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Don Adair's Seat Time

Posts tagged: diesel

BMW 535d: BMW builds another brilliant diesel

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BMW’s midsize 5 Series sedan is a serious car, built for grown-ups and not easily outgrown. 

Its 3 Series sibling is smaller, edgier, more spirited. The kind of car some buyers will age out of on their way to the 5.

One step above the 5, the flagship 7 is a statement car. It’s sybaritic, accommodating and comfortable as all get-out, but not an essential step up from the 5.

You could spend many years in a 5 and never consider the temptations of a comely stranger.

The 5 has always been the sportiest of the world’s family sedans — to this day, it’s the only midsize luxury sport sedan available with a manual transmission — but It also has a sober side, a grown-up charisma.  

Since the 2010 debut of the sixth-generation 5 Series, BMW has been nudging the 5 along the latter path, with a growing focus on comfort, economy and utility.

For 2014, navigation and xenon adaptive headlights are standard across the line. Two new options packages enable buyers to put a personal stamp on their 5s, and a six-cylinder turbo-diesel powerplant comes aboard.

On the outside, there are modest sheet metal updates. Inside, storage compartments and cup holders boast increased capacity. Noise-reduction measures cut cabin noise to its lowest levels ever. 

Four-door 5 Series variants range from the 241-hp 528i ($50,425, including delivery) to the 443-hp 550i Gran Turismo ($68,825), a sedan/crossover hybrid with elevated ride height, a huge rear seat and a two-mode hatchback. 

Engine choices include turbocharged four-, six- and eight-cylinder gasoline variants, the new turbodiesel and a gas-electric hybrid. All 5 Series sedans are available in rear-drive or all-wheel-drive configurations.

Coupes and convertibles now fly under the new 6 Series banner.

We tested the 535d ($57,525). Its 3.0-liter diesel inline-6 engine makes 255 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque and is paired with an eight-speed automatic. It’s quick — 0-60 in 5.8 seconds — and thrifty. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 30 mpg combined (26/38) with RWD and 30 combined (26/37) with AWD.

The diesel’s performance is nearly identical to that of the six-cylinder, 302-hp 535i ($56,025), which sprints from zero to 60 in 5.9 seconds. Rear-drive models are rated at 24 mpg combined (20/30), with the automatic, and 23 combined (20/30), with the manual (the 535i is the only trim on which the stick can be had). The AWD 535i is automatic-only and achieves 23 combined (20/29).

The eight-speed gearbox works wonders with the torque-rich diesel. Shifts are smooth and quick and land the engine in the heart of its sweet spot. There’s abundant acceleration for passing situations and freeway on-ramps.

BMW's Driving Dynamics Control system is standard on the 5. It allows owners to customize engine, steering and transmission responses. Though BMW has blunted those responses to accommodate a broad range of tastes, the 5’s capabilities easily surpass those of all but an elite handful of drivers.

It’s a car to grow into, not one to grow out of.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2014 BMW 535d
Vehicle base price: $45,540
Trim level base price: $56,500
As tested: $66,425
Options included M Sport appearance package; adaptive LED headlights; automatic high beams; keyless entry and ignition; multi-contour seats; sport automatic transmission.
EPA ratings: 26 city/38 highway/30 combined
Low-sulfur diesel required 

BMW 328d: Strong dose of diesel

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The EPA reckons you can drive your new BMW 3 Series diesel 678 highway miles between fuel stops.

According to my highly non-scientific reckoning, that’s probably about right.

The 2014 BMW 328d ($38,225) runs a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel engine that compensates for its meager 181 horsepower with 280 pound-feet of torque.

<strong>Tech refresher:</strong> Torque makes acceleration, while horsepower relates to sustained speed. One expert explains it like this: “Torque is what gets you to the speed you want quickly; horsepower is what keeps you there.”

In other words, BMW’s new diesel not only sports sterling efficiency numbers (32 mpg city/45 mpg city/37 mpg combined), but does so in lively fashion. The 0-60 mph sprint comes up in the low-7-second range, about average for the sport-sedan class and quicker than the base, 180-hp/200 lb-ft 320i ($33,675; 24/36/28).

