Long ago in a galaxy far away… No, it wasn’t a Ford Galaxie but rather a diesel-engined Mercedes-Benz 220D of indeterminate vintage, it was December and it was cold. The place was an on-ramp to Chicago’s Eisenhower expressway and the intended action was a merge into heavy, fast-moving traffic. And the Mercedes diesel was making not so much acceleration as it was rattle and smoke. How carnage and mayhem was avoided God only knows.
Or perhaps there was, but if it was, it was behind us, and who was looking back?
Now half a lifetime later there’s the 2008 Mercedes-Benz E320 BlueTec, and it’s everything that bygone Benz wasn’t: clean, quiet, fast, plus the dour personality of the ‘70s Benzes has been banished. The E320 BlueTec may not fit that ubiquitously-cited “fun to drive” definition, but it’s certainly a pleasant, economical—for what it is—and green form of transportation for the greenback-endowed.
Like the old 220D, the E320 BlueTec is powered by a diesel engine, in this latter case a 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel V-6. It’s rated at 210 horsepower—not impressive by modern midsize luxury sedan standards—but the torque rating is 400 lb-ft at 1600 through 2400 rpm. Torque is a measure of how much twisting force an engine can produce and that twist is what produces pulling power and acceleration. Proof? The E320 BlueTec launches like it backed into a hot stove.
<b>Wipe off that smirk, kid</b> Well, not quite. Stomp the throttle pedal from dead idle and the turbocharger takes a moment to spool up and fill the intercooler—there’s momentary pause—but from there it’s a 0-to-60 rush that takes only 6.6 seconds. By performance car standards that’s somewhat mediocre, but this is a journeyman luxury sedan and it’s easily enough to keep up with traffic and keep the kid in the next lane over at the traffic from smirking. Take that, kid, and stick it in your coffee-can muffler. You’ve just been dieseled.
Not that there’s a lot to tell anyone that there’s a diesel under the hood. Sure, there’s an odd ticking, unlike anything a gasoline engine makes, particularly with the hood raised. It’s nothing like the proverbial diesel engine sound of ball peen hammers on the engine block. Close the well-sealed and insulated hood and the ticking sounds like it’s in the next room. Step inside and close the door and it sounds like it’s in someone else’s house. Down the street. And around the corner. It’s that quiet.
Not when it accelerates. With the aforementioned foot to the floor, a thrum comes through that’s not a gas engine’s. It’s not unpleasant, not weird but…just different, a baritone brrrrrrr.
<b>Aural shticks</b> What that odd aural shtick earns for the 2008 Mercedes-Benz E320 BlueTec is an EPA rating of 23/32 mpg city/highway. We matched the 23 mpg rating almost exactly in mixed driving and recorded a 31 mpg in predominantly (but not exclusively) on the highway.
Compare that to a 2008 Mercedes-Benz E350: 268 hp but only 258 lb-ft of torque; 19/26 mpg city/highway. Mercedes-Benz dealers will quote a base price for the E350 of $52,025. The list for the E320 is $51,900 (per the window sticker for our test car). Both models have a fuel-saving (and smooth shifting) seven-speed automatic transmission. The E350 does have an edge on acceleration. It sprints 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds. Hoo boy, a tenth of a second.