SEMA Show 2012: Mazda CX-5 SkyActiv Diesel

Mazda shows off a number of CX-5 sport utility vehicles this week at the Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s Association (SEMA) Show. One caught our attention however, the CX-5 Dempsey Sleek, sporty and stylishly dressed to take care of business, the CX-5 Dempsey features a high-contrast custom paint scheme of glossy grays and matte blacks with bright red [...]
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2012 BMW X5 xDrive35d First Drive and Review: The Road to Charleston, South Carolina

Picking up a new car at the factory has always been an adventure some car enthusiasts elect to take. Many U.S. buyers travel to Europe to pick up their BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes, Volvos, Audis and Porsches at the factory, but the long wait before their car is re-delivered to them in the U.S. can be a disadvantage.  Programs to collect your new car at a factory in the U.S. are less common but do exist.

Frequent Business Traveler’s sister publication, The Diesel Driver traveled to the BMW Performance Center in Greer, South Carolina to take delivery of its newest long-term test vehicle, the 2012 BMW X5 xDrive35d, at the factory.  The X5 is produced across the street from the German carmaker’s U.S. delivery center and driving school in Spartanburg, South Carolina, along with X3 and X6 models, and ours was ready for delivery in the third week of June.

We broke the X5 in by taking it down I-26 to the city of Charleston, South Carolina.  The second largest city in South Carolina behind the capital Columbia, Charles Towne was founded by the British in the late seventeenth century, when it was the fifth largest city in North America.

Our BMW X5 xDrive35d was delivered to us in a glass-enclosed delivery bay by Jonathan Stribble, a delivery and product specialist at the BMW Performance Center.  There we were briefed on our car’s features, including as the Lane Departure Warning and the head-up display, and after a few hours on the track and off-road course, we were on our way to Charleston.

A few minutes later, and we turned right onto highway 221 which lead us to the Interstate 26 East.

Traffic on I-26 was light, and we enjoyed a relaxed and easy drive towards Charleston. I set the cruise control to the speed limit of 70 mph and let the car do most of the driving for me. Overtaking slower cars was no problem for the six-cylinder diesel, thanks to its 425 pound-feet of torque. The car’s optional head-up display kept all important driving information, like the current speed and the navigation details, in front of me, so there was no need to take my eyes off the road. The driver-oriented cockpit, which is a signature design feature of all BMWs, was well organized and every button was where it had to be. Also the engine noise of the diesel power plant was barely noticeable inside the cockpit.

The X5’s handling and performance excelled on I-26.  The handling was sporty yet comfortable at the same time, and highly uncharacteristic of a nearly six-thousand pound S.U.V. (although BMW has been quite stubborn with its Sport Activity Vehicle designation over the last decade).

As we passed Nikki Haley’s home in Columbia, SC, and continuing southeast towards I-95 and Charleston, we experienced more traffic. Thanks to the Lane Departure Warning, which is part of our vehicle’s Technology Package, the steering wheel would vibrate should I stay from the lane, making the car even easier to drive over a long distance.

We arrived in Charleston in the early evening, with the western hemisphere’s second-longest suspension bridge off in the distance and Lowcountry islands continuting beyond it.  On our first drive, the BMW X5 xDrive35d returned very promising fuel economy, 26 mpg (9.1 l/100 km), which is exactly the figure the EPA estimates for the vehicle in highway driving.. The three and a half hour drive covered a distance of 348 km (216 miles), and we averaged 55 mph (89 km/h). Since a diesel’s fuel usage typically improves after the break-in period, we expect even better results in the future.

Click here to continue to Page 2Virtual Drives – The Road to Charleston

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A Slice of the Lancia Stratos

"It looks like a wedge of cheese" was certainly not the first impression I thought the Lancia Stratos HF would make on my sister. An architecture student going on 20 years old, she wasn't exactly articulate in her evaluation of automotive design. The photo held showed a bright yellow version of the car, which I'm sure didn't help sway her young mind toward the sophisticated vehicle.

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Biodiesel Report: What B20 Means to You and Your Warranty

Five years ago, biodiesel was a form of fuel that the diesel enthusiast would convert his or her vehicle to use.  Since then, it has been forced into the mainstream through various government mandates and subsidies, in the form of blended fuels that are often the only option for drivers of diesel vehicles. Although biodiesel has the potential to reduce both dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels, its premature introduction into everyone’s fuel tanks, and especially the inconsistency of the biodiesel and the amount of it being mixed in are starting to cause problems.

