Mercedes-Benz and diesels go together like bratwursts and warm beer - the automaker claims to have built the first ever diesel-powered passenger car. Safe to say, the engineers in Stuttgart know what they're doing when piecing together oil-burning machines like the 2009 Mercedes-Benz ML320 BlueTEC, which features the German automaker's 50-state legal, 3.0L V-6 turbodiesel powerplant rated at 210 hp @ 3800 rpm and 398 lb-ft of torque @ 1600 rpm. The engine is also an option for both the GL and R-Class.
We recently took out the ML BlueTEC to the Autoclub Speedway for some performance testing and found that besides being a relatively fuel efficient and low-emissions people-mover (EPA rated at 18 city/24 highway) the new ML diesel is also a decent Bavarian performer of an SUV.
Given the nature of the ML and the competitive soft-to-mild luxury SUV segment it plays in, none of our staffers was surprised with how it performed in a straight line (0 to 60 mph in 8.1 sec, quarter mile in 16.2 sec @ 84.5 mph). But what did catch us off-guard was how the force-fed the engine felt. Noticeable and distinct, the ML320 BlueTEC always sported the characteristic telltale diesel clatter, especially when coaxed into a torque-induced fury on the quarter-mile tarmac.
When trudging through normal city streets in stop-go rush hour traffic, on back country open roads or on our way up and down slow mountainous twisties, the ML proved comfortable and efficient (we recorded a combined 21.6 mpg during our testing). As is the case with the new breed of 50-state legal diesels, it didn't "act" (or smell) like the dirty, black-plume-spewing cars of yesteryear. Despite the 5073-lb mass it's left to contend with, the BlueTEC powerplant managed to be "plenty peppy and quite refined," as senior editor Ron Kiino noted. It consistently pulled smoothly on our various track runs and daily driving duties, thanks in part to Benz's refined seven-speed 7G-tronic transmission.
When an opening in traffic did appear out of the blue (pun intended), we made sure to properly play around with the ML's many creature comforts. Its adjustable Airmatic suspension appropriately firmed in Sport mode soaked up all minor pavement imperfections in Comfort. In true Mercedes-Benz fashion, our optional leather package luxuriously covered almost every exposed surface (seats, dash, doors, console). But even the supple leather couldn't make up for our frustrations we had with the finicky COMAND infotainment system and less-than-chic cabin layout.
Simply, the ML320 BlueTEC is just that: simple and unassuming. But at the same time, it's satisfyingly efficient, well-appointed, and, of course, always recognizable as a Mercedes-Benz. Sporty? Check. Luxurious? Check. Capable of actually being used in a towing/hauling/carrying situation? Check. The powertrain is always ready to unleash its smile-inducing torque, while the 3.0L six should prove plenty sturdy thanks to the vast experience its diligent engineers have amassed since pre-WWII. And now, much like those tasty brats and beer, emissions output and fuel efficiency can finally go together as well.