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Testdriving a Used Mercedes-Benz Diesel

What's So Great About a New Diesel Car?

Aug 30, 2015
Photographers: Courtesy Mercedes-Benz
The other day, I took a testdrive in a '94 Mercedes-Benz S350D, and it was a real eye-opener. This "Big Body Benz" (a nickname popular with rappers) was part of the revered third generation of S-Class sedans known by the code name W140. When new (like the pristine model shown here), the car was filled with the very latest technologies. Plus, it managed to achieve 26 mpg on the highway—compared to the gasoline versions: 22 mpg with the I-6 engine, 17 mpg using the 5.0L V-8, and 15 mpg from the 6.0L V-12 (rated at just 13 mpg city).
This particular car had seen better days—days when the door locks worked, the trunk closed automatically, and the odometer showed a number less than 232,000. I had kept my expectations relatively low, so when the ashtray wobbled and fell into the center console instead of opening, I laughed it off. Reality didn't set in until I pulled into a busy Los Angeles street and had trouble getting to 35 mph before I was impeding traffic.
Photo 2/4   |   The third generation of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class (W140) was sold from '91 to '98 and has a great reputation for being "overbuilt" with features such as double-paned door glass, a tank-like chassis, and door hinges/latches big enough for a Hummer H1. The S350D I testdrove looked a lot like this...21 years ago.
I turned onto the nearest side street to escape the madness and make sure the parking brake was not engaged. The brake handle came off in my hand after I confirmed there was nothing holding back the 3.5L I-6 turbodiesel (except more than 2 tons of weight and an engine that made only 148 hp—when it was brand-new). After a few disappointing full-throttle 0-to-25-mph runs, I realized how spoiled I'd become while driving brand-new, modern, clean diesel vehicles. In comparison, the S350D was slow, noisy (with a possible piston slap issue), smelly, and had a price tag of $5,000—oof!
The S-Class is no longer sold in the U.S. with a diesel engine, so the modern MBZ equivalent is the '16 E250 BlueTEC sedan with its compound-turbocharged 2.1L four-cylinder clean diesel engine that makes 195 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. It runs from 0 to 60 in just 7.9 seconds and gets 42 mpg on the highway. Too bad the base price (with no options whatsoever) is way more than my annual salary. Oh well, back to Craigslist, eBay, and AutoTrader in hopes of finding the elusive unicorn: an '06 GMC Sierra 2500HD SLE regular cab 4x4 with no more than 150,000 miles for less than $10,000—a boy can dream, can't he?
Trevor Reed
Photo 3/4   |   With just 2.1L of displacement, the compound-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine in the '16 E250 BlueTEC makes 369 lb-ft of torque and returns up to 42 mpg.
1994 Mercedes-Benz S350D
MSRP (in 1994): $71,075
Engine: OM 603
Layout: I-6
Displacement: 3.5L (210ci)
Valvetrain: OHV with 12 valves per cylinder
Induction: Turbocharger (non-intercooled)
Fueling: Mechanical port injection
Compression ratio: 22.0:1
Horsepower: 148 hp at 4,000 rpm
Torque: 229 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm
Fuel economy: 19/21/26 city/combined/highway mpg
Curb weight: 4,610 pounds
Photo 4/4   |   The OM 603 engine used in the W140 S-Class is a 3.5L indirect-injection turbodiesel that does not employ an intercooler. As you can see from this cell phone photo, the '94 S350's powerplant looked spectacular for having more than 230,000 miles on the odometer.
2016 Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTEC
MSRP (in 2015): $52,650
Engine: OM 654
Layout: I-4
Displacement: 2.1L (128.15ci)
Valvetrain: DOHC with four valves per cylinder
Induction: Compound turbochargers with intercooling
Fueling: High-pressure, common-rail direct injection
Compression: 16.2:1
Power: 195 hp at 3,800 rpm
Torque: 369 lb-ft at 1,600 to 1,800 rpm
Fuel economy: 28/33/42 city/combined/highway mpg
Curb weight: 4,365 pounds


Montvale, NJ 07645