Special Report

Ward’s 10 Best Engines

Judges’ Remarks

Hybrid-electric vehicles are the poster children for environmental stewardship, but in reality, there are much better choices out there.

Take the Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec – a car with an engine that allows you to have your cake and eat it, too.

Yes, HEVs get decent fuel economy, but real-world numbers generally have failed to match those advertised. And let’s face it, HEVs aren’t all that much fun to drive.

The remarkable 3.0L V-6 turbodiesel in the E320 produces a staggering 400 lb.-ft. (542 Nm) of torque with silky smooth delivery.

Admittedly the Bluetec’s 210 hp won’t impress many, but output numbers can be deceiving. When the rubber grabs the pavement, the gobs of torque clearly show this engine is no softy.

Diesel chatter is nearly imperceptible. And during mixed city and highway driving, we averaged more than 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km), which is way better than the mileage achieved in the Lexus GS 450h hybrid luxury sedan. A tender-footed test drive of that vehicle yielded a mere 24.4 mpg (9.6 L/100 km).

Mercedes-Benz says the engine provides the “powerful torque of a large V-8 engine with the low fuel consumption of a 4-cyl. compact.” That may sound like a trite sales pitch, but in this rare case it’s the truth.

Perhaps the greatest attribute of the Bluetec engine is its price – only $1,000 over the equivalent gasoline-engine E350. Compared with HEVs, where the premium is often in the thousands of dollars, the price vs. performance equation is overwhelmingly in favor of the Bluetec.

Its greatest contribution to the automotive world may be its potential to sway attitudes of U.S. drivers about diesel. No longer are they smelly, smoky and obnoxiously loud. Thanks to some thoroughly impressive technical breakthroughs, diesels such as the Bluetec are odorless, clean and quiet.

The Bluetec returns to the 10 Best Engines list after winning over last year’s judges.

Next year, we expect to evaluate several new light-duty diesel applications slated for the U.S. For the first time ever, the 10 Best Engines list in 2009 could have more than one diesel on it.

Even so, I’ll be rooting for the Bluetec.

bpope@wardsauto.com

Ward’s 10 Best Engines is copyright Penton Media Inc. Commercial references to the program and/or awards are prohibited without prior permission of Ward’s Automotive Group.