Posts Tagged ‘Bluetec’


Sometimes prayers are answered. The rest of the world has had the pleasure of powerful, clean and ultra-efficient diesel engines for decades. The Germans, masters of diesel technology, steadfastly refused to bring diesel power to the U.S. market because they don’t think that we will buy them.

School_Bus_diesel_ExhaustThey do have a point. I mean, ask the average American driver about diesel and they conjure up images of billowing clouds of black, noxious smoke, belching trucks and busses and the dreaded diesel chatter. Even people not alive during the 1970s or 1980s have a visceral negative reaction to diesel, probably a byproduct of their parents’ prejudices or maybe from getting stuck behind a diesel school bus on a two lane road with no passing possibilities. Roll up the windows and press the recirculation button.

But the whole diesel question kind of goes back to the chicken and the egg paradox. We aren’t going to buy diesel-powered cars if they aren’t available, right? And what do we make of the fact that, for many years, Volkswagen dealers have been quietly selling out of every TDI (VW-speak for turbo-charged direct injection diesel technology) model they can get in inventory?  Conclusion: There is a small, but growing market for diesel power and efficiency.

VW EA288 2.0L TDI engine

VW EA288 2.0L TDI engine

The fact is that diesel power never left the truck market. Diesel is still the engine of choice for heavy-duty pickup trucks that need lots of low-end torque for towing and carrying heavy cargo. Almost all big rigs are still diesel-powered.

For most of the 1980s, 1990s an early 2000s, gasoline was so cheap in the U.S. that manufacturers didn’t see the need to offer efficient diesel models. Diesel engines are more expensive to manufacture and are heavier than their gasoline counterparts.  Pollution control regulations also killed diesel offerings as most couldn’t meet California’s emission standards and without sales in California, it didn’t make economic sense to federalize a diesel engine.

And then there was the dirty diesel fuel itself. It wasn’t until 2007 that the U.S. implemented ultra-low sulfur (15 ppm) diesel fuel, a necessary step before European diesel engines could function properly.

The cleaner diesel set the stage for a renaissance of European (mostly German) diesel-powered cars to return to the U.S. and to meet ever-increasing federal and California emissions standards. In California (and the states that follow California emissions laws), a diesel-powered car must meet the same standards as a gasoline-powered car.

Up until 2013, if you wanted a 4-cylinder turbo-diesel powered-car, you had to buy a front-drive Volkswagen (the Audi A3 TDI was discontinued in 2013).

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI

To help boost corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) rating, the Germans have chosen V6 diesel power for their larger, heavier SUVs such as the Mercedes-Benz ML350  and GL350 BlueTec, the BMW X5 xDrive35d, VW Touareg TDI, the Audi Q7 TDI and the Porsche Cayenne Diesel.  However, the seemingly-obvious application of a high-mpg 4-cylinder diesel for volume models like the Audi A4, BMW 3-series and Mercedes C-Class was inexplicably absent.

2014 Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTEC has a 3.0L V6 twin turbo diesel engine making

2014 Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTEC has a 3.0L V6 twin turbo diesel engine delivers 240 hp and a massive 455 lb-ft of torque and is EPA rated at 20/23/28 mpg.

That’s all finally changing for the 2014 model year.

Over the summer, Mercedes-Benz introduced a 2.1L 4-cylider twin-turbo diesel engine in the 2014 GLK250 BlueTEC and now, the same engine is in the 2014 E250 BlueTEC sedan, which went on sale last month. I’ve driven the GLK250 BT and loved it, so I have no doubt that the same engine, making 195 hp and a whopping 396 lb-ft of torque, will be fully-capable in the new E250 BT. Both models use Mercedes’ excellent 7-speed automatic transmission with adaptive logic.

2014 Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTEC

2014 Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTEC

But what should turn heads is the EPA numbers for the rear-drive 2014 Mercedes E250 BlueTEC sedan: 28 mpg city, 45 mpg highway, 34 mpg combined. That’s right, this 4,200 pound sedan offers fuel economy better than most hybrids, and if you drive mostly highway miles, you will likely do better than 45 mpg.  Mercedes also priced the diesel E-Class as its entry-level model, $500 less than the $52,825 E350 V6 which tops out at 30 mpg and sucks down premium fuel, which is often the same price as diesel.

