New Car Review

1998 Mercedes Benz E300 Turbodiesel

by Carey Russ

mercedes

SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide


It's time for a word association test. The word is "diesel", in an automotive context. What words first comes to mind? Probably something like "slow", "smelly", and "noisy", right?

Wrong. Or, at least wrong in the case of the new Mercedes- Benz E300 Turbodiesel. Seriously wrong. The E300 TD is a midsized German luxury car with more-than-respectable acceleration even though it is designed primarily for typically German high cruising speeds, not American-style zero-to-sixty sprints. It is an eminently comfortable midsized luxury car that holds five real people and has the fuel economy of a subcompact. On a long trip, human occupants will need refueling and relief before the car does. The new E300 Turbodiesel may be the most rational luxury car ever made.

Although diesels are commonly thought of as slow, there is no inherent reason for that. The diesel-powered Cummins Special qualified on the pole for the 1952 Indianapolis 500, and dominated most of the race. The E300 Turbodiesel is no race car, but it is one of the quickest and fastest diesel-powered automobiles ever made. The new turbocharged engine has considerably more torque and horsepower than the normally-aspirated engine of the old E300D, and gives up surprisingly little in performance to the gasoline-fueled E320. The E300 Turbodiesel doesn't sacrifice economy, with 30mpg easily obtainable in normal driving. Except for a very subdued clatter when cold, occupants will never know they are in a diesel.

The driver will know, but won't be unduly inconvenienced. Being a diesel, the E300 TD has glow plugs that must warm up before starting. When warm, this is nearly instantaneous. When cold, it is a matter of only a few seconds. Just place the SmartKey into the receptacle on the instrument panel, wait for the glow plug light to go out, and go. SmartKey? SmartKey is the world's first electronic ignition key and combines ignition key and remote entry functions in one unit. It should confuse valets and deter theft.

My week with the E300 Turbodiesel didn't seem long enough. I adapted quickly to, and even enjoyed, its starting ritual. I found it to be fast, frugal, and elegant, a most practical luxury car.

APPEARANCE: Only the discreet "Turbodiesel" badge on the right side of the rear panel distinguishes the E300 Turbodiesel from other E- Class Benzes. As an E-Class Mercedes, the turbodiesel is a well- proportioned, gently-rounded, medium-sized sedan with a distinctive appearance. The by now familiar face with its four prominent oval lights and low, wide version of the traditional Mercedes-Benz grille graces the front, and the slightly squarish rear is dominated by large, ovoid wraparound taillights. Even if it did not have the three-pointed star hood ornament, it undeniably be a Mercedes-Benz.

COMFORT: As outside, the E300 Turbodiesel is standard E-Class inside. The only unique feature is the small glow plug icon on the instrument panel. Although MB-Tex synthetic is standard, leather is available. The same burled walnut trim as found in other E-Class models is standard, as are dual-zone climate control with air filtration, 10-way power-adjustable front seats with 3-position memory for the driver's seat, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, and mirrors, AM/FM/cassette sound system, and more. In other words, all of the expected amenities are standard equipment. Typically for Mercedes- Benz, the seats feel firm at first and refreshingly unnoticeable several hundred miles down the road. A lack of seat comfort won't be the limiting factor for human occupants attempting to match the Turbodiesel's nonstop long-distance ability.

SAFETY: Mercedes-Benz has a long tradition of innovation in safety technology, and there are several new ones this year. In addition to the SmartKey previously mentioned, the E300 TD has the BabySmart automatic child seat detection system to deactivate the front passenger airbag when a special child seat is in use. Also new is the Brake Assist System to shorten emergency stopping distances.

ROADABILITY: Mercedes-Benz engineers know how to design and calibrate a luxury car suspension, and the E-Class can be considered a benchmark for its class. "Insulated, not isolated" is the design philosophy, and it works. Although the E300 Turbodiesel has a comfortable, compliant ride, befitting a luxury car, it can handle evasive maneuvers or spirited driving with aplomb. The Turbodiesel is a quiet machine made for and extremely capable of long-distance nonstop touring, be it on the highways or byways.

PERFORMANCE: The new E300 may be the highest-performance diesel since the Cummins Special. Its 0-to-60 time of 8.5 seconds is competitive in its class, and the electronically-limited top speed of 130 mph will get free accommodations from any police agency in this country. The new turbodiesel has 174 horsepower, a 30 percent increase over the previous normally-aspirated diesel engine. Torque is what provides acceleration, and the maximum of 244 lb-feet here is 57 percent greater, and produced from 1600 through 3000 rpm. There is turbo lag if the engine speed drops too low, and not much power off boost. But this is only noticeable at parking lot speeds where power is not a consideration anyway. In all other normal driving, the E300 Turbodiesel is quick and very competent. Its 5-speed automatic adapts its shifting pattern to changes in road conditions and driving style. The E300 is as smooth and quiet underway as any gasoline-powered car.

CONCLUSIONS: The 1998 Mercedes-Benz E300 Turbodiesel combines luxurious comfort and frugal fuel use with no penalty in performance.

SPECIFICATIONS

Base Price               $ 41,800
Price As Tested          $ 47,000
Engine Type              inline 6-cylinder dual 
                         overhead cam, 24-valve 
                         turbocharged diesel
Engine Size              3.0 liters / 183 cu. in.
Horsepower               174 @ 5000
Torque (lb-ft)           244 @ 1600 through 3000
Transmission             5-speed electronically-controlled 
                         automatic
Wheelbase / Length       111.5 in. / 189.4. in.
Curb Weight              3640 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    21
Fuel Capacity            21.1 gal.
Fuel Requirement         Diesel
Tires                    P215/55 R16 Continental Touring 
                         Contact Eco Plus
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / solid disc
Suspension, front/rear   independent double wishbone 
                         with coil springs / independent 
                         multilink with coil springs
Drivetrain               front engine, rear-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      26 / 34 / 29
0 to 60 mph                        8.5 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)                    16.5 sec
Coefficient of Drag (cd)           0.29

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Aspen Green Paint                  $   695
Parchment Leather Upholstery       $ 1,695
Integrated CD Changer              $   865
E2 Value Added Package:
  includes glass sunroof and
  Bose premium sound system        $ 1,350
Destination and Delivery charges   $   595

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