If you’ve taken a golf trip to Europe and rented a car, chances are you’ve driven a modern diesel. Half the cars in Europe are diesel-powered, though by U.S. standards the technology has been too polluting. Recent technical breakthroughs by Mercedes and other manufacturers, though, have solved the emissions puzzle. The result is a coming wave of diesel vehicles that sip fuel like hybrids yet are green enough to meet even California’s 2009 pollution rules—by far the world’s most stringent.
At first glance, the E320 BlueTec is pleasantly indistinguishable from the gas-powered E350: same stylish body, deluxe appointments and rock-solid feel. But under the hood is a turbocharged diesel that delivers one-third better mileage than its gasoline-burning sibling. The feds estimate the E320 will get twenty-three miles per gallon in the city and thirty-two on the highway. Yet in my real-world testing, the Mercedes got an eye-popping thirty-seven highway miles per gallon, better than most tiny econoboxes. The Benz can cruise up to seven hundred miles on a single tank, enough for a drive from Detroit to New York with fuel to spare.
Old-school diesels were notoriously clattering, smelly and slow, but the new breed is quiet, odor-free and seriously speedy: The BlueTec surges to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, as quick as the gas V-6 model. And unlike some luxury hybrids that add $5,000 or more to the standard version’s price, the E320 costs just $1,000 more than the gas V-6. That’s the green icing on the Mercedes’s already sumptuous cake.
Mercedes E320 BlueTec
Engine: Turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel V-6
Torque: 398 pound-feet
Zero to 60 mph: 6.6 seconds
Top Speed: 130 mph