Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor
The question facing anyone considering the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E350 Bluetec might be simply: Why go diesel? Why not just get the slightly less expensive gas-powered Mercedes-Benz E350 sedan or another competitor from the crowded luxury class such as a 2011 Lexus GS 460?
Surprisingly, there are many good reasons to buy the Bluetec beyond just the obvious: "I'm a diesel guy." In fact, this is a luxury sedan that non-diesel buyers should test-drive, since it shows us why the diesel engine is the powertrain of choice for many Europeans.
First, let's lay a few old prejudices to rest. Diesel engines don't rattle horribly and fill the air with stinky exhaust anymore. This turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 diesel runs on cleaner, ultralow-sulfur fuel and has passed the most vigorous air quality tests, thanks in no small part to urea injection, which minimizes exhaust particulates. Also Edmunds testing reveals that this sturdy, 4,242-pound sedan hustles to 60 mph from a standstill in 7.7 seconds, and the car feels like it could gobble up the autobahn all day at any speed you'd like.
So the answer to "Why buy diesel?" is twofold. First, there's driving dynamics. The E350 Bluetec's turbodiesel engine offers seductive low-end torque and plenty of midrange passing power. Diesel engines also provide a trustworthy, hard-working feel that turns drivers into lifelong devotees. And with a fuel tank capacity of more than 21 gallons, the car's cruising range is 696 miles on the open road, with the EPA measuring the mileage at 22 city and 33 highway mpg.
On the economic side of the question, this E350 Bluetec offers one of the shortest payback periods of all diesels, repaying the $1,390 premium it costs over a gasoline-fueled E350 in just two years thanks to cheaper running costs. This is because it offers better fuel economy than a gasoline-fueled E350, a calculation based on 15,000 miles of driving per year and diesel price of $3.95 a gallon.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz E350 Bluetec Sedan comes with the V6 turbodiesel engine that makes 210 horsepower at 3,400 rpm and delivers 400 pound-feet of torque between 1,600 and 2,400 rpm. It powers the rear wheels via a seven-speed automatic transmission. When the transmission is set to the economy calibration, the car occasionally seems a little sluggish, but Sport mode offers not only crisp, intuitive shifts but also firmer damping for improved handling with less body roll.
Our test car carries a sticker price of $63,120 (although Edmunds True Market Value (TMV®) pricing shows selling at a $1,100 discount), and carries a moderate amount of specialty equipment, including the Premium and Sport packages, which gives us 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels and 245/45R17 Bridgestone Turanza EL tires. The combination of these tires and good brakes brings the car to a stop from 60 mph in an impressive 116 feet with little dive, according to Edmunds testing, although the pedal travel did get a little longer as the brakes faded a bit after repeated stops.
This diesel also handles well as measured in Edmunds tests, weaving through the slalom at 63.9 mph and earning praise from our test driver, although its light-effort steering isn't too communicative. "This is a very predictable large and heavy car, with a reasonable amount of grip," the test driver reports.
This car's comfortable seats are upholstered in wide-ribbed, stitched-leather upholstery, and the beige color contrasts nicely with the black-ash wood trim.
The front seats offer many adjustments and the driver seat has a massage feature that reminded us of being at the chiropractor's office. While this supposedly reduces driver fatigue, some editors feel the sensation is too distracting. The backseat provided plenty of legroom as well as excellent head- and shoulder room.
Road noise is distant and the overall feeling of hushed composure should make this an excellent sedan for long trips.
While there were many classic Mercedes-Benz touches in the E-Class, the old and the new aren't always in harmony. When it came to adjusting the navigation system and trying to pair our cell phone, the system required shuffling through multiple menus and wasn't very intuitive. The large, centrally located analog clock takes some getting used to, but the gauges are easy to read and attractive. The center console is made even busier with a seemingly outdated keypad for manually dialing a cell phone.
The E350 has many important safety features such as Attention Assist, which detects when the driver is becoming drowsy and less responsive. Our test car didn't have the Driver Assistance package that offers a blind-spot warning system, a lane-departure warning/correction system and PreSafe braking, which anticipates an imminent crash and automatically takes measures to better secure occupants.
At the same time, our test car did incorporate Night View Assist, a $1,780 feature that projects infrared light and shows the road ahead on the navigation screen. This feature actually detects the presence of pedestrians and notifies the driver with a small icon of a person. This technology was introduced on Cadillac sedans some time ago, and while it's stunning, we weren't sure about the best way to use it. After all, you don't want to drive while watching the nav screen. Its usefulness probably depends on where you live.
The trunk didn't look as big as the cavern we usually find in Mercedes sedans. However, the specs show that it offers 15.9 cubic feet of cargo space, which stacks up nicely against other cars in this class.
Design/Fit and Finish
The prominently located large analog clock and several other design features were nice touches that harkened back to the classic Mercedes sedans of the past. Lighting throughout the cabin is subtle and elegant. The headliner is of a black nylon that catches the sunlight and sparkles, but most of the other materials were a bit more subdued and pleasing to the touch. Knobs and controls have a heavy action that gives the car a feeling of quality and value, something that Mercedes owners care deeply about.
Who should consider this vehicle
Diesel car owners are a proud and opinionated bunch. You almost have to drive a diesel — in fact live with a diesel — for some time to understand the appeal. While the few diesels that make it to U.S. shores have been more economy-oriented, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E350 Bluetec is a luxury car, yet it never seems pretentious. Because of the strong fuel economy — an EPA-estimated 22 city and 33 highway mpg — this E-Class turbodiesel suggests its owner is a practical person with sound values, not afraid to rub elbows with truck drivers at the diesel pump.
There might be no better long-range cruiser than this set of wheels. Just as Mercedes diesels have proved to be for more than 40 years, this E-Class turbodiesel is the kind of car that you'll keep and drive and enjoy for many years.
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