Would you be willing to pay $1,000 more for a car if its fuel mileage were 30 percent better and the price of fuel to run it was the same as gasoline? That's a question people shopping at Mercedes-Benz stores may be asking themselves when they see the E320 BlueTec diesel model. With gasoline prices drastically fluctuating in the last four months while diesel prices remain steady, car shoppers in the luxury segment may be willing to invest a few more dollars up front in something that saves them money literally down the road.
Forget what you know about diesel-powered sedans from the bad old days. Those cars were noisy, slow and emitted soot-filled black exhaust. BlueTec technology along with other engineering advancements has made diesel-fueled vehicles worth considering again. Mercedes-Benz isn't the only one jumping on the BlueTec train as Audi will offer diesels in the U.S. and other manufacturers won't be far behind.
BlueTec, along with ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel (required for 2007 and later model year diesels) help make tailpipe emissions as clean as those of gasoline-fueled vehicles in 45 states. The emissions requirements in California, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont are stricter but Mercedes will have a 50-state version of BlueTec available in more models beginning in the 2008 model year.
The E320-B makes a distinct engine sound but it is no more intrusive than the noise from a typical gasoline engine. The 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 engine was notably sluggish when stone cold but accelerated smoothly once warmed up. There is sometimes a hint of throttle lag when immediate acceleration is called for but it's nothing that impedes enjoyment.
The BlueTec will hit 60 mph in a factory-tested 6.6 seconds, only a tenth slower than its E350 gasoline-fueled sibling. The diesel gives up 68 horsepower to the E350 but more than makes up for it with 142 more lbs.-ft. of torque (400 in total) delivered lower in the rev range. Tromping the throttle from zero invokes the traction control and sends its warning light into a flickering frenzy before settling down to accelerate through the seven-speed transmission.
Of course, fuel mileage is a key area where the Bluetec shines. The diesel's EPA fuel numbers are 26 mpg in town and 37 mpg on the road while the E350 only manages 19 and 26 respectively. Our car delivered 29 mpg with an aggressive right foot during commutes of mixed driving. The base price of the diesel is $1000 more but you'll go further on each gallon of fuel. While the BlueTec was in our possession, diesel was 40-cents cheaper per gallon accelerating the rate of return. Further, diesel prices have remained level for the last four months while gasoline costs have fluctuated wildly. Depending on future oil prices, the cost savings on the diesel is a no-brainer.
Of course, the E320 BlueTec cruises quietly and confidently in true M-B fashion. Even over the worst of busted up pavement, absolutely nothing upset this car, a testament to typical Mercedes solidity. In this day of oversized wheels and tires as a fashion statement, the E320 handles handling duties extremely well on 16-inch alloy wheels. When adhesion limits are being approached, the tires communicate clearly as good Michelins often do.
Our Platinum Blue BlueTec was equipped with a host of standard luxury and safety equipment including burl walnut trim, a harmon kardon Surround Sound system, and front and rear side-impact airbags in addition to head-curtain airbags. Options included HID headlamps with curve illumination, navigation system and satellite radio topping the sticker at $57, 835. When you're spending that on a great road car, fuel economy is hardly a concern. But the efficiency of a BlueTec diesel is almost like a good return on an investment.