S350 BlueTEC: Advanced, Refined Car that Offers Lots of Power

Njuguna Kabugi | 3/13/2013, 2:45 p.m.

Pray pity on us journalists. On one hand, we are highly sought out conduits who ferry important information between our readers and the powerful politicians, diplomats and captains of industry who make our nation's capital the most influential city in the world.

On the other hand, we are keenly aware that a gap wider than the Pacific separates us from these folks. While we ride Metrobus, VRE and MARC back to our little corners at the end of the work day, the high and mighty are chauffeured to their mansions in the best - like the Mercedes-BenzS350 4MATIC BlueTEC we tested this week.

The S-Class is Mercedes' largest and most comfortable sedan. By no coincidence, it is also the most expensive as the flagship model of the world's best-selling luxury sedan. It is equipped with so many luxury features and cutting-edge technologies to make it the de facto ride of choice for everyone from celebrities to heads of state.

But at a sticker price of $105,000, I can only dream what else that amount could buy: three very well-equipped midsize sedans, a very nice townhouse in Alabama or four years of college (tuition plus room and board) at a decent state university.

To confound my glee at navigating what is essentially a rolling, four-door announcement that alerts everyone you appreciate the very best in automobiles and that you have money to spend, was the reaction I received from strangers. Many gawked; others expressed approval with a question or two about the car.

The most memorable was at an embassy in D.C., where I'd dropped off my passport to obtain a visa for travel outside of the country. Just a few days earlier, a security officer had politely advised me that I needed to park my Honda further down the street because the lot next to the visa office was only for diplomats. When I showed up in the Mercedes-BenzS350, the same gentleman offered to valet park it for me at their VIP parking lot.

The Mercedes-BenzS350 is equipped with massaging front seats, each of which comes with multiple massage styles and settings. The headrest video monitors, the electrically reclining rear seats, and radar cruise control, quickly put you on notice that this is not your typical wannabe lux mobile.

The spacious cockpit, lined with hand-stitched leather and trimmed with Eucalyptus wood, is comfortable and inviting. Unlike many lesser luxury cars, everything here works exceedingly well and does exactly what they're designed to do.

But this car's interior appointments aren't the main draw, nice as they are. The big attraction is that the S350 is a wonderful diesel, with everything else that entails. This makes the car an anomaly in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class pantheon. In a segment where V-8s are the norm and 12-cylinders are revered, this car defies common wisdom by providing the world's most advanced clean diesel technology. Mercedes-Benz, pioneer of the original diesel car, has reinvented an engine which will make the inner environmentalist in us cherish getting better highway mpg than some 4-cylinders and hybrids, but also cruising more than 675 miles on a single tank.

Though the S350 BlueTEC is rated at 31 miles per gallon on the highway and the 3.0-liter turbo diesel V-6 engine delivers only 240 hp, it nevertheless produces a massive 455 lb-ft of torque, and acceleration on par with many gasoline V-8s. This is quite an accomplishment for a two and a half ton vehicle.

In busy city driving, the seven-speed automatic moves the car away from stoplight to stoplight with a refined surge. On the highway, you get lots of power, stability and long-distance comfort. On a trip South to Richmond, Va., I effortlessly hit over 90 mph. I could hear a little road noise and the diesel clatter was only slightly audible. My passengers fell asleep right after Fredericksburg, and could you blame them? The comfortable leather envelopes you, and with just a slight wind whoosh to remind you that you're