After driving the BMW 335d the other day, I noted that if I hadn’t known better, I would have thought I was sitting behind an ordinary gasoline engine. Listening to the Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec, it’s hard to discern whether there’s any engine. Even when I lead-footed the car around the David Zenlea Winter Proving Ground – aka: the snow-covered parking lot near my apartment – I could scarcely hear anything other than the subdued hum of the HVAC.
Mercedes clearly has the refinement issue down when it comes to diesels. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as far along in terms of driving engagement. Whereas the BMW diesel uses dual-stage turbocharging to provide smooth, instant power delivery, the single-turbo setup in the E320 seems to suffer from a bit of lag. To be fair, the combination of icy roads and an eager stability control system can make any car feel like a laggard, and once it gets off the line, there is plenty of grunt. But even with stability control disabled, the E320 was not all that excitable. Mercedes does have a bi-turbo setup in its newest four-cylinder diesels, and west coast editor Jason Cammisa is already singing its praises. Alas, we will not see it in the United States. I spoke with Mercedes powertrain vice-president Dr. Leopold Mikulic during the Detroit show, and he indicated the company would likely be sticking with the single-turbo V-6 diesels for the U.S. market. That’s a shame, especially since the smaller engine would also provide better fuel economy. As it is, it’s hard to get worked up about 23/32-mpg city/highway numbers.
Still, the E320 is a compelling, comfortable package, and there’s little reason a non-performance-oriented buyer shouldn’t go for the diesel. The new model coming for 2010 should be even better.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
David’s test must have been done in his proving grounds’ wind tunnel, for the good ol’ fashioned diesel noise is noticeable. Not loud, mind you, but your cochleae do detect that something different lurks under the E320’s hood.
That’s not to say this car has the NVH characteristics of a 1975 300D, for it doesn’t. Years of engine development have yielded Mercedes-Benz a diesel V-6 that’s not only clean and efficient, but also surprisingly smooth and muted.
Perhaps the biggest indication of how far diesel engines have come in the past few decades is the E320’s prowess in winter climates. No, I’m not talking about the car’s ability to traverse through powdery snow (thanks in no small part to Mercedes-Benz’s excellent traction control), but simply the engine’s performance in sub-zero temperatures. I awoke one morning to a thermometer reading of negative-eleven degrees Fahrenheit, and though my initial reaction was to curse my lack of a block heater, the Benz had no difficulty firing up. It did, however, take some time to warm its interior.
Speaking of the cabin, I’m rather impressed. Though it isn’t one of the most exorbitant interiors ever produced by Mercedes-Benz (you’ll need to look toward the AMG models for those), the E’s trimmings are stylish, solidly built, and surprisingly comfortable. Though I can’t attest to the comfort of the rear bench, the front buckets-what with their plush headrests-feel like luxurious Barcaloungers. The only digression (and my only complaint) lies with the center console design, which provides no padded armrest and looks cheaper than the one in the C-class.
Still, I’m impressed by this package, and I’d absolutely love it if MBUSA brought over an all-wheel-drive E320 Bluetec wagon. They won’t listen to me, though they’ll be more than happy to sell you an R320 diesel…
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
The presence of a diesel was less noticeable in this E320 Bluetec than in the BMW 335d I drove recently. Then again, I drove the E320 on a day that was 20 degrees warmer (meaning it was actually about 25 degrees Fahrenheit) than when I drove the BMW, so perhaps the ambient temperature is a factor.
In any case, the engine is impressive. Tons of torque makes getting there fast a given.
The E320 Bluetec’s interior is thoughtfuly designed, attractive, and very comfortable. My only issue with the interior space was, like Evan, the lack of armrest padding. The sliding cover that hides the cup holders – and doubles as the armrest – is a good way to make the center console look tidy, but the use of leather or other soft material would be preferable to wood-grained plastic.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
When I pulled the Mercedes E320 Bluetec out of my garage onto a six-inch blanket of freshly fallen snow, I had some reservations about how the car would cope with the conditions. But I had nothing to fear, as Mercedes-Benz’s superb traction control system enabled the E320 Bluetec to make slow but steady progress up my street’s snow-covered incline and out to the plowed main road. Throughout the three snowy, slippery days I spent with the E320, it never put a foot wrong, which is quite an impressive feat for a rear-wheel-drive sedan that was not shod with snow tires.
Although the redesigned E-class is about to be introduced, I never found myself thinking that the current car felt old or outdated. The cabin is extremely comfortable – not overtly luxurious but solid, well put together, and with a mix of materials that lends the car an aura of competence and equability. Ditto on the exterior, which is conservatively styled but inoffensive and unmistakably Mercedes. Having said that, the new E-class promises to be even better on both fronts.
As my fellow staff members have noted, the 3.0-liter diesel is a very unobtrusive powerplant, mostly making itself known by its telltale (although quiet) diesel rattle and gobs of low-end torque. What a long way diesel-engined vehicles have come since the days when cold weather would fill diesel owners with trepidation, in fear that the engine would sputter and die. Today’s diesels start even in sub-zero weather, idle smoothly, and don’t belch black smoke out the tailpipe. In Europe, a full 50 percent of the cars on the road run on diesel, but they simply haven’t caught on with Americans, whose experiences with diesel-powered cars in the ’80s have apparently stuck in the national memory.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
2009 Mercedes-Benz E320 BlueTec
Base Price (with destination): $55,075
Price as tested: $58,345
289 Wood/Leather Steering Wheel: $570
P01 Premium I Package: $2700
Fuel Economy: 23/32/26 (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 3.0L V-6
HP: 210 hp @ 3800 rpm
Torque: 400 lb-ft @ 1600–2400 rpm
Safety Ratings (in stars, 1-5):
Frontal Crash Driver: 4
Frontal Crash Passenger: 4
Side Crash Front Seat: 5
Side Crash Rear Seat: 5
Transmission: 7-Speed Tiptronic Automatic Transmission
Weight: 3860 lb
– 16″ 7-spoke Alloy (size)
– 225/55 R16 all season