Thursday, March 8, 2007

Mercedes-Benz E320 BLUETEC

From Aaron Gold, The E320 BLUETEC is the diesel-powered version of Mercedes' revamped E-Class. While the outgoing E320CDI used a 3.2 liter inline-six, the E320 BLUETEC uses a new 3.0 liter V6 engine; BLUETEC denotes Mercedes' new clean-diesel technology. Why go diesel? Fuel economy. The E320's EPA numbers are 26 MPG city/37 highway, the latter holding the promise of 700+ miles on one tank. And with a starting price of $52,550, just $1,000 more than a gas-powered E, it's easy to make up your investment.
First glance: How long can I keep handing you the same old line?
Writing reviews of diesel cars is more and more becoming an exercise in frustration. It goes something like this: A manufacturer comes out with a new diesel car. I drive it, then write an article saying "You'll never believe this is a diesel car." Then the manufacturer comes out with a new diesel that's even less diesel-like, so I write another review that says "This time you really won't believe this is a diesel car." This was all well and good when there were only a handful of diesels, but the new E320 BLUETEC is just one of three diesels Mercedes plans to start selling in the US this year. Worse yet, it's the most un-diesel-like diesel I've ever driven. Now what the heck am I supposed to write?

I thought about simply writing the phrase "This is what I've been talking about" over and over again. The article template has space for about 170 properly-punctuated repetitions of this phrase. All the reasons I think diesels are superior to gasoline cars are embodied in the E320 BLUETEC. For all intents and purposes, you may as well be driving a gasoline-powered E350 -- except you won't have to visit the gas station nearly as often.
n the Driver's Seat: E320 makes it easy to forget you're riding in a diesel car
2007 Mercedes-Benz E320 BLUETEC interior
Inside, the E320 BLUETEC is equipped identically to the E350 Luxury
Photo © Aaron Gold
Inside, the E320 is virtually indistinguishable from the E350 Luxury. (Alas, the diesel will not be offered in Sport trim.) The interior of the E-Class has become a much more pleasant place to spend time now that Mercedes includes a 6-disc CD changer and a sunroof as standard equipment. Leather and high-quality wood trim are standard, as are dual-zone climate control and power everything. Mercedes puts their power-seat controls up on the door panel, and it wasn't long before I had both the seat and the electric steering column, which tilts up-and-down and telescopes in-and-out, adjusted to my preferences. Aside from the stereo, which still has too many buttons for my liking (photo), I found it easy to get comfortable in and familiar with my surroundings.

Driving the E320 BLUETEC is little different than driving the gasoline-powered E350. The E320 idles almost as quietly and by 30 MPH or so the rumble of the tires eclipses any noise from the engine. At lower speeds you can sometimes hear the familiar diesel growl, but just barely -- it almost sounds as if it's coming from the car next to you. The E320 uses the steel-sprung suspension of the E350; the E550's wonderful air suspension is, sadly, not available with the diesel.
On the Road: Excellent mileage and clean BLUETEC technology
The E320's 3-liter V6 may sound sedate at 208 horsepower, but it's the 400 lb-ft of torque that makes things happen. (Horsepower is a function of RPM; diesels spin slower than gasoline engines, hence the seemingly low hp numbers.) Mercedes claims a 0-60 time of 6.6 seconds, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Floor the E320 from a standstill and you'll be unimpressed -- but stomp on the accelerator to pass a slow-moving truck and you'll be blown away. The E320 accelerates from a standstill like a gas-powered V6, but it passes like a V8. The E320's engine is coupled to a 7-speed automatic transmission which helps with the fantastic passing power and awesome mileage: My driving partner and I averaged between 31 and 34 MPG on most segments of our drive through the Nevada desert.

The BLUETEC system refers to the E320's system of emissions controls. (For more information, see my article How Mercedes-Benz BLUETEC works.) The result is green power: The E320 BLUETEC uses low-sulfer "clean" diesel, available at most filling stations in the US and Canada, and meets emissions standards in 45 states (all except California, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont). A 50-state version of the E320 BLUETEC will arrive in 2008.
Journey's End: Return on investment
2007 Mercedes-Benz E320 BLUETEC engine
New 3.0 liter V6 replaces the 3.2 liter inline six in the outgoing E320CDI
Photo © Aaron Gold
I mentioned earlier that the E320 BLUETEC diesel only costs $1,000 more than an identically-equipped E350. How fast you will recoup your investment depends on fuel prices, but chances are E320 owners will be ahead after 25,000 or 35,000 miles.

Of course, old-guard Mercedes diesel owners will tell you they don't keep their cars for 25,000 or 35,000 miles. They keep them for 250,000 or 350,000 or more. Often a lot more. Diesels are durable and mechanically simple, and when it comes to lifespan they are the giant tortoises of the automotive world.

Diesels also offer the opportunity to run biodiesel, a clean fuel derived from vegetable oil. With no set standards for biodiesel formulation, Mercedes will only condone the use of BD5 (5% biodiesel, 95% petroleum diesel) without voiding the warranty, but plenty of diesel owners run mixes from BD20 all the way up to 100% biodiesel. (Visit to learn more.)
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