The new diesel joins a lineup that includes gasoline-powered four- and six-cylinder engines and a gas/electric hybrid. Most are available in either rear- or all-wheel-drive configurations, and  some can be had with either a six-speed manual gearbox or an eight-speed automatic.

Other 3 Series updates this year include two new AWD-only body styles, a wagon and a Grand Turismo (GT) Hatchback (both priced from $42,375). Under BMW’s new naming strategy, the 3 Series Coupe and Convertible go away and, going forward, will be branded as 4 Series models. 

All 3 Series cars (including the X3 crossover) are built on the same sturdy and responsive platform, and can be had with a series of options packages that allow owners to tweak their 3s in the direction of comfort or performance, or both. 

Of course, the price escalates accordingly. My AWD 328d tester included the $3,500 M Sport package (18-inch wheels, sport seats, aerodynamic body add-ons, more); $1,000 Dynamic Handling Package (adaptive M suspension, variable sport steering); and $500 Sport automatic transmission), and tipped the scales at $47,075.

But, oh my, what a ride.
 
I picked up my 328d tester in Snoqualmie Falls (see story below) and headed south for SeaTac. After returning to the Northwest, I spent a couple of days in the Skagit Valley, north of Seattle. I wrapped things up with a return to Spokane via Hwy. 2 and landed at home with the fuel gauge registering one-quarter full.

This account glosses over a multitude of passing opportunities (passed with flying colors, puns intended), hairy curves and high-speed sweepers. The optional sport transmission allowed me to alter transmission and stability control programs depending on road conditions and my immediate need for speed. 

In full-on Sport Plus mode, the engine runs, without shifting, to the redline and the stability control system shuts down, allowing the driver to let it all hang out. The optional adaptive suspension slashes body lean without turning the ride harsh.

Through it all, the well-equipped, attractive and roomy cabin remains tranquil, with only a hint of diesel clatter at low RPMs. 

Diesels are popping up across the automotive landscape. If the rest of them are half as good as BMW’s, hybrids could turn out to be a threatened species.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sedan
Vehicle base price:
Trim level base price: $40,500
As tested: $47,075
Optional equipment included sport seats; 18-inch wheels; aerodynamic kit; unique headlight and shadowing exterior trim; adaptive suspension; variable sport steering; sport automatic transmission; Estoril Blue paint.
EPA rating: 31 city/43 highway/35 combined
Clean diesel fuel required 

Audi Q7 a rare combination

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Audi’s Q7 is a big, meaty slice of German engineering, a seven-passenger crossover with a lust for the open road.

Though it hasn’t had a significant makeover in its seven-year existence, the Q7 offers fully modern levels of comfort, safety and luxury.

Three engine choices — two gas, one diesel — provide the motivation. A silken eight-speed automatic dishes torque to the standard quattro all-wheel-drive system. Four or five adult occupants ride in sumptuous comfort. Small children will survive in vestigial third-row seating.

From behind the wheel, the Q7 feels exactly like the large, powerful rig it is. It’s a road-going machine, designed to cover large distances and rugged conditions. Because it’s an Audi, ride and handling is a sizable cut above. 

And though its best side shines brightest out on the two-lane blacktop, the Q7 also has a city side. Ride quality is very good and instant throttle response provides the thrust and surge necessary for successfully negotiating traffic-clogged thoroughfares.

At its $47,700 base price, the Q7 is well-equipped. Leather, adaptive xenon headlights and a premium 11-speaker sound system are just the tip of the standard-features iceberg. Too many ticks of the options list, thought, elevate the price into astronomical ranges — and can impair performance.

To wit, our diesel-powered tester was optioned with the S line plus appearance package, which replaces the 18-inch all-season radials with 21-inch summer tires that perform poorly on rutted and snow-covered roadways.

Such as the hill that gets me home. 

Twice during my weeklong test, I was forced to park at the bottom of the hill and hoof it home, and every drive on packed snow evoked a tense tiptoe ballet between traction and skid.

