Friday, March 30, 2007

Miles per Gallon

I was perplexed by an article that I read, today, in "Car and Driver". The article was about the Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec. This new Benz, with its 208hp, turbo DOHC diesel 3.0l V6, is featured as a more fuel efficient choice than the standard gas-powered E320. By the way, this V6, with its unusual 72 degree bank angle, put out a whopping 400 lb-ft of torque at only 1600 rpms. This new Benz will also require the new "ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel" that will soon be coming to a pump near you. The article goes on to say that the diesel’s fuel economy rated better than its gas-powered counterpart by 7mpg in urban driving and 11mpg on the highway.

Further, one intrepid tester explained that he was able to achieve 31mpg on his daily commute with the new diesel Benz and that he had never been able to achieve that sort of mileage in a hybrid. (One wonders what sort of hybrid he is talking about.) Now that’s great, but, before you plunk down your hard-earned Marks you should consider that this two-ton fat boy still eats diesel at an overall rate of 30mpg. My 94 Saturn may not be able to turn a 15.1 second quarter mile but if I am steady with the throttle I can eek out close to 40 mpg during my daily commute, and, it’s gas powered. I will admit that, as a Civil Servant, I am never in much of a hurry, however, with fuel prices in Vermont hovering around $2.70/gallon for regular, I personally can deal with a slower, lighter and less fuel-hungry vehicle.

What perplexes me the most is why car magazines give out kudos for such low fuel economy performance. Eighteen years ago the 3800 pound Mercedes-Benz 350 was achieving 22mpg in town and 25mpg highway. The 350 was rated for 134hp and 229 lb-ft of torque. Is it really possible that we have only gained a handful of miles-per-gallon in the last 18 years? True, the new E320, with nearly twice its ancestor’s torque and power, is seconds quicker in the quarter-mile. True, the new Bluetec engine promises to burn cleaner than any diesel burning engine has in the past, but, it still gobbles fuel at a wallet thrashing rate. Why even discuss fuel-economy on a $60k auto when we all know that the person who can afford one of these cares little about the price at the pump. The consumer, rich or not, who really cared about reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions would stuff their materialistic pride in the closet and buy the most fuel-efficient vehicle available, period.

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