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BMW 335d Test Drive

(NC)-The common perception of a diesel engine and the common perception of a BMW 3-Series are completely incompatible. Most car shoppers seem hooked on the idea that a diesel engine is a noisy, clattering and dirty device, while most also recognize the BMW 3-Series as the total opposite.

Surprise! The German automaker's just added a diesel-powered 3-Series to their North American lineup. Interested shoppers unfamiliar with the capabilities of modern diesel power may be in for a shock. Of course, environmentally-minded performance enthusiasts have been celebrating the impending arrival of the 335d since it was announced last year.

The 3-Series Sedan has undergone a mild makeover for 2009 with several visual revisions and tweaks to interior trim and controls. Fans will notice a different set of bumpers, slightly widened rear stance, and added chrome within the cockpit.

BMW's second-generation iDrive system is also on board. iDrive assigns a slew of vehicle functions to a single control knob and industry-leading 22-centimetre display screen. It allows easy, centralized access to numerous operations with a more user user-friendly and intuitive approach than ever.

Of course, the big news here is what's under the hood: namely an award-winning three-litre twin-turbo diesel engine. The powerplant, also available in the automaker's X5 'Sport Activity Vehicle', puts 265 horsepower and a potent 425 lb.-ft of torque to work for drivers.

Opting for the diesel engine is an environmentally responsible solution- but it doesn't mean taking a hit in the performance department. The engine fires up eagerly and idles as smoothly and quietly as a comparable 323i or 328i gasoline model. Pushed, it lacks the sweet, high-revving wail of other 3-Series powerplants, though the massive low-end torque, authoritative sound and liquid-smooth, head-planting thrust more than compensate. Gears can be switched by clicking on a set of steering-wheel mounted shift paddles too - just like a race car.

Feats of performance aside, 335d cruises comfortably and silently when drivers prefer to relax. There's a lovely split personality at work here- the car coming off as equal parts sports sedan, responsible green machine and premium luxury model. Add in legendary steering and braking reflexes, and you'll undoubtedly find the 335d incredibly fun to drive, as well as very reasonable to refuel.

New 'ultra low sulfur' diesel is now available at about half of North America's fueling stations. Automakers, in turn, are rushing vehicles here which burn it as an alternative to gasoline. End result, cars like the 335d consume it about 30 percent more slowly than gasoline, with no performance or refinement penalties. After all, cake is always best if you can eat it.

The 335d comes solely as a sedan with six-speed automatic gearbox, and is available for test-drives at BMW dealers now.

Justin Pritchard is an Ontario-based automotive journalist and automotive consultant to News Canada. His work can be seen in various Canadian newspapers, magazines and websites - and he also hosts a weekly TV and web car review segment.

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