More than half of the cars sold in Europe today are diesels, as opposed to barely five percent scratching the market here in the U.S. But a shift is taking place as cleaner burning technology makes its way into the mainstream, countering the old diesel stereotypes of being dirty, loud, and unsophisticated. And as more people wake up to the benefits of the modern diesel system, Mercedes Benz is leading the charge with technology it calls “Bluetec”. Intended to span over a line of several vehicles, the Bluetec designation is most commonly associated with Benz’ E-Class platform, specifically the E320 sedan.
If you’re thinking about buying a Mercedes E320 Bluetec, you might also consider a Lexus GS 450h or a BMW 335d. Compare these vehicles.
Before getting to the car, it is important to first understand how Bluetec works. This system is made possible by several key components, starting with an all-new turbo diesel V6 with common rail direct fuel injection. This engine is designed to efficiently run on the ultra low-sulfur diesel fuel that’s now available at fuel pumps nationwide. But that’s just half the equation. Once this fuel is burned, diesel emissions leave the engine and flow through a gauntlet of after-treatment devices implemented throughout the exhaust system. These converters and filters “catch” the diesel particulates (soot), drastically lessening the level of oxides of nitrogen exiting the tailpipe.
Beyond granting low-emission motoring, this system also achieves outstanding fuel economy. The E320 Bluetec boasts EPA numbers of 23 city/32 highway. That’s a 35 percent improvement over its gas-powered counterpart, the E350 sedan.
But the E320 Bluetec is legal in only 42 states, not having met the stringent air standards of California and much of the Northeast. A 50-state version is due in 2010, and there are already three new Bluetec SUVs approved in all 50 states.
In addition to its progressive fuel system, the E320 Bluetec is a quintessential luxury automobile, inside and out. It offers the build quality, engineering, and opulence from which the Mercedes Benz brand has earned its reputation.
Power from this rear-drive turbo diesel (208 horsepower, 388 pound-feet of torque) is quite overwhelming, especially off the line. Launch and acceleration are usually the areas in which a diesel engine shines, thanks to its enormous torque output. This car can get from 0 to 60 in 6.8 seconds. This kind of performance is remarkable for a vehicle that’s so fuel-efficient.
Handling and braking are also spot-on. This car is extremely balanced and stable, allowing the driver to feel well-connected to the road at all times. But again, that’s what you expect from Mercedes Benz.
The basic styling of the E320 Bluetec is shared across the entire mid-size E-Class line. And it is virtually identical to its gas-powered sibling, the E350. The classic elegance of this automobile comes from its flowing lines and understated design. But subtle cues like accentuated fender flares and a body-side crease do hint at the car’s performance attributes.
Upfront, optional bi-zenon headlights are offered. And the car rides atop standard 17-inch twin-spoke wheels.
Overall, the E320 Bluetec has the smart and sophisticated looks that affluent professional-types will appreciate. And even if they aren’t actually socially conscious, the Bluetec badging will allow them to look like they are.
The cabin of the E320 Bluetec is expectedly upscale. Its focus is on comfort, amenities, and safety.
Seating is plush and well-bolstered, and there’s plenty of passenger space. The dimensions for head, leg, and shoulder room feels closer to that of a full-size sedan.
Standard equipment includes a sunroof, dual-zone climate control, 10-way power front seats, and a Harmon Kardon surround-sound audio system. And there’s a roster of high-end options including everything from heated seats to navigation.
Safety comes from six standard airbags: front, side, and head curtain. There’s also a PreSafe system, which can detect and anticipate an imminent collision, and automatically takes measures to further secure occupants of the car.
The E320 Bluetec not only gets fuel economy of 27 city/36 highway, but you can expect 32-33 miles per gallon in real-world driving. Combine that with the sedan’s 21 gallon fuel tank and you have an interstate cruising range in excess of 700 miles. That more than makes up for the fact that diesel is more expensive than conventional gasoline.
Pricewise, this Bluetec stickers for $52,325. In terms comparing it to the rest of the cars in its class, it is admittedly on the higher end of the cost spectrum. But in actuality, there are no other cars in its class. None of the other premium brands—BMW, Audi, Lexus—offer a clean diesel luxury automobile. So quite literally, this car is in a class of its own.
If you are going to compare it to anything, let it be to its gas-powered counterpart, the Mercedes Benz E350. The E320 offers everything the E350 has, plus Bluetec efficiency, for just $1000 more. With a price difference so insignificant, the gasoline E350 is rendered practically useless in the vehicle lineup.
Next to the Prius’ and Civic hybrids of the world, Bluetec is obviously not the ultimate answer in green motoring. But for its target market of luxury class buyers, it is the most effective and economically viable option currently available.
“…boasts superior mileage and plentiful torque…”
“Quiet, comfortable, and dignified at highway speeds.”
Kelley Blue Book
“For those interested in fuel economy… Bluetec delivers.”
U.S. News and World Report