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First drive: Diesel-powered 2014 BMW 328d xDrive

Can frugal and sporty live together in harmony?

Published: January 27, 2014 05:00 PM

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Prestige brands are continuing to roll out new entries that strive to balance energy efficiency with an upscale driving experience. Our recently purchased diesel-powered 3 Series is a fine example, with BMW striving to fit one model with ride, handling, power, frugality, and AWD. After testing the prior 3 Series diesel back in 2009, we have been anxious to see how this new iteration measures up.

First impressions? It delivers a nice mix of sport, luxury, and an indicated average of 32 mpg. Not bad at all. But there is a kink.

This diesel engine sounds rather rumbly, especially when cold. Those familiar the company’s sweet revving six-cylinder engines may frown, but few will complain about the healthy pickup at low revs or the 40 mpg I saw on highway cruises.

This car blends myriad BMW attributes, and this confusion can be seen right in the name badge. BMW nomenclature hasn’t matched up with engine displacement for quite a while, but in this case the "28" in "328" just happens to conform to the torque number, rated at 280 lb.-ft.—decent tugging power for a rather compact midsized sedan. The actual displacement is 2.0-liters and horsepower is comes in at 180—same as the entry-level 320i. Happily, our diesel four-cylinder is mated to BMW’s excellent eight-speed automatic.

With all-wheel drive, the typical Premium and Cold Weather packages, navigation, auto high-beams, and other goodies, our car stickered at $50,475 before some end-of-the-year discounts to the tune of about $4,000.

The AWD system and combined 17-inch Michelin MXM Primacy tires turned out to be a boon during snowstorm Hercules and this latest New England cold snap. I never had a problem slogging around on the freshly plowed boulevards and side streets near my home. And the BMW easily performed better than our Land Rover Sport in this frozen muck. As always, I’m impatient to get out on the road and appreciated the fast-heating seats and steering wheel, which cleverly come back on automatically after a you return to the parked car from, say, a half-hour supermarket visit.

The diesel BMW runs a mere $1,300 more than the midtrim 240-hp 328i and $5,850 more than the entry-level 320i with its 180-hp gas engine. The rear-wheel drive gas-powered 328i racked up an impressive 28 mpg overall in our tests, so the difference in actual fuel economy may not be as great as it is typically with diesels, serving as a backhanded compliment to the gas engine.

We’ll have a better idea of overall economy—and a more nuanced view of driving qualities—when we’re done racking up more break-in miles. Something tells me no one around here is dreading the prospect of more wheel time.

Read our completed BMW 3 Series road test on other variants.

—Gabe Shenhar

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