Saint-Genis, France – It’s always nice to get a gift from your rich German uncle. Mercedes-Benz has handed off a 215-hp, turbocharged and intercooled, 3.0-liter diesel V-6 to the Chrysler Group, which has stuffed it under the hood of the 300 sedan. With 376 lb-ft of torque, just 11 lb-ft less than the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, this engine propels the 300 to 62 mph in 7.6 seconds, only 1.2 seconds slower than the Hemi. And it returns an average of 29 mpg when cruising at 80 mph. Unfortunately, the 300C CRD (common-rail diesel) isn’t offered in America.
Not surprisingly, European-market sales of the 300 have risen sharply since the diesel became available. The CRD is markedly faster and more agreeable to drive than 300s with the anemic, unrefined 2.7- and 3.5-liter gasoline V-6s (the thirsty Hemi simply is not a reasonable choice for Europeans), and it is by far the cheapest to run in the range. It is also truly satisfying to drive.
Since few drivers employ maximum-acceleration takeoffs in daily driving, you really don’t notice the difference between the 3.0-liter turbo-diesel and the 5.7-liter Hemi most of the time. The diesel’s abundant torque, available from idle, means that the car always feels lively. The 300C CRD’s top speed is 141 mph, but we stayed at legal speeds except for a few uphill autoroute stretches, where the big sedan easily rocketed to 120 mph before we backed off. Fuel consumption was 27 mpg–city, highway, and uphill sprints combined–whereas we averaged only 19 mpg during our year with a Four Seasons Hemi-powered 300C.
Chrysler now offers the Mercedes diesel in the U.S.-market Jeep Grand Cherokee, but Americans should also be offered the 300C CRD. When low-sulphur diesel fuel and the latest wave of emissions controls arrive in the States, people will be seriously surprised by just how good diesels have become while they weren’t looking.