Forget all your preconceptions about diesel engines. The new BlueTEC diesel engines developed by Mercedes-Benz (also available in the GL and R-Class models) are quiet, smooth, powerful and the cleanest in the world with the ability to turn exhaust into water.
Dr. Rudolph Diesel's engine had been around since the early 1900s, used mostly in heavy machinery applications and trucks.
Massive 12-cylinder Mercedes diesels even powered the Hindenburg airship and so, not surprisingly, the first ever production car powered by a diesel engine was the 1936 Mercedes-Benz 260D.
Long admired for its long life and cheap operation, the diesel engine was also accompanied by slow startup, smelly black exhaust and valve clatter like someone stirring a bucket of bolts. Erase these images from your memory bank.
The 2009 ML 320 BT (BlueTEC) is off to a great start.
It has already been honoured as the "World Green Car of the Year" and last month it was named "Best SUV/CUV Over $60,000" by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, beating out the Lexus LX 570, Chevy Tahoe Hybrid and Infiniti FX 50.
The ML 320 BlueTEC is the only diesel in the four model, mid-size SUV range that includes the ML350 4MATIC (3.5-litre V6), the ML550 4MATIC (5.5-litre V8) and the ML63 AMG (6.3-litre V8).
Our tester was the ML320 BlueTEC finished in Peridot Brown with Cashmere Artico (man-made) leather seating.
The 210 horsepower produced by this V6 diesel may seem underpowered by today's standards, especially for a vehicle that weighs close to two-and-a-half tons.
But diesels are not about horsepower, they're about torque, and the 400 lb-ft delivered by this engine translates into unstoppable forward motion and a 7,200 lb towing capability.
A seven-speed (7G-TRONIC) automatic transmission feeds the power to all four wheels via M-B's patented 4MATIC permanent all-wheel-drive system that monitors traction at each wheel, detecting slippage and diverting power to the wheels with grip...even if only one wheel has traction.
The transmission is surprisingly simple.
A steering column shift lets you select Reverse, Park or Drive.
When I drove off in Drive, the transmission was so smooth and the engine so quiet, I thought I must be stuck in a lower gear. A quick glance at the tachometer proved otherwise but just to make sure, I went up and down the gears using the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Not only is it silky smooth and quiet, it's quick, reaching 100 km/h in 8.6 seconds and topping out at (a theoretical) 210 km/h.
And despite its size and weight, the BlueTEC diesel delivers a hybrid-challenging 11.8 L/100 km in the city and 8.2 L/100 km on the highway.
If you want to know more about the technology behind the BlueTEC diesel (there's too much for this space), go to www.mercedes-benz.ca/bluetec, an interactive site that provides a comprehensive description of the system and the Mercedes-Benz commitment to clean engine technology.
And it isn't just what's under the sheet metal that's new. Redesigned for 2009, the ML320 sports an aggressive new grille flanked by stylish Bi-Xenon headlamp clusters with washers and cornering lights. Meaty 19-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels fill the flared wheel wells while a strong accent ridge leads the eye along the bodysides, over the rear wheel well to the tinted LED taillights. Other new standard features include roof rails, fog lights and larger electronically adjustable heated exterior mirrors with turn signal lights.
The cabin provides the kind of lavish comfort and convenience that you associate with Mercedes-Benz. The Cashmere Artico leather upholstery and door panels are complemented by the darker coffee colour of the upper dashboard surfaces.
Brushed metal accents highlight the main instruments and secondary switchgear while Burl Walnut wood inserts add a richness to the centre stack, console and door panels. Both heated front bucket seats have 10-way power adjustments and active, power-adjustable head restraints that automatically move forward to reduce the risk of whiplash in the event of a rear-end impact.
Driver convenience includes the heated, leather-wrapped, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with fingertip controls that allow you to call up vehicle data or operate the hands-free Bluetooth interface and radio. A three-position memory function includes driver seat, steering wheel and outside mirrors. Keyless entry, power windows (express up/down), door locks and tilt/sliding, glass sunroof are all standard.
A new 6.5-inch high-resolution LCD colour display is the heart of the COMMAND control system featuring hard-drive based navigation with new-generation Linguatronic voice control.
There's a six-disc DVD changer with MP3 video capability and SD card slot plus three connectors for iPod, USB and auxiliary radio...or enjoy AM/FM and Sirius Satellite Radio (six months complimentary service) with the premium harman-kardon surround sound system.
Our tester also included a rear-view camera and audible warnings to assist in parking.
The 60-40 split, heated rear seats can be folded forward to provide a flat floor and 2,050 litres (72.4 cu.ft.) of cargo space, easily accessed through the wide tailgate.
The suspension provides a firm yet compliant ride that isolates occupants from the outside world and carves the corners with minimal body lean.
Huge, power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes provide sure and short stopping distances while other dynamic features include electronic stability program with ABS and traction control, hill descent control and hill hold control. The power-assisted steering is very direct and super light as befits a luxury SUV although I would prefer more feedback and a stronger 'return to centre' feel. The full safety package includes three-point seatbelts for all five positions, six airbags and ISOFIX child seat mounts.
With its eco-friendly footprint, superior on and off-road capability, improved fuel economy and interior refinement, the ML320 BT is a luxury SUV in a class of its own.
Simon Grainger of Three Point Motors feels the BlueTEC technology is a major step in reducing harmful emissions: "The ML320 BT allows people to enjoy the performance and convenience of a luxury SUV and at the same time reduce their carbon footprint. And with our current lease rates it has never been more affordable."
Alan McPhee is a Canadian automotive journalist and is former editor of Carguide Magazine. His articles appear each week in this space.
MERCEDES-BENZ ML320 BT
Type: Mid-size AWD SUV
Engine: 3.2-litre V6 Diesel
Horsepower: 210 @ 3,400 rpm
Torque: 400 lb-ft @ 1,600-2,400 rpm
Fuel economy: City - 11.8 L/100 km; hwy - 8.2 L/100 km
Base price: $61,400
Price as tested: $70,220
(includes PDI and freight)
Vehicle provided by Three Point Motors, Nanaimo
© Copyright 2013