Diesel engines have a well deserved reputation of being noisy and
smelly. We normally think of them clattering under the enormous hoods of
industrial haulers. Or we may have friends who use diesel pickups for
heavy-duty hauling. Remember the Diesel Rabbit? Slow. Recall
Oldsmobileís failed experiment with Diesels in the 1980ís? Sigh.
Well, that may be the
American story on Diesels, but in Europe they are tremendously popular.
Why? They simply are more fuel efficient. However, their byproducts -
particularly nitrogen oxide - have kept them out of American consumersí
Well, thatís changing,
for two good reasons. One - the new ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel makes
the characteristic scent a memory. And two - vehicles with Mercedesí
BlueTEC engine are cleverly handling the emissions issues. This new
engine is approved for sale in all 50 states.
The BlueTEC engine uses
an oxidation catalyst, a maintenance-free particulate filter and other
techniques to clean emissions. The AdBlue system injects a urea solution
into the exhaust flow, which breaks the nitrogen oxide down into a
harmless form. You need to refill the AdBlue tank at your 10,000-mile
oil changes, but there are no other maintenance concerns.
sparkless compression system has been around for a hundred years and
Mercedes-Benz has offered it for a long time, in one form or another.
But this new BlueTEC series, available in the Alabama-built ML series
SUV, the larger GL-series SUV, the R-series ďcrossoverĒ and the E-series
sedan, has much to recommend it.
Compared to its ML350
gas-powered sibling, the ML320 BlueTEC gets 20 percent better fuel
economy, and on the highway, has a cruising range of up to 600 miles.
Thatís San Francisco to Los Angeles with fuel to spare! Official numbers
are 18 City, 24 Highway, more typical of a Honda Accord than a
two-and-a-half-ton SUV. I recorded 22.6 mpg in mixed driving.
The EPA Green Vehicle
Guide gives all MLs a 7 on Air Pollution - laudable. The Diesel picks up
a 4 for Greenhouse Gas - a little below average - but one point better
than the gasoline-powered ML350.
The ML320 BlueTEC
features a 3.0-liter Diesel V6 with 210 horsepower, but it pushes out a
massive 398 lb.-ft. of torque. So, even though the BlueTEC has 58 less
horsepower than the gas ML350, it actually has more torque than the
382-horsepower V8 in the mighty ML550!
Driving the ML320
BlueTEC is completely normal. It starts up immediately - there is no
waiting for glow plugs. Amazingly, thereís virtually no extra noise
emanating from the front of the car, either.
The ML uses an
efficient seven-speed automatic, which adapts to your driving style. The
Diesel goes from 0 to 60 mph in eight seconds - only 0.1 second off the
performance of the larger-engine gas vehicle and quite acceptable.
Standard 4Matic four-wheel drive steps in when you need it.
The original ML series
out of Alabama didnít feel much like the German-built sedans, but this
latest iteration is one of the family. From the grain of the plastics to
the body-hugging shape of the firm seats to the genuine wood trim on the
console and door tops, itís just right.
appreciated the heated steering wheel during a cold spell in Northern
California. I also enjoyed the iPod interface. I controlled everything
from the colorful 6.5-inch dash display screen - one of the best Iíve
seen. Itís part of the COMAND system, which has been updated and
simplified, to the relief of Mercedes-Benz drivers everywhere.
Despite its family and
cargo hauling role, the ML320 BlueTEC is enjoyable to drive and doesnít
feel near as heavy as it really is. A toggle switch lets you choose
three suspension settings - Sport, Comfort, and the unmarked middle
position. That middle selection is fine for normal driving, but the
Sport setting tightens up the feel when the road gets interesting. The
Comfort setting is
softer, and allows more body motion - not necessarily what you want in a
tall, heavy car.
The ML320 BlueTEC is
safe, of course, with the usual airbags and crush zones. But thereís
something new. PRE-SAFEģ senses an impending collision before it
happens, and automatically tightens up the front seatbelts, moves the
front passenger seat to a more protected position, closes the side
windows, and if it senses an impending rollover, shuts the sunroof as
As you might expect,
Mercedes-Benz vehicles are premium priced. The ML320 BlueTEC starts at
$48,600. That figure is $1,500 above the price of the ML350 gas version,
but well below the $55,800 of the ML550.
Bottom line? Diesel
ownership is painless today, even though it costs a little more than the
usual petrol. Someday soon, maybe small European Diesels will make it
stateside and weíll see some really impressive fuel economy. Until then,
for SUV room and function with midsize sedan mileage, sample a
Mercedes-Benz ML320 BlueTEC.
By Steve Schaefer
© AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Byline: SUV Review provided by Tony
Leopardo © AutoWire.Net
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BlueTEC gets 20 percent better fuel economy
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