Mercedes-Benz has been doing the big-vehicle, small-engine thing in the Old Country for years, selling V6-powered SL convertibles that wouldn't have a hope or prayer in the US market. And it isn't just its sporty offerings that are de-engined in Europe – its sedan engines are downsized across the pond as well. As part of the slowly growing range of diesels in the North American market, Mercedes has shipped one of its less potent sedans to the US, in the hopes that we Yanks can see what our friends in Europe have been enjoying for so long.
It's called the E250 Bluetec, and it takes advantage of the same 2.1-liter, turbo-diesel four-cylinder that we found so charming in the GLK250 Bluetec last year. The E250 also serves as a replacement for the lovable, V6-powered E350 Bluetec. We spent a week with the thriftiest E-Class to see if a small, four-cylinder was enough for a big Mercedes sedan in the US.
- That 2.1-liter turbodiesel might not sound like a lot of engine, but its performance fits in well with the E250's brief as a comfortable and luxurious sedan. There's 195 horsepower available at 3,800 rpm, while 369 pound-feet of torque can be had between 1,600 and 1,800 rpm. Rear-wheel drive comes standard, though our tester was fitted with Merc's 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.
- Despite weighing in at a hefty 4,400 pounds (rear-drive models are 200 pounds lighter), the readily available torque allows the E250 to deliver reasonable performance, although the heavy footed among us might be happier with the gas-powered E350 or the super-desirable E550. Mercedes claims the diesel-powered E-Class will hit 60 in 8.2 seconds, but it didn't feel quite as slow as that number indicates.
- The EPA rating on the MB's window sticker claims it will return 27 miles per gallon in the city and 42 mpg on the highway, for a combined 32-mpg rating. Our experience was slightly above the combined average, at about 34 mpg in mixed driving.
- There's some turbo lag here, but it's only truly intrusive when digging into the throttle at very low speeds. The 2.1 is a quiet, unobtrusive mill, that doesn't subscribe to any of the clattery diesel noises when cold and remains stealthily quiet while accelerating at freeway speeds.
- A seven-speed automatic is the sole transmission for the E250, and it is a peach. Smooth, barely perceptible upshifts are matched up with quick downshifts. There is a sport mode for the transmission, as well as a set of paddles on the back of the E-Class' steering wheel, but that sort of fire-at-will cog-swapping kind of misses the point of a sedan that's powered by a small diesel engine. Still, it works just fine, and Sport does speed downshifts slightly, but we found it was just better to let the trans do its thing without interference.
- Our tester featured a Mercedes sport package, which adds a unique set of 17-inch alloy wheels (the standard size offered on the E250), while lowering the suspension and adding a few aesthetic tweaks. Still, the ride was comfortable, likely due to the relatively small wheels and higher sidewall of the tires. The E250 was smooth and comfortable over a variety of surfaces, only suffering from an overabundance of vertical motion, or porpoising, on undulating surfaces at higher speeds.
- Prices for the E250 4Matic start at $53,900, but can climb quickly from there. Our tester adds $720 for the Obsidian Black paint, $440 for split-folding rear seats, $350 for a rear spoiler (why isn't this just part of the Sport Package?), $3,870 for a Premium Pack that adds the COMAND infotainment system, a rear-view camera and heated seats, $1,290 for a Parking Assist pack (surround video camera, active park assist) and $2,800 for a Driver Assistance pack (adaptive cruise, blind spot monitoring, lane keeping and cross-traffic alert. Oddly, the Sport Pack is a no-cost option. Add on destination and delivery charges of $925, and our tester could be taken home for $64,295.
- The case for the E250 is hurt by its range of V6-powered, diesel-engined competitors. Both the BMW 535d and Audi A6 TDI are significantly more powerful for just a couple thousand dollars more than our tester's base price.
- The E250 is a compelling vehicle for a select group of buyers. Where the E350 and E550 are solidly in the sport sedan category, the E250 is not. It's quieter and smoother, making it a generally better car for those that aren't looking to get anywhere in a hurry. We like the fuel economy argument it provides, as well. All that said, its starting price and more powerful competitors hurt the appeal of the oil-burning Benz for just about anyone that doesn't place fuel economy as their number one priority.