by Scott Corlett
We love us some Diesel Jeans and so does Mercedes-Benz—diesel genes, that is. In 1936, Mercedes-Benz spawned the first diesel-engined passenger car, which made a whopping 45 bhp and maxed out at 60 mph. Despite this humble beginning, once the oil-burning gene was part of the Germans’ DNA, there was no more getting rid of it than of those for blond hair or blue eyes. Even after the 1980s, when Detroit dirtied diesel’s reputation for the next two-plus decades, Mercedes continued to churn out oil-burners for the American market until 1999, when super-low gasoline prices (remember those days?) collapsed State-side sales of these high-mileage vehicles. But now that the price of regular test starts with a three and new, clean-burning diesel technologies abound, are Americans ready to again fire up the oil-burners?
From the outside, the first thing you notice about the diesel variant of Mercedes-Benz’s 2007 E-class sedan is that nowhere to be found is either the d-word or even the little “D” that, on former Benz models, signified an oil-burner. What you do see is “BLUETEC,” the name of M-B’s diesel-emissions abatement system, affixed to the E320’s right rear. A name undoubtedly chosen by savvy marketing folks to foster amnesia of the days when diesel meant loudly chattering engines and belching, sooty smoke, BLUETEC is hailed as more than a calculated effort at rebranding diesel-powered vehicles.
Being skeptical San Franciscans, we jumped into the E320 and pushed the “Start/Stop” button, which is smartly located on the end of the lever where your hand was going next anyway—the shifter. We cocked an ear: even with the door still ajar, little more engine noise than that of a gasoline-powered plant intruded the cabin. We hopped out and walked around the E320, and although we stopped short of planting our nose in the tailpipe, the emerging puffs of exhaust were wispy, clean-cotton affairs. There was no denying it, the E320 is indeed a far greener … er, bluer machine than diesels of yore.
We climbed back onto the cosseting, ten-way driver’s seat, shifted the silky, sole-offered seven-speed automatic transmission into D, and then listened to the engine purr as we pulled out. Diesel engines are known for their torque, and the E320’s excellent 3.0-liter V-6 is no exception. Equipped with Mercedes-Benz’s advanced Common-rail Direct Injection system, the engine makes 388 lb-ft and, according to M-B’s engineers, shoots the E320 from 0-to-60 in 6.6 seconds. As we jagged our way through the Castro, we felt hints of this available thrust, which then bloomed into full, pushed-back-into-our-seat glory when we finally hit an onramp.
The suspension and handling of the E-class effortlessly harnessed this raw power, while the steering governed the back-and-forth communication of driver inputs and road conditions with the skill of a divorce-court mediator. After thirty minutes of flaunting California’s speed laws, we glanced at the gauges and saw that the needle had barely budged off the full mark, which was no surprise since the E320 BLUETEC sees a hybrid-like 26/35-mpg city/highway.
Inside, this oil-burner is identical to its gas-guzzler sibs, which is to say fabulously luxurious. And, at a base price of $52,325 for the E320 BLUETEC, you will pay only a grand more than for a gasoline-powered E-class—a difference that will evaporate quicker than spilled gas on a July day in Texas once you consider the fuel savings. So, what’s the downside? Well, if you live in California, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, or Maine you cannot buy one; despite the wonders of BLUETEC, until ultra-low-sulfur diesel is commonly available, the E320 diesel earns only 45-state emissions status. That said, like any worthy mate, the 2007 Mercedes-Benz E320 BLUETEC aces the test—you can’t ask for better genes.
Mercedes-Benz is a gay-friendly company.