Mercedes is synonymous with luxury and safety. Their efforts are focused on producing a supremely comfortable vehicle that is quiet and uses technology especially pertinent to enhancing the driving experience and protecting the health of all occupants inside. Mercedes vehicles have always featured grand proportions which give them great road presence, and which makes them look as if they might be a bit ungainly to guide through a series of tight turns – this is in comparison to some key competition, whose vehicles are always drawn with taught lines, and which have handling to match. But underneath all that shimmering paint and dazzling chrome/polished metal is sophisticated suspension and the power to move.
You see, another thing that Mercedes is known for is diesel. You remember diesel Mercedes? They were a promise of efficiency and economy from the 1980s, and now they are those less-than-well-cared-for older luxury clattering cars spitting out thin clouds of black smoke in traffic on your local freeway. The Mercedes diesel is perhaps not the most well respected vehicle in America, but that will change. The new E320 BLUETEC (no, that’s got nothing to do with BlueTooth technology…my earlier mistake) is a showcase of fantastic diesel technology. It is a modern marvel of efficiency, cleanliness, quietness, and torque.
The slightest bit of diesel clatter – according to Mercedes, this is due to sharp temperature and pressure spikes occurring during severe compression of intake gasses (that’s a 16.5:1 compression ratio for this turbocharged V6, which is actually low for diesels) – is heard at startup, but multiple pulses of the centrally located fuel injector in each cylinder serve to pressurize the combustion chamber before the primary explosion, thus preventing the familiar clatter noise resultant from the sharp pressure spikes of typical diesel engine combustion and smooth the pressurization curve. The forced-induction BLUETEC powertrain, after the first few seconds at startup and aside from a few other moments of powertrain loading, is as quiet as you would expect from Mercedes. This is truly an engine worthy of a luxury car. And you get 400 lb-ft of torque! That’s as much as a Corvette, and more than an M3 or a Porsche 911! The E320 BLUETEC pulls as strongly from 2000 rpm as you would expect a spark-ignition engine to pull from about 3000 rpm, even one with greater displacement. This is truly instantaneously available torque, and the engine produces smooth sounds while pushing bullishly through the wind. The 7-speed automatic ensures there is always exactly the right gear for the situation, stepping down smoothly as many as 4 gears to switch from cruise to full-bore acceleration. This diesel V6 certainly doesn’t need more than 3 or 4 gears given its robust torque range, but each gear does its part to help achieve better fuel economy.
On the roads leading out of Lancaster, California, in the outer rim of the Mojave desert, where Joshua trees roam free, there was just a little bit of space to open up the E320 BLUETEC from street cruising speed to highway flying, and the E320 continued to impress at every stab of the throttle. The E class’s many pounds seemed to shed and float off as the dual overhead cam V6’s rotational speed continued to climb and the torque kept on coming. The speed change was fantastic, the transmission shifts near seemless at full throttle, and the whole operation quiet enough to keep a fussy baby asleep - what more could a working family man/woman ask for?
When a curve approached, the brakes proved adequate beyond the feel the soft-ish pedal communicated. The luxury car ride translated into plenty of body roll and a slow turn-in, but the well setup chassis ensured a stable transition and a very sure-footed cornering exercise with plenty of speed carried through the turn. An appropriate amount of understeer encourages you to choose a comfortable initial cornering speed, but sure-footedness leaves lots of room to roll on the throttle as much as you like.
On undulating roads, the soft suspension shows you all its travel – on a modestly spirited drive not out of sight of the speed limit we were able to get the suspension to bottom out. That’s a simple sign that this is a vehicle designed to glide smoothly but not too fast over rougher roads - but the excellent cornering stability makes the E320 well suited to higher speed touring on open highways, Autobahn style.
The exterior is lovely, classic E-class, with the dual-elliptical headlights initiating the shape of the front fenders and hood, which flow into a high beltline and ride softly the length of the automobile. The wheel wells are gently flared, in modest expression of impressive muscle, and the body as a whole looks beautifully fluid at speed on the road.
The interior reflects well the current Mercedes design philosophy, with a gentle double-eyebrow curve accented in wood flowing through the driver’s and passenger’s halves of the cockpit. The transition from dashboard to doors is fluid and marked by excellent, consistent fitment. The waterfall blends elegantly into the lower console. Every facet of the cabin is full of upscale, relaxed, beautiful lines and good materials. The leather adorning the seats was not as soft as one would expect of Mercedes, but was somewhat decent for a base-level package.
The electronics were easy to use, and a modest number of buttons was required to operate the stereo, HVAC and navigation tools. The interior design puts occupants at ease, and the electronics do their job by not fouling up the mood with frustrating controls. The interior as a whole is crucial to any luxury car experience, perhaps more so than any other component of the vehicle, and the E320's innards are up to snuff with the rest of the fantastic construction abounding in this Mercedes luxury ride.
There is a standard that this industry expects Mercedes to uphold. Mercedes luxury is a bar for all to strive to reach. Timeless designis stamped, extruded, welded, sewn and bonded into every facet of the body and interior. Mercedes is always at the forefront of technology, particularly in safety, and they certainly have not fallen behind in the powertrain department. The diesel engine is remarkable by itself for its immaculate operation, near absent NVH and great torque. The BLUETEC addition simply makes it clean and friendly as well, and leaves its mark on us for leaving less of a mark on the environment than the vast majority of commercially available automobile engines. The standards are upheld, and improved upon once again. Classic; timeless; contemprary; excelling in excellence: This is Mercedes.