Not to be outdone – finally some competition – BMW introduced its first 4-cylinder diesel engine in the US market in the 2014 3-Series. The 328d sedan enlists a brilliant 2.0L turbo-diesel engine making 180 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. A ZF 8-speed automatic is standard.  The 328d is EPA rated at 32/37/45. That’s far better than 328i which is rated at 23/27/35. The 328d, starting at $39,525, is $1,300 more than the 328i. However, if you drive around 12,000 miles a year, you could easily recoup the diesel premium in three years.

BMW 2.0L Dual Turbo diesel engine.

BMW 2.0L Dual Turbo diesel engine.

2014 BMW 328d Sedan

2014 BMW 328d Sedan

It’s a mystery why anyone would buy BMW’s ActiveHybrid 3, which uses a hybrid gasoline-electric powertrain, when it gets only 33 mpg highway and starts at $50,825, a whopping $11,300 more than the 328d. Oh wait, I forgot. No one is buying the ActiveHybrid 3 and dealers can’t give them away – what few actually exist.

More German luxury diesel competition is either here today or coming soon. Audi already sells 3.0L V6 TDI variants of the A6, A7, A8, Q5 and Q7.  In 2014, we should see an Audi A4 2.0LTDI (probably a 2015 model).  In addition, Audi has hinted at gracing our market with a 2.0L TDI version of the lovely A4 Allroad wagon.

2014 Audi A6 TDI

2014 Audi A6 TDI

The all-new (Gen-4) 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, to be built for the North American market at Mercedes’ Vance, Alabama plant, will likely get 2.1L BlueTEC diesel engine. If it does, its power and fuel economy could trump the BMW 328d. Unfortunately, the wagon variant of the C-Class won’t likely be sold in the US.

Leaked image of the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Leaked image of the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Porsche already sells a diesel Cayenne running a specially-tuned version of VW’s corporate 3.0L V6 TDI engine. The Porsche version has 240 hp with a staggering 406 lb-ft of torque.

2014 Porsche Cayenne Diesel

2014 Porsche Cayenne Diesel

The 2015 Porsche Macan, a baby Cayenne based on the Audi Q5, will get its world debut at the upcoming 2013 LA Auto Show.  Starting at around $40,000, when the Macan goes on sale early in 2014, it is likely to become the best-selling Porsche, feeding Americans’ insatiable desire for compact crossovers.  Of course, there will be a diesel Macan (a given for the European market) running the same 3.0L V6 diesel found in the Cayenne Diesel; but it’s not likely to be sold in the US — at least not immediately.  I think the Macan Diesel will come to the US, maybe a year from now, possibly as a 2016 model.  I’d like to see it with the VW corporate 2.0L TDI engine; but I don’t think that’s going to happen unless Audi drops one into the Q5.

2015 Porsche Macan

2015 Porsche Macan

2015 Porsche Macan

2015 Porsche Macan

I saved my favorite diesel development for last. BMW has always made a sweet compact 3-Series sports wagon. However, in the US, it’s been on the endangered species list for a while now.

As background, BMW used to sell a fantastic 5-Series mid-size wagon in the US; however, in 2009, it was discontinued in favor of the butt-ugly 5 GT (big mistake) and the few wagon customers were either forced to visit a Mercedes-Benz dealer for the E-Class wagon or buy BMW’s X5 SUV.

When BMW introduced the sixth-generation (F30) 3-series in 2012, the company also announced plans for a 3 GT. The 3 GT has a longer wheelbase, 4-doors, extra back-seat room (mostly for the Chinese market) and a hatchback with extra cargo space.

Wagon lovers feared the worst. Oh god, is BMW going to force a 3 GT on us? Didn’t they get the hint when no one wanted the 5 GT? Maybe the powers-that-be heard the prayers of us wagon-lovers and for the 2014 model year, the 3-Series Sports Wagon returns to BMW’s US lineup.

But it gets better – the award-winning 2.0L TwinTurbo diesel engine is available in the form of the 328d xDrive Sports Wagon. You lose a couple miles per gallon to the all-wheel drive system, but it’s that rare beast that will likely remain on the endangered list as long as it’s for sale. But for now, it’s the Holy Grail for wagon-lovers.

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

2014 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

You have to look closely to see the "d" in the badge for the BMW 328d. The exterior is indistinguishable from the gas-powered 328i.

You have to look closely to see the “d” in the badge for the BMW 328d. The exterior is indistinguishable from the gas-powered 328i.

BMW 3-series wagons have always been compact, fun and full of utility. I like the styling better than the X1, although the X1 has more cargo capacity.  The 328d wagon drives better than the X1.

