First Drive: 2010 Mercedes-Benz E220 CDI Diesel

As with so many modern diesels, the E220 CDI blows old notions of turbo-diesel driveability out of the water. The sound quality is different from a gasoline engine's, but it's really only discernable during acceleration, not when cruising or at idle. The two-stage turbo is seamlessly integrated, so throttle response is predictably linear.

I drove an automatic, which was a five-speed (with a traditional shift lever on the console) rather than the seven-speed automatic (with electronic, column-mounted PRND selector) that Mercedes puts in our V-6 and V-8-powered E-class cars. Factory-measured acceleration is a brisk 8.3 seconds from 0 to 62 mph, and indeed the diesel steps out quickly off the line, thanks to an ultra-low (1400 rpm) torque peak. Mid-range acceleration is more leisurely than with our gasoline engines, but would be plenty for most drivers. High-speed cruising, though, is effortless. The only time the E220 CDI feels slow is when you try to drive it hard through tightly curving back roads; this is not a car that wants to charge from one apex to the next.

Overall, though, this 39-mpg E-class comes across as a very convincing executive conveyance that just happens to be more economical than even the smallest econobox. Should the dark days of $4 a gallon gasoline return - and who thinks they won't? - Mercedes, with this engine, or better yet, the just as economical but even more potent 369-lb-ft E250 CDI version, could blow Americans' minds by providing hybrid-like fuel economy and a luxury-car driving experience.

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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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