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2014 BMW 535d xDriveBrian Cooley drives the diesel sedan that could forever change options of diesel sedans -- if it weren't for one thing.
BMW is trying herein to erase everything you know and think about diesel. Cuz they're kinda sluggish, that they don't belong in stylish cars, and that they aren't worth the money. Let's see if they hit all three of those, as we drive 2014 535d xDrive, and check this out. [MUSIC] Now inside our five series diesel, not a lot of changes to the cab and technology. Let's take a quick tour though of the latest iDrive, in case you haven't seen it. This is the new controller that's going to draw your eye right away. Notice that it's very large. It's got a nice set of home run buttons, if you will, which I always appreciate, and this is a touch pad, so you can write letters on it to spell things out like navigation destinations, or you can also use it just to drag and drop around the map, and move through things without having to use this horrible old interface that BMW used to force you into, which is still there, but you can now ignore it. Now all of that's driving a really wide screen on the dash. This is the latest layout of iDrive, if you haven't seen it. In a couple of years, this will look new, but it's not all that fresh. It's a nicely done situation. You've got a nice wide screen to give you a lot of breathing room, which is nice for navigation in particular and mapping. Now here's BMW's app strategy in this car. It's under the Connected Drive menu, and then you can go to BMW online for your first little dose. Built-in 3G radio in the car. Here are a variety of information services, including online search with Google. Then down here you've got this little bucket for applications, and you've got a very small but interesting subset you can choose from. I put them all in here now. You have a fuel price search. You have pictures of where you're going. These panoramial images are obviously sent in by users for various destinations and locations, and then you can also go to standard Google street view for where you are, or where you're going. Send to Mail is where we can send destinations back and forth. Wiki Local is interesting for looking for things of note in your local area. I mean, none of these are critical that you have to have in your car, but they do all come back to the core of driving. I find these more interesting than Facebook and Twitter, to be honest. And, of course, you've got the ubiquitous Yelp ratings in here also. Voice Commands. Voice Commands, exit. As you can see, you can't use Voice Command with Yelp. Your only choice is to say exit by voice. That's a little bit disappointing. Not all these apps connect to the voice system in the car, just the BMW services. It's kind of a hodge podge. In practice, I find using Voice Command better on this car than writing in a navigation address, cuz you gotta go bucket by bucket when you write. You can go one throw when you talk. 235 Second Street, San Francisco, California. Did you mean 235 Second Street, San Francisco? Yes, I did you sexy beast. Now, beyond the cabinet infotainment, three things in here that are cabin driving tech are very telling and very interesting on a diesel. First of all, down here, you've got the rocker switch for comfort and eco, but also sport and sport plus. You don't normally associate those kind of settings with a diesel sedan. Look at the tachometer. We don't redline til 5800. That's also not a level you typically associate with a diesel. And then go to this menu here called sport displays under your vehicle set up, and look at that, power and torque meters. All of these tell you that BMW is swinging toward a performance driver's diesel, and not just one that lumbers along, trying to sip fuel. We'll go on the road in a minute and see how well they do it. [MUSIC]. First, under the hood, here's evidence that BMW hates you and wants you to die. They put two of these hooks under the hood. Every time I get in here, I bang my head on one. One day, it's gonna go through my skull and pull my brain out. That won't be pretty. Now the rest of what is in here, easy. Three liter, in line, six turbo diesel with common rail direct injection. This is kinda your modern state of the art diesel engine. Good numbers, 255 horse, but even better 413 foot pounds of torque, moves this over two ton car to 60 in 5.8 seconds, not bad, this is a big boy, while delivering 26/37 MPG. Now we have an eight speed automatic, all these models do, but all wheel drive is optional. We have an xDrive, you can get it also rear wheel drive, and the turbo on this is a single turbo. Don't be misled by this twin power turbo. It's twin power, not twin turbos, but it's got variable geometry so it can act as a low end turbo or then recurve itself to act as a high RPM turbo, depending on the engine mode. Lets go for a ride. [MUSIC] The first thing you notice in this 535d is the nature and volume of the diesel noise. Well-controlled, and as long as you've got the audio system on at all, at almost any level, you simply don't hear it. Mostly at idle, there's a little bit of clatter there, but then once it starts to spool up, it just sounds like a gas engine, which is nice, and important for the market place. After that, you realize this is a nice combination of diesel grunt and lots of it, but it also breathes nicely higher up in the RPMs. You can actually run up and down through the gears, which is not quite so satisfying in most diesels, but in this one it actually is. And it pulls like a bastard. I mean, really great power because the combination of grunt, and it's got headroom. So good that I wish it had a manual. I mean, this car would actually be a great sport torquer. If you had an manual gearbox, you could really have some fun with this car. As it is, it's not bad. Now I must say, the suspension doesn't deliver on what the drive train can promise. Very competent, good driving cars, but this one, unless you were to get the adapted suspension, which we don't have, not that interesting on that front. [LAUGH] That's a lot of pull right there. Running through the panels, looking at the sport gauges, they are on the dash, putting this thing in sport or sport plus, these are all things that are a foreign language in diesel land, but BMW's done a nice translation. I mean, it's too bad this car is relatively pricey as we'll see in a bit, cuz if it was more accessible, this would change a lot of minds about diesels in everyday enjoyable driving. Okay, pricing our 535d xDrive with the all wheel drive is basically a $60,000 proposition delivered, but we still have a long way to go to get to CNET style. So pour yourself a drink, sit down, and listen up. We have an M Sport package here with a bit of a body kit, some 19 inch M wheels, and a nice looking M steering wheel, 3100 bucks. There are two driver assistance packages. The first one for $1,800 is how you get a rear camera, I find that insulting, along with a head-up display and parking sonar. Driver Assistance Plus for $1900 makes lane departure and blind spot tech active. There's a Stop & Go adaptive cruise package, which will do stop and go tech in traffic, also brings in surround cameras, 1,200 bucks. Night vision with pedestrian detection is $2,600, but it also requires the cold weather package. I don't like that kind of tying. The Lighting Package for $1,900 get's you LED headlights and automatic high beams. If you want adaptive suspension, that's the Dynamic handling package for $3,500. Harman Kardon surround sound, $875. I'll pass on the Bang & Olufsen for $4,500, and a slick BMX iPad holder for the back of the front seat, those are 190 bucks. I'd throw in one of those for sure. Now, we're talking the low $74,000. But overall, does the 535d add up? It delivers a seven MPG average improvement over the 535i, but costs about 1,500 bucks more when both are totaled up CNET style. At current midgrade gas versus diesel prices in the US, that means it'll take close to three years to earn back the diesel premium. That's right about the time you'll be ready to trade it in. So strictly speaking, the d is a challenging argument, unless you're a contrarian or a torque junky. [MUSIC]