Ethanol is perhaps the most well-known biofuel and has been added to almost all gasoline in the U.S. for some time now. . Biodiesel is fuel that is created from natural oils, fats, and greases and, unlike ethanol (which is far different and less efficient than gasoline), is a closer match to the diesel we’re used to. In theory, diesel engines require little modification to burn it. However, modern diesel engines are being challenged by an ever-increasing amount of biodiesel content and both carmakers and diesel passenger car owners are nervous about the future.

Currently, several states in the U.S. have begun to support mandates that call for the use of biofuels, even though the renewable fuel’s varying and largely unreliable quality means trouble when it is used in passenger cars’ diesel engines, since they are finely tuned to meet higher emissions standards than diesel powered trucks and farm vehicles do.

This problem has been particularly acute in Illinois, where any diesel fuel with more than 10% biodiesel content is exempt from state tax.  As a result, almost all filling stations sell diesel with higher biodiesel content, generally B20 (20% biodiesel content).

Last month, acting under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) increased the mandate for oil refiners to create biodiesel by 28%.  The mandate for 2012 was 1 billion gallons; this puts the 2013 requirement at 1.28 billion gallons.

The EPA’s move “is another step that strengthens America’s energy security by reducing dependence on foreign oil,” said EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

The United States’ Renewable Fuel Strategy policy, however, has also been the subject of a certain amount of controversy.  In August, the United Nations called on the U.S. to halt the policy as a measure to avert a global food crisis.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that the impact of the drought currently impacting much of the country, in conjunction with the RFS’ earmark for 40% of corn product to be used for fuel production will contribute to a global food crisis, the 26% increase in corn prices from June to July notwithstanding.


Modern diesel passenger cars currently being offered in the U.S. were designed to use B5, or 5% biodiesel content; as a consequence, using blends with as much as 20% biodiesel have caused problems ranging from check engine warnings to reduced fuel economy and outright engine failure. In addition, the manufacturers’ warranties on these cars support the use of only up to B5, which was the biodiesel standard when the cars were engineered to meet U.S. and especially California Emissions standards. The move towards higher biodiesel content fuel has the unfortunate side effect of, putting the consumer on the hook for the cost of repairs which can be rather expensive.

All manufacturers of passenger cars available with diesel engines in the U.S. support the same B5 standard, while heavy trucks and other diesel machinery generally support a B20, and some even endorse 100% biodiesel content. Despite the move to B20 in some areas, the manufacturers are largely holding their ground.

The five manufacturers that offer passenger car diesels in the U.S., Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Volkswagen continue to maintain that B5 is their recommended blend.  Given the move towards greater biodiesel content, all of the manufacturers are not only concerned but currently studying the long-term effects of the newer blends on their engines. A statement in a Mercedes-Benz Biodiesel Information publication makes the automaker’s position crystal clear: “Diesel fuels containing a higher percentage of biodiesel, (e.g. B6 to B20) according to ASTM D7467 as well as straight biodiesel (B100/100%) ASTM D6751 may cause severe damage to your engine/fuel system and are not approved.”  In case there are any lingering doubts, one need only read the last page: “Any damages caused by the use of such non-approved fuels will not be covered by the Mercedes-Benz Limited Warranty.”

Click here to continue to Page 2Biodiesel Quality Standards, the State of Illinois, What Can Go Wrong

Jeep Wrangler Diesel by Kahn

In another case of cruel and unusual punishment, treason if you wish, Jeep builds a diesel powered Wrangler…..for all markets outside the United States. Adding insult to injury this week is the announcement of a very special version of the Jeep Wrangler custom designed by Afzal Kahn. The designer says “the road is his catwalk” His [...]

2013 Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec – Review and Road Test

Mercedes introduced the GL-Class (GL is short for light Geländewagen, German for off-roader) in 2007, larger and wider than the M-Class and with true seating for seven, and tamer than the military-spec G-Class, first as the V8 powered GL450, then later adding a higher-performance V8 and the time-tested 3.0-liter V6 turbo diesel. In the last five years, the GL has gained a few new competitors including the Audi Q7 and the Infiniti QX56, in addition to the large, American truck-based SUVs that created the segment decades ago.  Mercedes hopes that the increases in power, features and size will keep the GL at the top of its class, and then some.