This is not to warn buyers off the S plus line — it comes with killer titanium-finish 5-spoke alloys — but to illustrate the hazards of ill-chosen options. Just keep a good set of snow tires to back up the hotrod rubber.

The turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel that powered my tester ran quiet and smooth. It makes 240 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque and earns EPA ratings of 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway/22mpg combined.

Despite those lofty numbers, the diesel doesn’t lack for get-up-and-go. Acceleration is strong and certain and the Tiptronic gearbox makes swift, sure shifts that keep the engine in the heart of its power band.

A supercharged 3.0-liter gasoline engine produces 280 hp on base trims and 333 hp on the performance-oriented S line. Both versions earn a 18 combined mpg (16 city/22 mpg highway).

The Q7 cabin earns top marks for style, materials quality and ergonomics. Audi’s MMI electronics interface presents the usual learning-curve issues, but is easier and safer to use than the current crop of touchscreen systems.

Cargo capacity is the weak link in the Q7 chain, with a total capacity of about that of a compact crossover. 

The Q7 offers a rare combination of drivability, functionality and comfort. Crossover buyers seeking something out of the ordinary would do well to shoot it a glance.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact  him at don@dadair.com.

2014 Audi Q7 TDI quattro Tiptronic
Vehicle base price: $47,700
Trim level base price: $52,900
As tested: $81,795
Key options included navigation; Bang & Olufsen sound system; air suspension; corner-view camera system; S line and S line plus appearance packages; parking system with rearview camera
EPA rating: 19 city/28 highway
Diesel fuel required

Green cars slug it out in Portland

Yesterday, members of the Northwest Automotive Press Association (NWAPA) gathered in Portland to drive and rate an assortment of “green cars.” What I learned tooling around downtown Portland:
 
  • Sustainability is high on the automotive agenda. We drove 17 hybrids, plug-in hybrids, clean diesels and electric vehicles from a variety of domestic and foreign makers.
  • In these early stages of the green-car game, efficiency-minded buyers pay a premium for their good intentions.
  • My mother was right: I have a champagne appetite on a beer budget.
The NWAPA Winners
 
EV: Fiat 500e
Diesel: Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel
Hybrid: Chevrolet Volt
 
Impressions
 
EVs
 
The EV field ranged from the cute-as-a-button, two-passenger Fiat 500e ($33,495) to Ford’s electronics-laden Focus Electric ($39,995). My top picks: the Focus and Nissan’s Leaf ($36,910), whose range, roominess and overall utility are first rank. Honorable mention — based entirely on style points — goes to the Fiat.
 
Notes: 1) All EVs are eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit; 2) Although GM calls the Volt an EV, the EPA calls it a hybrid, which is where NWAPA put it. 2) Honda’s new Fit EV impressed, but I DQed it for being available in only seven states, none of them Washington. 
 
Clean Diesels
 
This growing segment produces vehicles as diverse as Chevy’s new Cruze Turbo Diesel ($25,795) and Audi’s A8L Quattro Tiptronic ($99,445). My picks: the A8L which, despite its limo-like heft earns EPA ratings of 24 city/36 highway, and the VW Beetle TDI Convertible ($28,690), the only diesel convertible available in the States.
 
Notes: Today’s diesels are quiet and refined. They make bundles of torque while producing up to 30 percent fewer emissions than comparable gasoline engines.
 
Hybrids/Plug-in Hybrids
 
Both varieties of hybrid outsell the other categories by a wide margin — and the competitors keep getting better. I liked the Volt ($45,540) and found it impossible to deny a spot to the Prius V ($35,704).
 
Notes: This segment produced the day’s most pricey competitor, the Lexus LS 600h L ($128,529), a lovely car whose 19/23 mileage ratings more or less defeat the purpose.
 
What Mom Said
 
Mom was right, of course. Of all the worthy cars I could have chosen as a personal favorite, I picked the over-the-top Audi Quattro diesel. A hoot to drive and the absolute pinnacle of diesel refinement.

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