Fans of diesel automobiles generally fall into one of two categories: the pragmatists, who admire such cars for their efficiency, durability, and grunt; and the iconoclasts, who get off on the oil burners’ more unsavory aspects-noise, blue smoke, and fill-up locations that require rubbing shoulders with the Peterbilt crowd. With its new E320 CDI sedan, Mercedes-Benz-creator of the first diesel car in 1935-will appeal to the former group and alienate the latter.
Despite the similar nomenclature, the E320 CDI doesn’t employ a diesel version of the E320’s gasoline V-6. Instead, it uses a turbocharged and intercooled, 3.2-liter inline six fed by Mercedes’ sophisticated Commonrail Direct Injection system. This fully electronic setup enables the engine to achieve un-diesel-like levels of responsiveness and quietness. Peak torque of 369 pound-feet arrives at 1800 rpm (that’s 30 pound-feet greater-and 900 rpm earlier-than the E500’s 5.0-liter V-8). We pushed the CDI from 0 to 60 mph in a lively 7.2 seconds (compared with the 5.7 seconds we recorded in our Four Seasons E500 and the 7.1 seconds Mercedes measured for the gasoline-powered E320).
Mercedes states that the E320 CDI will top 30 mpg on the highway and cruise for about 700 miles between fill-ups (thanks, in part, to its slightly bigger, 21.1-gallon fuel tank). But the economy is still greater when you consider that all of Mercedes-Benz’s gasoline-engined cars require premium fuel. At this writing, the price of diesel is about on par with that of regular gasoline and twenty cents per gallon less than premium.
Just arriving at dealerships as you read this, the E320 CDI will account for some 3000 of the 56,000 E-class models sold here each year. Look for its base price to hew closely to the regular E320’s $48,890. Standard and optional equipment for the two will be parallel for the most part, although there will be no 4Matic all-wheel drive or Sport package for the CDI. For now, the car is certified for sale in forty-five states (California, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine are excluded), but with availability of low-sulfur diesel fuel pending, Mercedes expects to be able to sell in all fifty states by 2007.
This first diesel to grace Mercedes showrooms since the 1999 E300 TD is an exceptionally suave, decidedly mainstream piece. Athletic, quiet, and clean, the E320 CDI is everything a diesel car isn’t supposed to be. The pragmatists are bound to love it, but the truck stop will never be the same.