The second-generation, X166 GL-Class was introduced earlier this year at the New York International Auto Show, and was launched in September with a choice of two gasoline V8s. The GL350 BlueTec, just making its way to dealerships now, comes with the upgraded, 240-horsepower V6 turbo diesel that is already in the ML350 BlueTec SUV and the S350 BlueTec sedan.  The absurdly powerful GL63 AMG will follow in 2013. I managed to get my hands on a Diamond White GL350 BlueTec a little bit early, and have some things to say about it.


The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec is larger and wider than its predecessor, but it actually looked downright small next to the Cadillac Escalade that I had had the week before, which was, in fact quite a bit smaller than the Mercedes., The perceived difference in size is likely due to a combination of the adjustable AIRMATIC air suspension, the concept of aerodynamic design, and the low, EU pedestrian safety regulation compliant hood with the massive three-pointed star in the middle. Moving down the side, the 19” wheels looked like rollerblade wheels next to the absurd 22 inchers on the Cadillac, and in the back, you see an attractive rear fascia with taillights that I thought looked more like a BMW than recent Benzes, thanks to the tube-LED illumination and modified L-shape.

When I first got into the GL350, I was taken aback at how sporty it felt. The interior is spacious but intimate and not cavernous. Black alcantara gives way to a panorama moonroof that stretches all three rows of seats, and that is hidden under a semi-translucent sunshade at the touch of a button.  The driving position is authoritative but not like being on a lifeguard tower. After strapping myself into the Designo Auburn Brown leather seat and pressing the start button, the seatbelt gave me a squeeze, and I was off, sort of. I stopped in the parking lot to program the navi, which proved to be frustrating, and then paired my iPhone 5 to the car’s Bluetooth system, not only to use the telephone, but also for music, since the adaptor that would enable my iPhone 5’s proprietary Lightning adaptor to work with Mercedes’ proprietary Media Interface had not yet been released, and as I later learned already has a significant back order.

Finally, I got onto I-285 in Atlanta, and decided I needed to stop at the closest Mercedes dealer, to see what the symbol on the dashboard display showing my car tailgating an E-Class with an exclamation point meant; I figured that I had already broken the car as it shocked me on the onramp by making me smile like my 3 Series does. The navigation controls were mostly disabled while I was in motion, and so I asked Siri, who told me that there were 12 Mercedes dealerships near me, and that the closest one was Citgo, and it’s a half mile away. That notwithstanding, I pulled into RBM Mercedes of Atlanta 30 minutes later, where I got a quick go-around of the car, which was as new to them as it was to me. Cool.

The GL350 BlueTec is a formidable vehicle. Not only could it hold quite a bit more stuff than the smaller sports cars I prefer, but it made me smile as they do, while the seat at the same time was both massaging and cooling me as I headed further northeast towards Greenville, South Carolina. Since one of my biggest crises of the week was how it would look pulling up in a $99,840 car to buy a lottery ticket (with which to buy the same car, perhaps in Steel Gray with the AMG styling package), and I needed to whine about the seat massage being difficult to turn on, the “good, bad and ugly” system might not be the best to describe this car. The GL was very good, and Mercedes deserves a lot of credit for what it has accomplished with it, but there are still a few things that need to be ironed out, especially since it may be seeing more competition in the near future.

Click here to continue to Page 2Safety and Comfort, Infotainment and Tech, Driving the GL350 BlueTec 

2011 Mercedes-Benz E350 BlueTec Diesel 12-Month Review and Report

It’s uncanny how our long-term cars seem to hit 10,000 km (6214 miles) at the one-year anniversary mark.  Indeed, such was the case with our 2011 Palladium Silver Mercedes-Benz E350 BlueTec sedan.

Over the past year, since taking delivery at the Mercedes-Benz Kundencenter in Sindelfingen, Germany (Sindelfingen is a town near Stuttgart and the site of the automaker’s assembly plant), the E350 has visited a number of cities in Europe and the United States including Maastricht (Netherlands), Cologne (Germany), Arnheim (Netherlands), Bremen (Germany), New York City, Kennebunkport (Maine), Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), and Washington, D.C., among others.

