With the E320 Bluetec, Mercedes-Benz delivers the most fuel efficient luxury car on the American market.
by Lawrence Ulrich
For Mercedes-Benz owners interested in not settling for less (i.e., all of them), there”s the E320 Bluetec, an E-Class sedan that looks and drives like the standard V6 model while delivering well over 30 mpg, enough to save the typical owner about $500 a year in fuel costs. The car can travel more than 700 highway miles on a single tank. In a way, since it delivers better fuel economy and range, E320 Bluetec owners actually settle for more.
For luxury buyers who care about conservation or cutting fuel bills, the Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec is simply unmatched. In our test, it achieved the mileage of a small car with a four-cylinder engine, and did so without skimping on the performance, comfort and features you expect from a Mercedes sedan.
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The E320 Bluetec can achieve these feats because it has a diesel V6 engine.
Forget what you know about diesels: the chugging sound; the sooty, smelly exhaust; the lazy acceleration. The Mercedes E320 Bluetec is powered by a modern “clean diesel,” the kind found in more than half of the new cars sold in Europe. Thanks to a turbocharger and high-pressure fuel injection, the car is fast, quiet, refined and completely odor-free.
Strict federal exhaust emissions standards and the public”s outdated views of diesel technology have kept these vehicles from becoming as popular in the U.S. as they are in Europe. But a type of diesel fuel called ultra-low sulfur diesel has been a pivotal break in the barrier to wider adoption of diesel vehicles. This new diesel fuel has 97 percent less sulfur content “” sulfur is one of the most problematic and toxic byproducts of diesel combustion and is often cited as a significant contributor to acid rain.
Environmentalists and regulators have hailed this federally mandated diesel fuel as the most important clean-air development since the removal of lead from gasoline in the “˜70s. It became available in the U.S. in October 2006.
The main thing buyers need to know about this is that the low-sulfur diesel fuel clears the way for new pollution-fighting technology that should make diesel engines nearly as clean as the best gasoline cars “” just in time to meet new emissions rules, the world”s strictest, coming in 2009. With that, many major automakers, including Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Nissan and Volkswagen, have announced their own clean diesel models coming to showrooms between 2008 and 2010.
But before you race to the Mercedes dealership for your Bluetec, check the map: The car can”t be sold in California, Maine, Massachusetts, New York or Vermont because those states have stricter emissions regulations. However, for 2008, Mercedes has unveiled a urea injection system to convert smog-forming nitrogen oxides into harmless nitrogen and water. The small tank will be refilled with urea roughly every 15,000 miles as part of scheduled maintenance. Clearing that last pollution hurdle will allow several Mercedes diesel vehicles to meet the toughest pollution standards and be sold nationwide.
As Mercedes” global best-seller, the E-Class must appeal broadly, and the E320 Bluetec is no different. It cuts a conservative, familiar figure. But it”s still a handsome car “” you just have to remind yourself to take a second look.
For 2007, all E-Class models received subtle styling changes inside and out. Up front, the bumper, air dam, grille and headlights have been reshaped. Side mirrors are now more aerodynamic, and the rear bumper and taillights are also new. These aren”t huge changes and might even be hard to detect for all but the most dedicated Mercedes fans.
To the casual observer, only the E320 badges on the car will distinguish it from the gas-powered E350. Beyond that, one key visual difference is the Bluetec”s standard 16-inch wheels and tires. Compared to the beefy 18-inch wheels on the E350 Sport, the diesel”s smaller alloys look meager; but 16-inch tires have less rolling resistance and are aimed at high fuel economy instead of high performance.
The E350 Sport also has a slightly lower stance, an edgier rear fascia and LED taillights. Trunk space in the E320 is identical to its gasoline-powered kin; at a generous 16 cubic feet, it”s among the roomiest in the mid-size sedan class.
Roomy, quiet and comfortable, the E-Class Sedan remains one of the most satisfying luxury cars for long-distance travel. (See where it ranked in our list of Ten Great Vehicles for Road Trips.)
The E320 Bluetec incorporates interior changes made on all E-Class models for 2007, including a new steering wheel and shift lever for the 7-speed automatic transmission. New standard features include a sunroof, six-disc CD changer and Harman/Kardon premium audio system. Four new interior colors are also offered.
The diesel version takes a more traditional luxury approach than the E350 Sport, with standard burl walnut trim instead of black bird”s eye maple.
