Diesel-fueled automobiles have been fixtures in Europe for years, but the trend has never been embraced in the United States. The U.S. government has always been cautious with regard to diesel fuel and its reputation for high particle emissions.
So it was surprising I was driving around in the new 2009 Mercedes-Benz GL320 BlueTec, a turbo-diesel sport utility vehicle. This Mercedes and Dodge’s heavy-duty trucks are the first diesel-powered vehicles to pass the rigid the country-wide EPA emission requirements.
No sense boring anyone with too much BlueTec jargon, but here’s a sampling: Mercedes describes it as “a modular concept that utilizes coordinated technical measures to minimize emissions within the engine and also provide more effective exhaust-gas treatment downstream.”
Mercedes has been trying to convince the U.S. automotive industry and car buyers that diesels are no longer smelly, noisy and an environmental nightmare.
Environmentally friendly or not, it’s good gas prices have come down considerably in the past several months or the GL320 would have one big strike against it since diesel fuel costs 50-65 cents more per gallon than unleaded. One of the more appealing features of the GL320 is its 17-23 mpg averages, fantastic for a luxury SUV. The $58,200 sticker price is also good for the class.
Mercedes-Benz has always put a high premium on developing diesel engines. Its fondness for diesels can be traced to German inventor Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel who introduced the diesel engine in 1892.
But enough about diesel. What other qualities does the GL320 possess? Although it features smooth-shifting, 7-speed automatic transmission, this SUV takes a while to get rolling, clocking around 9.1 seconds from 0-60 mph. That’s disappointing performance for a turbo-diesel 3.0-liter, V6 with 210 horsepower.
Where the Mercedes GL320 shines is towing capability. It can haul a maximum 7,500 pounds thanks to the considerable torque (398 at 1600 rpm). With four-wheel drive, a hill-descent control feature and a height adjustable suspension, the hefty 5,313-pound GL320 possesses strong off-road qualities.
This seven-passenger vehicle has a comfortable interior and provides great leg and headroom for the first two rows of seating. The third row is better than most SUVs for adults and very suitable for kids. Power down the third row and the hauling capability really opens up, creating 43.8 cubic feet. With both rows folded flat, the cargo space nearly doubles to 83.3 cubic feet
Although driving some Mercedes models feel effortless at times, that doesn’t happen with the GL320. While it ranks high for its class, don’t expect superb steering and agile handling. What you get is a very quiet ride and solid braking power that can match most SUVs.
Power — turbo-diesel 3.0-liter, V6, 210 horsepower; Mileage Estimates — 17 mpg (city) 23 mpg (hwy); Standard Features — All-wheel drive, heated power front seats, eight-way power adjustment driver seat, sunroof with rear glass roof panel, wood trim interior, DVD video/audio player, nine airbags with driver kneebag, fixed third-row skylight, traction control, antilock 4-wheel disc brakes, brake assist, antiskid system, hill ascent and descent control, manual climate controls, interior air filter, leather-wrapped steering wheel w/radio controls; third-row power-folding split seat, wood interior trim; Warranty — Bumper-to-bumper 4 years/50,000 miles; Corrosion 4/50,000 miles; Free, unlimited roadside assistance.