The argument for more diesels coming to America continues to fall on deaf ears.
People have told me: They don't like the fuel's smell. They worry about breathing particulates. Diesel costs more than gasoline (sometimes). There are a host of other excuses why America shouldn't have diesel cars and trucks. (There are some diesel trucks available.) American auto executives will offer another set of excuses, such as exhaust treatment kits, diesel powertrain markups and lack of consumer interest.
I'm a consumer. I'm interested, and I firmly believe America should have more diesel vehicles.
They are the best internal combustion engine made. They're tough, durable and can do the job better than any supercharged turbo-boosted gas-only engine. But facts have no place in arguments today -- they haven't changed people's entrenched minds about national health care, so why should they on diesels.
And here's yet another example of the benefits of that oily little fuel so many people turn their noses up at like its vinegar being poured out a bottle of Pinot Noir: The Mercedes-Benz GL320 BlueTec.
Other than owning a name that uses up more spaces than the alphabet, it's a great SUV; phenomenal, really. It will encase you in luxury for 600 miles between fill ups and provide you with just enough environmental street cred to stave off hard stares from neighbors tooling around in Toyota Priuses and Lexus RX400hs.
You'll blow both of those vehicles off the road with this big symbol of wealth, prestige and German power. GL320 has mad torque
The GL320 provides good fuel economy (diesel don't have gas mileage), and it also gives you room for seven and the torque of a Mac truck.
The 3-liter V-6 under that nicely creased hood bangs out a 398 pound-feet of torque (while only producing 210 horsepower). You can feel that torque pulling on you every time you stomp the accelerator (diesels don't have a gas pedal.)
There's a common expression in the auto business that people buy horsepower and drive torque; but GL320 BlueTec twists that logic upside down.
As for the diesel part of the equation, Mercedes uses a new system that includes an oxidation catalyst and maintenance free particulate filter. To limit nitrogen oxide emissions (which is higher in diesels than gasoline engines) Mercedes uses an injection system coupled with a catalytic converter that changes the exhaust from NOx rich fumes to plain old nitrogen and water.
AdBlue, the ammonia heavy fluid squirted into the exhaust, is maintained with the general maintenance of the vehicle at the dealership -- where I imagine most Mercedes owners take their vehicle.
So there is some additional science involved in making diesels better -- and this allows the GL320 to be sold in all 50 states. But lots more science is needed to make more efficient and cleaner machines to move people and things. SUV is full of technology
The ride of this SUV feels heavy and sound. (In part because it weighs a whopping 5,313 pounds.) But it's also tied to the air suspension that can take any bump and make it nearly disappear.
The rich leather interior and wood trim make everything feel opulent and clean.
The GL320 comes full of technology, such as an improved COMMAND system which uses a 6.5-inch monitor in the dash to control the navigation system, 610-watt harmon/kardon Logic 7 audio system and the Sirius satellite radio. There's also an optional iPod connector to play music from an iPod or other personal music device.
All of this luxury in the Mercedes can change your state of mind.
There's a safe feeling behind the wheel of the GL320. Maybe you already know Mercedes-Benz's reputation for safety. You know there are enough airbags at the ready to turn the cabin into an inflatable playhouse in case there's a collision. There also the standard electronic stability control and traction control that turn your bad driving habits into world class maneuvers to prevent the collision from ever happening in the first place.
Of course, if an accident is imminent, Mercedes has developed a PRE-SAFE package that anticipates an accident and prepares you for the worst. When the system senses the GL320 is out of control, it tightens the front seat belts, and the front passenger seat moves to the best location, windows close to allow the side curtain airbags to work better. If the SUV senses a possible rollover, the sunroof will close too. Its appearance is deceiving
Other than a few nicely placed BlueTec badges, there's very little for people to notice you're helping the environment. The engine is very quiet, but if you listen closely, you can hear that distinct diesel tap-tap-tap from the fuel injectors.
Inside the cabin, you hear next to nothing.
The exterior is classic and defined. An oversized three pointed star sits in the middle of the grille -- a feature that means no one will steal your hood ornament. It has a look that is part crossover and part truck, as if it its sheet metal was pushed too hard onto its frame. The big 20-inch wheels are stuffed inside the wheel wells and the body sits lower than you'd expect.
Even though the driving position feels SUV high, allowing you to look over traffic on the road, when you step out of it, you're surprised how close it is to the ground.
All of these safety features, good mileage and luxury items do come with a price. The GL320 BlueTec starts at $59,075 and a host of options can push the price north of $70,000. (The $8,000 Premium II package costs nearly as much as Chevrolet Aveo.)
But for someone who needs a seven-passenger, all-wheel drive SUV, there are few vehicles that offer such a complete package. The fact that it's a high class diesel only helps spread the word. It may not create many converts, but it's easier to make a case for more diesels when you arrive in this beautiful machine.
Sburgess@detnews.com (313) 223-3217
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