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E-asy rider - Mercedes Benz E350 Blue Efficiency

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D-I-E-S-E-L. Go on, say it — “diesel”. Doesn’t come out in quite the same way as “petrol”, does it? Crib and whinge as we all do about diesel engines being noisy, boring, smelly and, well, noisy, the fact of the matter is that most of these descriptors belong in the age of ramshackle buses belching black smoke. Diesel engines have come such a long way in such a relatively short period of time that we still tend to associate them with all this negative imagery, despite the evidence being to the contrary. You don’t have to look beyond the Indian car market for proof – diesel car sales have been on the upswing for years, and in certain classes, diesel models outsell their petrol-powered counterparts. Forget about raw numbers, in fact — there are diesel cars in this country that are, quite simply, more fun to drive than a lot of petrol cars. Take the BMW 530d, for instance. That engine is a masterpiece, rocketing the 5 Series forward almost telepathically, and when it’s on the boil, all biases fly clean through the exhaust pipes. There’s no two ways about it — the 530d is the best diesel car in India. Or is it?

“Say hello to my leetle friend” is what Mercedes-Benz have to say to the 530d, even though the friend is not so leetle. As a matter of fact, it’s 4.8 meters long and 3.4 meters wide and it’s the new E-Class, only this time, instead of taking the middle path, MB have fired all their guns at one time and thrown the E350 CDI in the Beemer’s face. This means that under the new E’s hood lurks a 3-litre V6 diesel engine, giving voice to 231 bhp and a crushing 54 kgm of torque. The “Blue Efficiency” badge on its flank is the only thing that visually sets this car apart from the E350 CGI, its more powerful, petrol-engined sibling. Otherwise, it’s the new E-Class all over - much more chiselled, sharp-edged and aggressive than its predecessor, but not quite in the same league as far as purity and uniformity of design go. Some will take it, some will leave it — but most (those with the bank balances, anyway) will take it. The interiors (elegant, high quality, luxurious) and standard features list, both in Avant Garde trim, also remain the same. So what, then, does that “Blue Efficiency” badge signify?   To get right to it, the concept is one that aims to maximise both performance and efficiency. Mercedes being Mercedes, driving profiles of typical Merc customers were gathered and in-house fuel efficiency tests were carried out over two million kilometres, the idea being to make the advantages of Blue Efficiency most noticeable in everyday driving. A raft of efficiency measures was implemented all over the car, which by themselves only had minuscule advantages, but in combination were significant steps forward. For example, it’s a known fact that aerodynamic drag accounts for over 50 per cent of a car’s drag and rolling resistance at speeds over 80 kph. Increasing a car’s aerodynamic efficiency thus contributes greatly to increased fuel efficiency and reduced emissions. With computer-aided design and wind tunnel testing, the new E-Class’s CD figure was reduced to 0.25, which is the best among cars in its class. This was achieved largely due to the use of an electropneumatical fan shutter, which regulates the amount of air flowing through the radiator and engine bay, thus reducing drag. Other significant changes include a standstill decoupling function in the 7GTRON IC gearbox, which automatically engages neutral when the car is stationary, power steering pumps that only provide assistance when it’s required, fuel pumps that operate according to the needs of the engine and recuperative braking, that harnesses energy created during braking.

Right, enough with the techno-wizardry already — let’s strap ourselves in and deal with what really matters, also known as the seat of the pants experience. Settle into the firm, yet comfortable seat (although I have to say that our test car’s lumbar support function wasn’t working properly, resulting in my feeling like someone was holding an AK-47 to my lower back), find an empty stretch of road, floor the gas pedal and one thing immediately become apparent – this Blue Efficiency business has worked. The big Merc simply blasts to 100 kph from standstill in 7 seconds (and to 60 kph in 3.05) and makes the whole business seem as effortless as a Saurav Ganguly cover drive. I was pinned back in my seat as the car reeled the horizon in, and I remember thinking “Why on earth would you buy a petrol when the diesel can do THIS?” It really is an outstanding unit, this engine. Using fourth-generation common rail technology that raises the rail pressure, and with dual-stage turbochargers spinning away, performance, emissions and fuel efficiency have all taken a step for the better.   The engine’s got new piezo injectors that change their thickness in nanoseconds when an electrical charge is applied, and their lift activates the nozzle needle directly, so that fuel injection is controlled according to the current load and engine speed. The engine’s also much, much quieter both at idle and on the move — indeed, when you’re wafting along at a good clip, there’s not much more than a rather nice, gruff rumble from the powerplant.

This car isn’t just about floored-throttle speed runs, either. The two turbos, operating at Low and High pressure, ensure that you have a nice, thick spread of torque all across the rev range, with virtually no lag. Throttle response is near instantaneous, making overtaking manoeuvres effortless — 80-120 kph is dismissed in only four seconds. Even crawling along in Mumbai’s maddening traffic, the E is perfectly at ease. As mentioned earlier, the standstill decoupling feature in the transmission automatically shifts to neutral when the car isn’t moving, reducing load on the engine and saving you the trouble of having to do it yourself. Superb as the 7G-tronic box is, paddle shifters would have been a welcome addition, given this car’s performance potential, and I’m not sure I liked the S-Class style gear selector on the steering wheel; the traditionally-placed selector is much more intuitive.

There’s not that much more to be said, really. By shoving the S-Class’ engine into the new E, Mercedes-Benz have done themselves, and all those looking for performance combined with diesel economy, a huge favour. Only a proper head to head comparison with the 530d will provide hard facts, but on the face of it, this car has the Beemer’s number. It’s very quick, very fast, combines driving pleasure with quiet luxury and returns 10.1 kpl while doing all this. Would it be premature to say “long live the king?”