A diesel engine used to mean hard starts, black smoke and a clattering engine. Not so anymore.
The new generation of direct-injection diesels is quieter and cleaner than ever. Witness the Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec. Its base price of $54,200 is only $1,000 more than the gasoline model, an amount that would be saved in fuel costs in a relatively short time.
The E320 Bluetec is a good example of how modern diesels have evolved. The 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 cranks out a modest 210 horsepower, but 400 pound-feet of torque. Torque is what you feel through the seat of your pants when you punch the throttle, and in most driving situations it is more important than horsepower.
Mercedes points out that the engine delivers the power of a V-8 with the fuel economy of a four-cylinder. The E320 Bluetec accelerates to 60 miles per hour in 6.6 seconds, a time that is easily on par with its gasoline sibling. On top of that, the Bluetec diesel is 20 to 30 percent more efficient. Its fuel mileage is rated at 23 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway. With a range of 675 miles, it can drive from Kansas City to Denver without stopping for fuel.
In terms of emissions, the Bluetec is 50-state legal. Emissions are controlled by a catalytic converter, and a particulate filter removes any trace of black smoke from the exhaust. The injection of a urea solution called AdBlue into the exhaust is a key component to making the emissions meet the most stringent requirements. AdBlue chemically converts nitrogen oxides into harmless nitrogen and water. AdBlue is stored in a small tank and is refilled at each 10,000-mile service interval.
High-tech diesel engines also produce 20 to 30 percent less carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide than a comparable gasoline engine.
The E320 has a distinctly German personality. The ride is firm, the handling is tight, and the brakes are powerful. The test car's cabin was warm and inviting, due in large measure to the wood-grain trim that was sprinkled across the dash, console and door panels. The seats are firm, and those in front, particularly, provide good support. Rear-seat legroom is adequate but not overly generous.
The Comand system for operating the navigation and audio system is not as easy to use as it is on newer models with a central mouselike controller.
The redesigned 2010 E-class, introduced this week at the Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland, will have both coupe and sedan models.
The base price of the test car was $54,200. Options included the navigation system, heated front seats, power rear window shade and HD Sirius satellite radio. The sticker price was $59,065.
Four years or 50,000 miles.
2009 Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec
Engine: 3.0-liter, 210-hp 6-cyl.
Wheelbase: 112.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,860 lbs.
Base price: $54,200
As driven: $59,065
MPG rating: 23 city, 32 hwy.
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