Here in North America, diesel engines are typically seen as an “alternative technology,” a more fuel-efficient powertrain choice often compared to hybrid or perhaps even plug-in hybrid technologies as different green paths to fuel savings, time savings (by limiting fuel stops), and planet savings, with the reduced greenhouse gas emissions that come with increased fuel efficiency. As such, diesels most often come with a price premium over standard or ‘base’ gas engines, typically costing anywhere from $1,500 to $7,000 over their closest gas alternative.
But Mercedes-Benz has a unique strategy, at least amongst its SUVs. In Canada, its BlueTec diesels are the base engine in its three most traditional SUVs: the squarish GLK, the mid-size ML, and the full-size GL seven-seater tested here. So the GL 350 BlueTec starts at $1,100 less than the $79,500 GL 450 that offers a slightly thirstier but much more powerful gasoline V6. In these luxury segments that means that Mercedes-Benz’s diesels are just barely priced lower than base gas engines, a strategy that saw 79.3 percent of Mercedes-Benz’s light truck sales in 2014 consist of Bluetec diesel models.
Clearly, there is a lot of buyer appeal for Mercedes-Benz’s BlueTec diesel models. Their numerous advantages were on full display for a recent 1,100-kilometre road trip in this particular GL 350, where it became the big protective mama bear to our entire six-person brood, its comforting bulk well-stuffed with suitcases and gear.
The main advantage to the GL 350 BlueTec over any other GL, or indeed almost any other full-size three-row SUV, is its fuel economy. One might think that a full-size luxury SUV buyer would not be very interested in saving money on fuel, but that efficiency also provides it the luxury and convenience of a real 1,000 km range between fill-ups – perhaps a figure better measured in extra fuel stops avoided in the freezing winter.
All of those appealed to a fellow enthusiast neighbour last year, who had a baby and a desire for a larger family vehicle than his five-seat Range Rover Autobiography. He pored over the spec and price lists of both diesel and gasoline GL models, enamoured of the safety technology of what would become his wife’s car, but also relishing the much lower fuel costs of the diesel 3.0L V6 compared to the Range Rover’s supercharged 5.0L V8.
Well-off folks don’t become that way by squandering away their money.