Mercedes E320 BlueTec Review
A few years ago, I found myself comfortably ensconced in the back seat of a German taxicab. I was luxuriating in what I thought was leather (it was MB Tex, the convincing faux hide) when the driver cranked-up the engine. Smoke and stench poured from the Mercedes’ diesel engine. I scoffed– until the driver blew straight through 180kph on the autobahn to Munich. Even from the passenger seat, the torque was more intoxicating than the exhaust wafting in through the window. I was hooked.
In 2005, dodging the arcane emissions rules of my home state of California, I became the fortunate owner of a used Mercedes E320 CDI (as they were then known). I loved the linearity of the sedan’s acceleration; it was as though the electronic throttle was hardwired to my brain. In 22k miles of ownership, I averaged 34 miles per gallon and enjoyed a nearly 700 mile range per tank. When I sold my Merc, it retained 85% of its value. I went from hooked to smitten.
Alas, my fellow Americans don’t share my enthusiasm for automotive oil burners. Perhaps they can’t shake the memories of being stuck behind a sloth-like diesel Caddy during the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, inhaling clouds of noxious particulates, listening to an endless mechanical clatter. To combat PDESD (Post Diesel Eldorado Stress Disorder), the clever folks at Mercedes have finally imported a quiet, clean-burning, California-compliant diesel engine that will increase American automotive fuel efficiency AND torque the torque.
Get this: it’s not a diesel. It’s a BlueTec! Yes, all the new Mercedes engine needs is a cute little blue logo to confuse consumers into thinking that their vehicle is motivated by some new hybrid-like technology– rather than a 100 year plus diesel design. Meanwhile, you can bet that Mercedes is in touch with Blue Man Productions for some incredibly clever ad campaign. The fact that Mercedes, VW and Audi will all use the same BlueTec branding simply seals the deal. Anyway…
Installed in the E320, Ye Olde BlueTec converts up to 80 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions into nitrogen and water. When juiced with ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, the BlueTec produces 97 percent lower emissions than the last generation CDI diesel engine. Needless to say, this isn’t clean enough for California’s tailpipe police. For these low CARB policy makers, Mercedes has developed an additional, urea-based exhaust treatment system, set for launch in March of 2007.
When you fire up the new Blue (sans glow plug), its bucket of bolts soundtrack certainly won’t be mistaken for a purring HEMI. Standing behind the E320 BlueTec as it revved, the sound didn’t touch the parts of my brain labeled AMG. But there was no noticeable diesel odor. One casual observer claimed she actually enjoyed eau de BlueTec; but then I’ve seen people snorting hi-test down at my local Shell station.
Once underway, the E320 BlueTec pleases everyman and enthusiast alike. The turbocharged BlueTec powerplant is a typical oil burner: short on horses (208hp @ 3800rpm) but big on twist (388ft.-lbs. of torque @ 1600rpm). That’s fifty percent more torque than the gas-powered E350 or, more interestingly, roughly the same torque as an E550– delivered nearly 1000rpm lower in the rev range. No surprise then that the E320B pulls to 60mph in a completely satisfying 6.6 seconds AND provides far more on-demand driving pleasure than its petrol-powered cousin.
The switch to Merc’s silken seven-speed transmission helps make the E320B an oxymoronic wunderkind: an economy-minded bahnstormer. I hit 120mph without any undue stress. At the same time, due to the low axle ratio, I cruised at 80mph with just 2100rpmon the clock. And the winner is… 34mpg in mixed use. A hybrid gets better mileage, but what pistonhead wouldn’t trade a handful of efficiency for massive thrust?
What’s more, Mercedes has improved the previous oil burning E’s brake feel and added a quicker steering ratio. Unfortunately, while you can add satellite radio, keyless-go and a digital surround-sound music system, you can’t order an E320 BlueTec with Airmatic suspension or proper wheels/tires/brakes. In fact, the E320B sits on the same steely suspension, 16” wheels and all-season rubber as its German taxi counterpart. The hard-riding E320 BlueTec doesn’t feel comfortable during enthusiastic maneuvers. Turn-in is sloppy, grip is iffy and mid-corner bumps are deeply unsettling.
It’s an unconscionable compromise. To gain widespread domestic acceptance, diesel cars need to capture the hearts of America’s automotive alphas. Pistonheads will not be well pleased with the $52k E320 BlueTec’s handling– unless Mercedes develops a proper sport package. If they do, this could be the breakout vehicle that opens the floodgates for The Next Big Thing. If not that, then maybe it’ll be the ML320 BlueTec, the GL320 BlueTec or (if Mercedes realizes that sharing is caring) the Jeep Grand Cherokee BlueTec. Or… a taxi.
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