Dirty, dozy diesels are well and truly a thing of the past. Today's modern high-tech diesels, like the Mercedes-Benz BlueEfficiency range, hum like a bee yet still have plenty of sting in their tail when you need some serious performance.
The latest 2.1-litre BlueEfficiency powerplants in the E-Class range may be smaller in size than previous engines, but direct injection and high-tech turbocharging have increased efficiency and performance.
The newest four-cylinder Mercedes turbodiesels are the first four-cylinder diesel E-Class sedans to be sold here. Despite having the same 2.1-litre capacity, each BlueEfficiency E-Class gets a different state of tune.
The E220 manages 125kW/400Nm while the 2.1-litre E250 delivers 150kW/500Nm, the type of performance figures once the domain of hot petrol engines. Two BlueEfficiency models are available, the E220 CDI and E250 CDI, as well as a more conventional 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 in the E350 CDI that develops 170kW/540Nm.
The 2.1-litre uses an upgraded common-rail injection system with high-precision piezo-injectors and a new turbocharger. To make the engine operate more efficiently there are newly-developed fast-acting ceramic glowplugs and twin balancing shafts for smoother idling.
Both are frugal. The E220 CDI has a combined fuel economy of 6.1 litres/100km while the E250 CDI uses 5.3 litres/100km. The engines are significantly stronger, yet at the same time thriftier and emit less carbon than older turbo-diesels.
But BlueEfficiency is just part of the new E-Class story. Apart from the turbodiesels, three petrol models bring the E-Class sedan count up to six, not including the super-hot E63 AMG V8 muscle car.
Apart from six-cylinder petrol-like performance and four-cylinder economy, the BlueEfficiency pair gain a variety of econo-measures to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gases. There are newly developed tyres designed to reduce friction and energy-saving generator, fuel pump, air conditioning compressor and power steering.
As well `intelligent' aerodynamic aids allow the cars to slip through the air more easily. There is underbody paneling to streamline airflow under the car and a partially covered grille helps smooth out the car's shape and lower wind resistance.
Pricing and variants
Across the new E range, each variant gets more equipment yet prices have effectively dropped while more standard equipment has been added to better match the E-Class's German rivals from BMW and Audi.
Mercedes-Benz Australia says the E350 is $2965 less than the outgoing model, with more than $10,000 in extra standard equipment. The E500 has risen by $11,232 but gets about $21,000 worth of additional standard gear. The range starts with the $80,900 E220 CDI and $96,900 E250 CDI, with the range topping CDI being the $131,900 E350 CDI V6.
The petrol mix consists of the $128,900 E350 V6, high-tech $93,900 E250 CGI and $178,900 E500 V8. The E350 develops 200kW/350Nm and the E500 ups the ante with 285kW/530Nm. The surprise package is the new 1.8-litre four cylinder E250 CGI, which requires more than a second glance. It uses turbo-charging, variable valve timing and direct injection, to pump up the performance to 150kW/310Nm. This translates into a fuel economy figure of 7.6 litres/100km and greenhouse gase emissions of 179 g/km.
The E350, which is expected to be the volume model, gets front and rear parking sensors with parking guidance, seven-speed G-tronic automatic, the lane-keeping package with blind-spot alarm, attention assist, 18-inch alloys, bi-xenon headlights with adaptive high-beam assist and cruise control. It also has split/fold rear seats, cupholders, cable for the iPod input, multi-contour front seats and multi-zone climate control airconditioning.
The E500 ups the ante with keyless entry and go, more luxurious front seats, alarm and sunblinds for the rear window and side rear windows.
Driving — PAUL GOVER
What's not to like about the new E250, short of the pricetag? It's as creamy as a bar of lovely, Swiss Lindt chocolate, supremely safe and the sort of car you would happily use to cruise from Melbourne to Sydney or beyond. With a terrrific fuel consumption as the sidebar bonus.
Ok, the front-end styling is a bit chunky and it takes a while to learn to like the creases and folds in the body panels. That's typical of Benz, which comes late to a styling trend — BMW has been doing this sort of stuff for a generation — and then goes its own way with the sort of look that will endure for at least 10 years.
The new E-Class is a little confronting, though still nowhere near the latest Subaru Liberty, to make it stand out in traffic, but the cabin is terrific and relaxing and effective and . . . nice. My first shock is the 250's engine. At first I'm not convinced it's a diesel, and I still struggle to believe it is so small. And a four-pot. It has terrific shove from a standing start, great overtaking power, and will easily run 6L/100km economy on the highway.
It's not a match for something like the Mini D or the miserly petrol-powered Suzuki Alto, but the car is also big and luxurious and the engine must be working harder than it would in a city runabout. I don't care about the BlueEfficiency tag because you don't need to label something that gives great go with sensible overall economy in the 7.2L/100km range just to get my attention.
The test car comes loaded with stuff that takes its price past $100,000 and that's not good, but do you really need a sunroof and keyless starting and the other fripperies? For me, any car where you don't have to put the key into the dash — with the potential to misplace the key or leave it in the car when you park — is annoying and a step too far on the luxury path. And that's the new E . . .
There is good space for five in the new E and the overall package is exactly the sort of thing that first won me to the mid-sized Benz, back in the 1980s. It is more refined than ever, with more gear than ever, but still the same basic deal. The boot is roomy, the car is easy to park, and it's surprisingly good to drive.
Yes, the E rolls a bit in corners, but it holds a good line and will cover a twisty road with surprising pace and balance. It has abilities most owners will never tap. Compared with a 5-Series or A6, the Mercedes feels bigger than the BMW and more solid and impressive than the Audi. You expect that in an all-new model, but I also know the Benz will keep on keeping on.
It's now also commendably quiet, has a useful new dashboard screen for things like sound and satnav — with a brilliant surround sound package in the test car — and a safety package that matches or betters the best in the world. The attention-assist system alone, which reminds you to break long journeys, is a huge deal for Australia where fatigue is an unrecognised problem for most people.
The latest E does not rate any maximum scores, except on safety, but it is a 9-from-10 car in just about everything. That makes it sensible, sublime and a star. It is so good it qualifies easily for our Car of the Year contest, and would be my first choice — for the money — for any interstate or holiday run. And I still cannot believe that punchy diesel engine is only a four.
BOTTOM LINE: More of the good stuff in a mid-sized Benz
Mercedes-Benz E250 CDI BlueEfficiency
PRICE From $96,900
ENGINE 2.1-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder
POWER 150kW at 4200 revs
TORQUE 500Nm from 1600 revs
TRANSMISSION Five-speed automatic
FUEL CONSUMPTION 7.2/100km combined
CO2 EMISSIONS 139g/km
BMW 530d 79/100 (from $116,250)
Audi A6 2.7 TDI 77/100 (from $84,500)
Jaguar XF 3.0 V6D 78/100 (from $116,250)