On the Road Auto Reviews
cars.com On the Road Weekly Publication
12:04 PM EST, December 28, 2011
Diesel engines have played a significant role in the history of Mercedes-Benz. The company released its first diesel sedan in 1936 and the diesel 180 D sedan debuted in the United States in 1960. By 1981, nearly 80 percent of Mercedes-Benz customers opted for a diesel.
Since then, the availability of diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz models in the United States has waned, with some years seeing no diesels at all. Eric Linder, assistant product manager for the Mercedes-Benz S-Class models, attributed this decline to several factors. Public perceptions of the diesel began to shift, with many people concluding that the engines were noisy and dirty.
Linder added that with improved gasoline engines and cheap gasoline, diesel models began to fade from the spotlight, eventually being removed from the S-Class lineup in 1996.
But that's changed with the arrival of the S350 BlueTEC for 2012. As in the past, S-Class buyers can also choose a V-6 hybrid, V-8 and V-12 models, all powered by gasoline.
As a diesel-powered premium luxury sedan, the S350 pulls no punches. It's a genuine S-Class sedan, with the extremely roomy and comfortable passenger cabin that for years has made the S-Class a top choice among well-heeled buyers.
The ride is impressive. It’s smooth, steady, quiet and well controlled. I’ve said in the past that Mercedes-Benz automobiles turn asphalt to silk, and this S350 is no exception. It‘s among the best riding cars offered.
The centerpiece of the new S350, however, is the V-6 turbo-diesel engine. It displaces 3.0-liters and produces what many would consider a mediocre 240 horsepower. However, it also delivers an astounding 455 lb-ft of torque at only 1,600 rpm.
"It delivers more torque than a comparably sized gasoline engine ever could," Linder says.
It's torque that thrusts you ahead when you stab the accelerator pedal. That means impressive throttle response under all conditions and the ability to move this nearly 5,000-pound sedan from a stop to 60 miles per hour in only 7.2 seconds.
This cleanliness manifests itself in the absence of smoke, even on startup, a lack of exhaust odor and, in a week of hard use, not so much as a hint of oily residue around the exhaust pipes at the rear bumper.
This performance doesn’t comprise the environment, as the S350 is emissions compliant in all 50 states.
It achieves this through urea injection. The car carries seven gallons of this liquid, more than enough to take it well beyond normal service intervals, at which time it can be replenished. All S350 sedans also feature a seven-speed automatic transmission and 4Matic all-wheel drive.
Full throttle acceleration is accompanied by a soft, distant and distinctly diesel ticking sound that disappears completely in normal driving. It replaces the refined snarl that the gasoline engines in these cars produce when driven with a heavy foot on the accelerator.
What the gasoline versions cannot do is match this diesel’s fuel economy. "This is not only the most fuel-efficient S-Class available, it’s the most fuel efficient vehicle within its segment," Linder says. "Twenty-one miles per gallon in the city and 31 on the highway is definitely going to resonate among diesel customers."
The handling, which is excellent, should also resonate. The weight and size of this car are formidable, yet the S350 manages to handle with a surprising level of agility.
Arguing fuel economy as a selling point in this price class might contradict logic. However, what if you could have that fuel economy and 700-plus mile cruising range with no downside? And what if all of this came in an all-wheel drive model that was among the least costly of all the S-Class vehicles? You might conclude that the S350 makes real sense, and you would be right.
Mercedes-Benz S350 BlueTEC Diesel
Starts at: $92,550
Engine: 3.0-liter turbodiesel
455 lb-ft of torque
Next week: Volkswagen Beetle