Also new for “07 is the standard Pre-Safe system. Pioneered on the flagship S-Class sedan, it uses radar sensors to take action if a potential collision is detected. Seat belts pre-tension to prepare for impact; the front passenger seat automatically moves to a position that provides optimal protection in relation to the airbags and seatbelt. If the electronic stability control system senses a severe skid, the sunroof and side windows are automatically closed. A rollover sensor also fires up the seatbelt tensioners and side airbags if a flip seems imminent.
The cabin”s biggest annoyance remains the screen-based COMAND interface, which operates the navigation, audio and other systems. It”s not the worst around, but it still takes too much effort to master the poorly labeled switches and tricky functions.
The Mercedes E320 Bluetec delivered a remarkable 38 mpg on the highway in our testing, better than many four-cylinder economy cars. It also posted 28 mpg in the city, which is considerably better than the EPA rating of 23 mpg city/32 mpg highway, which reflects new test procedures designed to better approximate real-world driving in the test labs. Overall, the E320 Bluetec sipped fuel at an average rate of 32 mpg (combined city/highway driving), which is 40 percent better than the 23 mpg we got in a gas-powered E350.
Combine that parsimony with a generous 21.1-gallon fuel tank and this Mercedes can travel more than 700 miles on a tank. Your family”s bladders will probably give out long before the E320 will.
While we”re doing the math, check out this equation: Drive the Mercedes E320 Bluetec a typical 15,000 miles a year, and you”ll pull in for fuel just twice a month. Note too that diesel is now available in more than 40 percent of gas stations, so it”s no longer a hassle to find the required pump.
Perhaps best of all, the Bluetec version costs just $1,000 more than the gasoline-powered E350, with a base price of $51,550. Our test model ran $58,375 with options.
The 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel, the first-ever V6 diesel in the E320 Bluetec, produces just 208 hp, but a fearsome 400 pound-feet of torque. That”s more torque than in many sports cars. Diesel engines typically produce lots of torque, which is a measure of an engine”s twisting force and can loosely be thought of as a function of power at lower engine speeds. As a result, diesel-powered vehicles are usually great performers off the line; the E320 Bluetec will go from 0-60 mph in a fleet 6.6 seconds, nearly as fast as the gas-powered E350.
The Bluetec diesel V6 avoids all the pitfalls of the older diesel engines. It”s barely louder at idle than the gas V6 in the E350, and once underway, you”d never know it was a diesel, unless you were told so.
On the emissions front, diesels have always produced less carbon monoxide and greenhouse gases than gasoline engines. But they”ve been worse in terms of smog-creating nitrogen oxides and sooty exhaust particulates. To address those issues, the Bluetec system uses a special filter to capture particulate matter and a new catalyst stores and purges the nitrogen oxides. In testing, there was no trace of black smoke or odor from the exhaust. The engine burns very cleanly, thanks in part to precise electronic fuel injection at pressures of more than 23,000 pounds per square inch.
The E320 Bluetec is targeted at the pragmatic luxury buyer. Where the E350 Sport gets a stiffer, sportier suspension and sophisticated front disc brakes with four-piston calipers for better performance, the Bluetec has a softer ride and single-piston calipers up front. All E-Class models, fortunately, share Mercedes” smooth, seven-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift capability.
All told, the E320 Bluetec is the rare car that lets you have your cake and eat a fat, rich slice of it, too. Where economy typically demands compromise, the Mercedes asks almost nothing beyond an additional $1,000 investment. In return, you get remarkable mileage, savings and driving range in a luxury sedan that”s quick, spacious and well equipped. You also get the satisfaction of playing a part in conserving fuel and reducing airborne pollution.
Is the Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec for You?
Buy the E320 Bluetec if
You”d love to save $500 a year in fuel bills compared to the gas-powered E350 sedan; you”re convinced that diesel can play a big role in conserving fuel and reducing emissions; you need seating for up to five passengers and a commodious trunk.
Keep Looking if
You”re satisfied with the lower fuel economy of the gasoline E-Class; you want the hotter-handling E350 Sport; you don”t like the idea of going out of your way, even slightly, to find a diesel pump; you live in California, Maine, Massachusetts, New York or Vermont, where stricter emissions laws keep it off the market.
Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedans comfortably accommodate four adults with room for their accoutrement; in family-transportation mode, the backseat will carry three youngsters comfortably; the optional $310 split-folding rear seat backs expand cargo capacity and should be standard.
Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Cadillac STS, Infiniti M, Lexus GS, Saab 9-5, Volvo S80.
2007 Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec Gallery: