First Drive: 2010 Mercedes-Benz E220 CDI Diesel

For years, Mercedes-Benz has fed its U.S. customers a diet of ever-more-powerful engines in its E-class sedan. It's been decades since the forebearer to today's E-class had a four-cylinder engine behind its signature radiator grille - at least in America. Our lowliest E-class Benz, which isn't so lowly at all, has instead come with a six, with a V-8 as the move-up engine, and, for a time, a supercharged V-8 in the AMG version, which has since switched to a normally aspirated big-block (6.2 liter!) V-8.

In Europe, Mercedes offers those same engines, but they're the tippy top of a much larger pyramid. Four-cylinder gasoline engines and diesels, considered insufficiently muscular to power a compact C-class over here, comprise the bulk of E-class sales over there. For 2010, the redesigned E-class has a new family of four-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines at the base of its powerplant pyramid.

The two gasoline engines are turbocharged and direct injected. Both displace 1.8 liters. The more powerful version makes 201 hp, which isn't much shy of a typical V-6's output and is enough to send the E250 CGI from 0 to 62 mph in a not too shabby 7.7 seconds. With its five-speed automatic, the E250 CGI is rated at 32 mpg (combined city/highway, European test procedures). Its lesser powered but more economical sibling is good for 181 hp and is a full second slower to 62 mph, but returns 35 mpg in the E200 CGI, which has a standard six-speed manual.

The diesels, however, are even more impressive. The three four-cylinder units are all the same size: 2.1 liters, and all three are turbocharged (naturally) and use common-rail direct injection. Output of the three engines varies much more in torque than in horsepower. The E200 CDI, with only a single-stage turbocharger, is rated at 266 lb-ft of torque. The E220 CDI upgrades to a dual-stage turbo and musters 295 lb-ft of torque. The E250 CDI pumps out a V-8-like 369 lb-ft. Interestingly, all three diesels achieve the same, 44 mpg combined fuel economy rating, with their standard six-speed manual gearbox.

Curious to see how a 44-mpg diesel E-class would meet my American expectations, I grabbed an E220 CDI for a spin during the launch of the new 2010 model. Unfortunately, it was equipped with the optional automatic, thus making it a 39-mpg diesel E-class. Still, that's a long way from the mid-20s combined fuel economy of the U.S. market's gasoline V-6.

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Drove a brand new a 6-spd manual E200 CDI rental (Sixt) for 1200 km of combined autobahn, country, and city roads in September in France and Germany. It's a large car on their back roads, but handles them competently, has plenty of power, and is miserly with fuel, even at speeds of 200-km/h.As perspective, I personally own an Audi A4 (6-spd), an Audi Allroad (2.7T), and a BMW K1200, so I'm inclined to slightly smaller, more agile transportation than the E Class, but really liked this car and how it drove. Amazing power for a 2-L engine in a large sedan, and more than sufficient for the demands of a wide range of driving situations, even in the hands of an aggressive driver. Many of my friends in Europe have diesels and were they widely available here I would have one too. Economical, powerful, durable.

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