BMW 3-series wagons have always been compact, fun and full of utility. I like the styling better than the X1, although the X1 has more cargo capacity. The 328d wagon drives better than the X1.

I drove the 2014 328d xDrive Sports Wagon (starting at $43,875) and it was sublime. The average driver wouldn’t have a clue that it was diesel powered. You barely hear the distinctive diesel low frequency throbbing and engine and standard 8-speed automatic transmission work in perfect, steady harmony acceleration across the entire RPM range. It feels faster than the 328i (even if it isn’t) and with the urea-based injection system scrubbing the emissions, there is absolutely no diesel exhaust odor.

I’m feeling faint and nearly powerless to resist ordering a 328d – you may need to wake me from this little wagon’s intoxicating charms with a real whiff of diesel. Right now, it’s the most delicious diesel-powered car on the market.

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It’s been more than twenty years since Mercedes-Benz offered a four cylinder diesel engine in the US market. The new 2.1L biturbo-diesel engine in the 2014 GLK 250 BlueTEC compact crossover is so sweet that it’s bound to win over even some of the die-hard diesel haters.

2014 Mercedes-Benz GLK 250 BlueTEC

2014 Mercedes-Benz GLK 250 BlueTEC

The detail of the taillight of the redesigned for 2013 GLK shows more depth and detail of design. A nice touch.

The detail of the taillight of the redesigned for 2013 GLK shows more depth and detail of design. A nice touch.

Nowhere except inside the fuel filler door and in the driver’s handbook will you see the word “diesel” on the new GLK 250.  Despite the fact that the Three-Pointed Star has been making diesel engines for over a century and despite diesel’s strong popularity around the world, Mercedes’ US marketing arm would like to reintroduce Americans to the charms of diesel power without mentioning the “d-word” – so powerful is the American public’s alleged dislike of the noisy, dirty, smelly, doggedly-slow diesels of yore.

The rear badging of the 2014 Mercedes GLK 250 BlueTEC doesn't have a "diesel" badge. In the "old days" this car would have been badged GLK 250D and the word "diesel"  or "turbo-diesel" may have appeared on the opposite side.

The rear badging of the 2014 Mercedes GLK 250 BlueTEC doesn’t have a “diesel” badge. In the “old days” this car would have been badged GLK 250D and the word “diesel” or “turbo-diesel” may have appeared on the opposite side.

Twist the key of the $39,495 GLK 250 BlueTEC (you have to pay $650 if you want the pushbutton convenience of Keyless Go) and the engine fires right up. Common-rail direct diesel injection banishes any lingering memories of glow plugs and waiting for a light to go out before you could start the engine. From inside, there is little evidence of a noisy diesel engine. Even outside the cabin, you have to listen carefully to hear the diesel’s low-revving churns.

The 2.1L Biturbo diesel engine in the 2014 GLK 250 BlueTEC.

The 2.1L Biturbo diesel engine in the 2014 GLK 250 BlueTEC.

Also relegated to the dustbin of history is any whiff of diesel fumes or black clouds of particulates. Mercedes’ BlueTEC system scrubs diesel emissions with a series of steps including a catalytic converter, a particulate filter and a squirt of a urea and water solution. The result is exhaust clean enough to meet California’s stringent standards which do not distinguish between diesel or gasoline engine emissions. In short, a 50-state legal diesel engine.

The rewards are a compact crossover with top tier fuel economy. The EPA rates the 2014 Mercedes GLK250 BlueTEC at 24 city 33 highway 28 combined. This beats almost all the competition – at least for now. Only the BMW X1 xDrive28 ties the GLK for highway fuel economy. Lesser brand crossovers like the extremely popular Honda CR-V or Ford’s highly-touted Escape with a 1.6L EcoBoost engine can’t touch the diesel for sheer economy.

The GLK, first introduced in the US for the 2010 model year, was thoroughly revised and reworked for the 2013 model year.  While I love Kim Cattrall as Samantha on Sex in the City, showing her loading up a GLK on Rodeo Drive in the 2008 film didn’t make me rush out to buy one.

My first drive of the GLK 350 (previously the only model available) was less than inspiring, mostly because I couldn’t get past the horribly cheap interior and junior-GL styling that I didn’t think worked.

Fast forward to 2013 and I’m a convert. That me-too was properly laser-sculpted and is now much more fluid and mature. While she’s still not a sexy kitten like the Audi A4 Allroad, the GLK just looks more comfortable in its sheet metal.

