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2005 Mercedes-Benz E320 CDI

This 2005 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2009.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

This fast Mercedes sedan has a new diesel engine that outdoes a gasoline motor.
Pros:
  • No old diesel faults
  • High fuel economy in big car
  • Solid roadability
Cons:
  • Complicated radio controls
  • Odd front cupholder design
  • Small tachometer

Why settle for a small, slow gasoline-electric hybrid car with a complicated drive system when Mercedes-Benz has a big, fuel-thrifty diesel-engine sedan without the objectionable odor, smoke, clattery noise and slow acceleration of old diesel autos?

The new Mercedes diesel is an early 2005 model called the E320 CDI. It's aesthetically identical to the prestigious Mercedes E-Class gasoline engine sedan but is faster than the comparably priced E320 gasoline version and a lot more fuel-stingy.

At $49,075, the E320 CDI is $1,000 more than the E320 gas version, which has a 221-horsepower V6. But the E320 CDI is faster to 60 mph (6.8 seconds) because its turbocharged 201 horsepower inline six-cylinder engine has far more torque.

Big Fuel Economy Difference
As for fuel economy, the E320 gasoline sedan delivers an estimated 19 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway—not bad for a fairly big, roomy luxury sedan that weighs approximately 3,600 pounds.

But the E320 CDI far outdoes it with an estimated 27 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway. The estimated highway cruising range of the E320 CDI is about 780 miles.

Chances are you'll find more repair facilities willing to help with the E320 CDI if you're stuck in the middle of nowhere than if you were in a complicated gasoline-electric hybrid. On the other hand, diesel fuel still isn't as readily available as gasoline.

Many cars from a variety of automakers in Europe are diesel-powered because of stiff gasoline prices. Mercedes says there is strong demand in America for a new Mercedes diesel model—particularly from some of the 200,000-plus buyers of its old run-forever diesel models.

Some have forgotten that about 75 percent of Mercedes cars sold here in the 1980s were diesel-powered, partly because of a spike in U.S. gasoline prices. But American cars with diesel engines fell on their faces because of marginal ones from General Motors.

Diesel Master
In contrast, Mercedes was a master at diesels—it offered the first diesel passenger car in 1936.

Stability of gasoline prices mostly led to the last Mercedes diesel—the E300 Turbodiesel—being sold here in 1999. However, long-lived diesel engines power about 40 percent of Mercedes cars around the world.

The 3.2-liter diesel in the E320 CDI is a dual overhead camshaft unit with four valves per cylinder. It works with a responsive 5-speed automatic transmission and has a 70-80 mph passing time on highways that almost makes a driver think that a strong gasoline V8 is under the hood.

There is a little soft clatter at idle when the engine is cold at start-up, but things are smoke-free. Thank the design of the diesel engine, which has Common-rail Direct Injection (CDI). That means its common-rail fuel injection system provides squirts of finely atomized fuel into cylinders at very high fuel pressure of up to 23,000 psi to virtually eliminate the clatter and exhaust soot associated with old diesel engines. Its electronic fuel injection was considered technically impossible on a diesel until just a few years ago.

Banned In Some States
The Mercedes diesel has much lower carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide emissions than gasoline engines, but the car produces more oxides of nitrogen. It thus can't be sold in California (a big Mercedes market), New York, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont, which have stricter emissions regulations than the federal mandates.

However, Mercedes is hopeful that the CDI diesel should meet emissions standards in all states when low-sulfur diesel fuel is available nationwide in 2006. Meanwhile, the automaker said it plans to annually offer 3,000 E320 CDI models in America for the next few years.

Making Good Time
While not a sports sedan, you can make good time in this car if in a hurry. The E320 CDI handles surely and has a comfortable ride. Its steering is fast, but rather light—as if tailored for American luxury car buyers. The brakes are strong, but the pedal initially feels a bit touchy.

The E320 CDI has the comfort, convenience and safety equipment one would expect with a luxury model. The slickly styled car's quiet, upscale interior comfortably seats five tall occupants. Front seats are very supportive and the rear seat is very roomy.

The dashboard is nicely designed. There's a tilt-telescopic steering wheel and major controls are easy to operate. Gauges can be read quickly, although the tachometer is too small and the audio system should be easier to use.

The front plastic cupholders have a peculiar pop-up design and look and feel flimsy. Rear cupholders are in the center fold-down armrest.

Storage areas include a deep, covered center console bin and pockets in all doors, which have large handles for easy entry.

Impressive Trunk
The long, deep trunk has a low, wide opening, and its lid hinges are enclosed to prevent cargo damage.

Sources say the E320 CDI's diesel engine marks the beginning of Mercedes' return to diesels in America.

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BB03 - 4/17/2014 5:50:46 PM