. With the tall gearing in 7th and 8th gears, the engine spends most of its time revving at a low 1000-2000 rpms anyway.

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The slight increase in noise and vibration is a small price to pay for the healthy pickup at low revs and the amazing 5.5L/100 kms I saw on highway cruises when in ECO PRO mode. Most buyers looking at this vehicle are looking for everyday driveability and comfort, so I doubt that they will complain.

Wrap-up:

Many people associate diesel vehicles as being stinky, pokey, and noisy. Some still think that modern diesel engines are soot belching monsters. Happily, those days are long gone thanks to new technology such as particulate filters and advanced exhaust after treatments.

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As part of their EfficientDynamics mindset, BMW appears to be committing big time to the North American diesel movement with its 328d xDrive, X5 diesel SUV, and even a 535d xDrive mid-sized luxury sedan. There has even been speculation that both the 7-series flagship luxury sedan and the X3 compact SUV will be offered with diesel engines in the very near future. Only time will tell.

I suppose the highest recommendation that any auto journalist can make, without prejudice, is when he/she starts thinking about how a test vehicle would be a great future replacement vehicle. And that’s exactly what happened after I returned the 328d back to BMW Canada.

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As it turns out, the 328d is more affordable than expected. The diesel 328i xDrive runs a mere $1,500 more than the gasoline powered midtrim 328i xDrive; a difference easily made up with its 20% better fuel economy.

A further call to BMW Langley revealed that a well-equipped 2014 328d xDrive sedan can be leased for 4 year/48,000 kms for around $650-750 a month with $0 down payment and 4 years/80K kms free scheduled maintenance.

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For me, aside from the upcoming high performance 2015 M3, the most appealing 3-series would be a Touring (wagon) 328d xDrive with all of the same options as my test car, but with the addition of the M Sport and the Executive packages.

I’ll take mine in Mineral White Metallic with the Coral red leather interior please!

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To read a passenger’s perspective on the 2014 BMW 328d xDrive, click here to read Mitchell Sayers’ impressions of the car on his blog, Vancouver Automotive Magazine.

Andrew Ling
Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all! When he’s not reading about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town.
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