The decision by Mercedes-Benz to offer the diesel-powered S350 4MATIC BlueTEC for sale in America indicates not only the necessity of the company meeting future government fuel regulations, but also the occurrence of a sea change in customer preferences. Mercedes was once known for its efficient and nearly indestructible diesel models, but the company stopped offering oil burners as buyer interests shifted away from the somewhat unpolished but fuel sipping motors towards powerful gasoline engines in the 1990s. To offer a diesel in the brand's flagship sedan indicates both how far diesel mills have come in terms of refinement and the extent gas prices are influencing consumer spending.
That's not to say that S350 is a one-dimensional fuel miser. Though it is rated at 31 miles per gallon on the highway, an achievement for a two and a half ton vehicle, its 3.0-liter diesel V6 also provides the brawn and seamless operation one would expect from a vehicle wearing the three-pointed star. While power, at 240 horsepower, is modest, with 455 lb-ft of torque on tap at just 1600 revs per minute the car executes passing maneuvers effortlessly. 60 miles per hour arrives from rest in a respectable seven seconds. No diesel clatter is noticeable either from idle or at speed (interior noise levels are actually slightly lower than other S-Class models), and the engine could easily pass for a large-displacement, normally aspirated gasoline mill.
Like most other S-Classes, power is transmitted through a smooth-shifting seven-speed transmission, though the S350 puts that power to the pavement through a standard 4MATIC all-wheel drive system.
Aside from discreet trunk-lid badging, the rest of the car deviates little from the traditional S-Class formula of coddling luxury, cutting-edge technology and total refinement that has made the car the ride of choice for everyone from celebrities to heads of state.
The spacious cockpit, lined with hand-stitched leather and trimmed with Eucalyptus wood, is a comfortable place for up to five people to spend time. The trunk, with 16.2 cubic inches of space, is suitably commodious. Standard features include a COMAND-based navigation system with eight-inch LCD screen, 16-way power front seats with heating and ventilation, Bluetooth integration, a sunroof, dual zone climate control and a in-dash six-disc CD changer.
Options abound for the S350 if customers desire further luxury.
The Premium Two Package (the Premium One Package is fitted as standard) includes Drive-Dynamic multi-contour front seats with massage, a rear view camera, PARKTRONIC with Parking Guidance and a KEYLESS-GO system that allows the driver to unlock and start the car without removing it from his or her pocket.
Rear occupants can enjoy total comfort with the Rear Seat Package, which features four-zone climate control, heated and active ventilated rear seats with eight-way power adjustability.
A Rear Seat Entertainment system integrates two eight-inch LCD monitors into the front headrests, allowing rear-seat occupants to watch DVDs or enjoy video games. Audio can be played through the vehicles aloud on the sound system or discreetly through the wireless headsets included with the system.
Two sport packages are available, each offering a tasteful body kit, while 19- or 20-inch AMG wheels differentiate the packages.
Those seeking carefree-driving and total safety might consider the Distronic Plus with PRE-Safe Package. Distronic PLUS is a radar-based cruise control system that monitors the vehicle ahead and adjusts the S350's speed to help maintain a chosen following distance, reducing the need to constantly fiddle with the cruise control. It can even bring the car to full halt and then accelerate back to the selected speed in the event of traffic. The Pre-Safe Brake system senses impending collisions and automatically engages up to 40 percent of braking power and primes the brakes to deliver full power the moment the driver touches them.
Stand-alone options include a panoramic sunroof, a 750-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system and a Night View Assist night vision system.
The S350 is also available with an innovative Splitview dual-content viewscreen, which allows the driver and front passenger to view two different programs on the same screen at the same time. For example, the driver can be viewing the navigation system, while on the very same display screen, the passenger (looking from a different angle) can watch a movie.
Mercedes-Benz has long been known for its safety features, and the S350 looks to continue that tradition. In addition to ABS and ESP stability control, the vehicle boasts nine supplemental restraints including two-stage front air bags, a knee air bag for the driver and pelvic air bags which work together with curtain and side air bags to provide extra protection for front occupants in dangerous side-impact collisions.
Also standard is an "ATTENTION ASSIST" system that can alert the driver to the first signs of drowsiness, a factor that causes more than 100,000 accidents a year in the U.S. A steering sensor is coupled to smart software that uses 70 parameters to establish a unique driver profile during the first 20 minutes of driving. Between 50 and 112 mph, the system identifies the erratic steering corrections drivers make as they begin to get drowsy and triggers an audible warning and a "Time for a Rest?" message with a coffee cup icon in the instrument cluster.
Large luxury sedans and hybrid technology are a new match, but the S400 still has a few competitors, including the arch-rival BMW 7-Series ActiveHybrid, as well as the smaller Infiniti M Hybrid if size isn't as important as being green.
The Mercedes-Benz S350 4Matic BlueTEC enjoys a space all to itself in the U.S. in regards to diesel powertrains in large luxury sedans, but it does likely find some competition in eco-minded offerings of similar size and stature, such as the BMW 7-Series ActiveHybrid, or the smaller Infiniti M Hybrid.