We've always contended that the real fault in iDrive lies in the software interface, and this part has been completely redone by BMW. The main menu, which had four function areas you would select with the joystick, has been swapped for a simple list, where you select a menu item by pushing down on the knob. With the former system, BMW was limited in how many new applications it could introduce without burying everything under submenus. With a list, as many items as needed can be added.
Along with this interface adjustment comes the new navigation system. Its feature-set is largely the same as the previous one, offering live traffic information overlaid on the maps, with very good automatic detours around slow traffic. But the performance is better, with faster map refresh and the capability to easily browse the map. And as we mentioned before, the map detail has been improved greatly, with nicely rendered buildings to use as landmarks, and even topographical features on the 3D perspective map.
But BMW hasn't started adding other information sources, such as gas prices or weather, like we've seen with Ford and Acura. And the navigation system doesn't do text-to-speech, so it won't read out street names to you.
We are very pleased with the audio sources available in the 335d, which include iPod integration, a USB port, satellite radio, and onboard music storage. With the latter, put a CD in the player, and you can choose to rip it to the car's hard drive. There is only a single disc player, but you hardly need a disc changer with all these options. HD radio is available, but wasn't installed in our car.
Lacking the premium audio option, we were stuck with a simple six-speaker setup that didn't do much for music. The sound was reasonably strong, suggesting good amp power, but it lacked clarity. There is a 13-speaker Logic7 audio system available that would have improved matters, but still would have fallen short of the best audio systems we've heard.
Bluetooth integration remains a high point of this cabin tech package. The new iDrive interface makes it easier to access. After pairing a phone, the system makes the phone's contact list available onscreen almost immediately.
Although we didn't have it on this car, BMW also makes an adaptive cruise system available on the 335d, letting the car automatically match speeds with cars ahead.
Under the hood
The 2009 BMW 335d uses a common-rail diesel-injection system on a 3-liter, inline, six-cylinder engine, getting forced air from twin turbochargers. BMW designed this turbocharger system with the intention of negating turbo lag by using one fast-and-small turbocharger that cranks up during initial acceleration, and a second, larger turbo that picks up as engine speed rises.
Turbo lag is not apparent in the 335d, although that may also be due to the way it regulates initial acceleration. The engine puts out only 265 horsepower, but manages a whopping 425 pound-feet of torque, and it seems BMW put some electronic regulation to keep the rear tires from spinning out of control.
We did some testing by first hitting the DTC button once, which limits traction control, then holding the button down, which turns off the road-holding electronics. With either setting, stomping the accelerator from a stop leads to the car rolling slowly forward, initially, with no tire-burning theatrics. But the power quickly picks up, leading to a satisfying freight train feeling as the 335d heads toward the triple digits.
Our car lacked the Sport package, which would have included a sport-tuned suspension, resulting in some mundane performance in the turns. The car stays nicely balanced in the corners, but just doesn't have the same tight feeling you get from the 3-series when it has the Sport package.
The absence of the Sport package also means the car lacks paddle shifters for the six-speed automatic's manual mode, but we're fine with that, as we never liked BMW's paddle shifters. The transmission still has a sport mode, which does an excellent job of downshifting in anticipation of cornering. Emissions ratings aren't published yet for the BMW 335d.
The base price of a 2009 BMW 335d is $43,900. Our vehicle was equipped with the $1,150 Cold Weather package and the $2,650 Premium package, which doesn't add much besides autodimming mirrors and the BMW Assist service. The smart key is an extra $500 and the park distance control system is $700, but the most important features, from our Car Tech view, are the $400 iPod and USB adapter and the $2,100 navigation system. A couple more options in our car brought the total to $52,820, with destination charge.
With the 335d's low fuel consumption and high performance, we gave it an outstanding rating for power-train tech. For cabin tech, it earns an excellent rating. The navigation, Bluetooth phone support, and audio sources don't disappoint. And it also features an excellent design, mostly in the new iDrive interface. The exterior is good, but a little bland.