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New Car Review: 2005 Mercedes-Benz E320 CDI

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VIDEO New E Class Journalist Test Drive(0:6:42)


SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Mercedes-Benz


MODEL: 2005 Mercedes-Benz E320CDI
ENGINE: 3.2-liter I6 diesel
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 201 hp @ 4,200 rpm/369 lb-ft @ 1,800-2,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 112.4 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 190.3 x 71.3 x 57.0 in.
TIRES: 225/55 R16

This is a diesel? You'd never know it by the way it drives or, more importantly, by the way it sounds.

You start the Mercedes-Benz 320CDI by inserting the key and turning it, just as in a gasoline-engine car. There is a "glow plug" light on the instrument panel, but you don't have to wait for it to go off before starting - at least in warm weather.

The E320CDI also doesn't perform like a diesel. With most diesels, acceleration is not exhilarating, although once they get started and the engine's torque takes over, you can move along with the best of them. But in the E320CDI, acceleration is very good, even if that's the only time the engine makes any noise. The 3.2-liter engine is rated at 201 hp, while the 3.2-liter gasoline engine is rated at 220. So there's some loss, but it's not a problem. Acceleration in the crucial 30-60 mph range is equivalent to gasoline-powered cars, so there's no concern.

Mercedes-Benz claims the E320CDI can go from 0-60 mph in 6.8 seconds, which is 0.3 second faster than the equivalent gasoline engine.

Of course, any leisurely acceleration is compensated for quite well by outstanding fuel economy. Our tester carried EPSA estimates of 27 mpg city, 37 mpg highway. In fact, we averaged approximately 35 mpg on a long highway trip and 20 mph around town. When we filled up, though, we were thrilled to pay 20-30 cents a gallon less for diesel fuel than for gasoline. And, with the right conversion kit on your car, you can supposedly run a diesel on used cooking oil, but I'd check my warranty before trying it.

CDI stands for Common-Rail Direct Injection - a term denoting the fuel line loop supplying constant, very high fuel pressure (up to 23,000 psi) to each of the six solenoid injector valves. With electronic fuel injection, the E320CDI engine is cleaner, quieter and more powerful than conventional mechanically injected diesel engines. And while diesel engines inherently produce 20 to 30 percent lower carbon dioxide emissions and significantly lower carbon monoxide than gasoline engines, they also produce more oxides of nitrogen and soot or particles. Precise electronic control of fuel delivery, with an oxidation catalyst, allows the 320CDI to pass current 45-state emission standards. And when low-sulphur diesel fuel becomes available in late 2006, Mercedes-Benz is confident the engine can meet diesel emissions standards on all 50 states.

But as of today, the car cannot be registered in California, Massachusetts, Maine, New York or Vermont.

At its heart, of course, the E320CDI is a Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the company's top-selling model and the symbol these days of Mercedes-Benz in America. The E-Class is a comfortable car, rated a mid-size, with a long wheelbase and relatively compact overall dimensions. The is room for five passengers in great comfort, while all are surrounded by leather and tasteful wood trim.

Our tester had dual-zone automatic climate control, 10-way power front seats with memory, cruise control, a 9-speaker audio system that was upgrades with the premium entertainment package ($970) that added a CD changer, power windows, an excellent suspension that softened all the little annoying bumps in the road, side protection airbags front and rear and head protection curtains combined with a rollover sensor.

The E320CDI came with a stiff $55,085 bottom line on the sticker. The base price is $49,075, to which is added the entertainment package, a brilliant silver paint job ($680 - almost worth it), glass sunroof ($1,260), heated front seats ($680), electronic trunk closer ($500) and a lighting package that included bi-xenon headlamps and a headlamp washing system. Shipping and deliver charges of $720 set the final price.

I've driven enough diesel cars that the thought of another, even if it was a Mercedes-Benz, was not thrilling. But the E320CDI converted me to new technology that can make diesels more palatable, from the performance and noise sides. And with the relative prices of fuels these days, driving a diesel is a bonus.

2004 The Auto Page Syndicate