The double-bar grille is more prominent and the front fascia and new headlamps flow more organically.

The double-bar grille is more prominent and the front fascia and new headlamps flow more organically.

More important is the quantum leap in interior quality and ambiance  The steering column stalks are now up-to-date. Plastics feel substantial, thick and soft, where appropriate. Switch gear remains stock Mercedes parts bin.

The interior of the 2014 GLK 250 is more driver focused with the re-positioning of the 7 inch navigation screen and the center console mouse-like controller.

The interior of the 2014 GLK 250 is more driver focused with the re-positioning of the 7 inch navigation screen and the center console mouse-like controller.

The leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel is small in diameter, and almost sporty – although at 4,246 pounds curb weight, you really can’t call the GLK sporty.

The instrument panel and steering wheel feel properly upscale and very Mercedes-Benz -- which is a good thing.

The instrument panel and steering wheel feel properly upscale and very Mercedes-Benz — which is a good thing.

I particularly like the four round air ducts with the aluminum-look bezels and cross-hairs. They really elevate ambiance and overall premium look. Pleated leather in the door inserts add a touch of luxury and the wood accents are convincing.

You sit quite upright in the cabin – more so that almost any other car on the market. I found the position as well as the stock Mercedes seats quite comfortable and leg and shoulder room more than adequate. The GKL has real cup holders – something that you will appreciate when you realize that BMW forgot to put decent ones in the X1.

The 60/40 split rear seats fold flat in the GLK. There isn't a ton of space, but it's all well tailored and properly flocked.

The 60/40 split rear seats fold flat in the GLK. There isn’t a ton of space, but it’s all well tailored and properly flocked.

Of course, for me, what sealed the deal was that sweet little engine. While it won’t win any speed records, 369 pound-feet of torque at only 1600 rpms more than makes up for having only 200 ponies. Mercedes’ standard in-house 7-speed automatic is flawless.

The 4Matic all-wheel drive system, standard on the GLK 250 BlueTEC, has a rear-drive bias and doesn’t shave much from a fairly tight turning radius of 37.7 feet (a full foot shorter than the 2013 Ford Escape).  I found the electronic rack-and-pinion steering tracked straight with a light feel — more than passable for a small crossover with no sporting intentions. It’s a distant cry from the recirculating ball gears of my 1988 190E.

Like all German cars these days, you have to add pricey options to get them to the level of options you’d expect on a luxury car. For example, the rear visibility of the GLK isn’t great, so you would be wise to look for a rearview camera. It’s standard on the base $23,000 Honda CR-V, but on the GLK, you have to opt for the $2,790 Multimedia Package, which includes COMAND hard-drive navigation on a 7-inch color display, 10GB Music Register, SiriusXM Traffic and Weather and Enhanced Voice Control.

You also can’t get the handy power tailgate by itself, you have to buy it as part of the $3,450 Premium 1 Package which includes a Panorama roof, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Auto-dimming rear and side view mirrors with a digital compass and garage door opener. No unbundling! Heated front seats are a $750 stand-alone option.

The panorama glass sunroof is part of the Premium 1 Package. I wish it could be unbundled.

The panorama glass sunroof is part of the Premium 1 Package. I wish it could be unbundled.

Needless to say, all this quickly adds up to something north of $50,000. The GLK 250 4Matic is $1,500 more than the rear-drive GLK 350 but $500 less than the 4Matic version.

If the price for the car doesn’t confuse you, there is the  issue of the price of diesel fuel. It routinely fluctuates from below regular grade gasoline to more than premium. However, you are supposed to use premium gasoline in the GLK 350. For me, the fuel price is a push and the increased economy you get out of every gallon of diesel more than repays any price premium at the pump.

The interior of the new GLK looks like a nice place to spend time. Road trip anyone?

The interior of the new GLK looks like a nice place to spend time. Road trip anyone?

Also, diesel power makes sense for people who do most of their driving on the highway. Simple Google searches will tell you that diesel drivers routinely get better than EPA estimates on long trips and the GLK 250 BlueTEC has a road trip-friendly range of more than 500 miles.

The best news is that the GLK now feels like a proper Mercedes-Benz and I have confidence in more than 100 years of diesel engineering experience. Still, nothing sells a car like 369 lb-ft of torque behind every push of the pedal. Try it and I think you’ll be hooked too.