Our relationship with the E350 Bluetec got off to a good start. On the initial drive from Sindelfingen to Maastricht, fuel economy was a promising: 7.4 l/10 km (31.78 mpg) – and it was to get even better.  On its initial trip in the United States, a 474 km (295 mile) drive from New York City to Kennebunkport, Maine, the car used only 6.2 l/100 km (38 mpg).  That trip was part of a 10-state (plus the District of Columbia), 2508 km (1559 mile) drive.  In 35 hours of actual driving over a two-week period, the E350 BlueTec used 6.7 l/100 km (35.1 mpg).

This put the Benz in the same fuel-economy league as our BMW 335d, yet the E350 is a far bigger car.  Where it’s not in the same league is in acceleration.  While the Benz is no slouch, rated at 6.6 seconds for a 0-60 mph run, the BMW 335d can get there in 6.0 seconds and the difference is noticeable.  The E350’s engine develops 400 pound-feet of torque compared to the BMW’s 425, and its curb weight is 4,059 pounds (1,841 kg) versus the Bimmer’s 3,781 pounds (1,715 kg).


The diesel passenger car market in the United States continues to remain the sole domain of German car makers, although that will change in 2013. Indeed, with the recent entry of Porsche, all five German automakers (Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volkswagen) offer at least one diesel.

Mercedes offers the most variety as a luxury car maker, making a diesel engine available in the GLK, GL, ML, S-Class, and of course E-Class.  Only Volkswagen, the volume leader for diesels in the U.S., offers more oilburners.

Indeed, last year Mercedes celebrated its 125th anniversary. The automaker is not only credited with inventing the diesel-powered passenger car in the 1930s but also with having invented the automobile as we more or less know it in 1886.  Many of its diesels from two or three decades ago are still on the roada today and the resale value of its diesels remains high.  This is reflected in the very high residual value of the car for leasing customers.

Click here to continue to Page 2One Year of Driving the E350, Cruising the Autobahn, and Virtual Drives

Fuel Prices Drop Nationwide, California Sees Spike

California became the most expensive state in the U.S. to fill your tank when the price of gasoline increased overnight by over 20 cents per gallon yesterday.  On average, Californians were paying $4.49 per gallon for regular gasoline but some stations were charging more than $5.

The increase followed an Exxon-Mobile oil refinery shutdown on Monday due to a power failure. The refinery has since resumed operations.  A Chevron refinery suffered a fire in August and that refinery has not yet been able to restore full production.

Nationwide, gasoline and diesel fuel prices fell last week, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  Currently, the average gallon of regular unleaded gasoline averages $3.804, down $0.022 in the past week, and diesel is at $4.079, down $0.007.

The Gulf Coast region currently has the lowest price for gasoline, at $3.555 per gallon, while the lower Atlantic states and the Gulf Coast region are almost tied for the lowest price for diesel at $3.995 and $3.999 respectively.

(Photo: Jonathan Spira)


Volkswagen Reveals New Beetle Convertible Diesel.

In advance of the upcoming Los Angeles Auto Show,Volkswagen released photos of a convertible version of the new Beetle (not to be confused with the New Beetle, introduced in 1998, which this model replaces). In addition to the cloth roof, which can be raised and lowered on demand, the Mexican-built convertible will also be available for the first time with the company’s 140-horsepower 2.0-liter TDI four-cylinder turbo diesel motor.

The 2013 Beetle Convertible is longer and slightly less round than the outgoing model, although this becomes unnoticeable once the ten-second process of lowering the convertible top is completed. Volkswagen says that with the cloth roof, reinforced A-pillar and automatic roll over support system, the newer Beetle convertible provides space and safety for four adults and their cargo, just like the coupe.

EPA fuel economy estimates for the Beetle Convertible TDI are 28 mpg (8.4 l/100 km) in the city and 41 (5.7) on the highway, with a combined rating of 32 mpg (7.35 l/100 km), making it the most fuel-efficient four passenger convertible on the market, and any convertible other than the out-of-production electric Tesla roadster and the Smart Fortwo golf cart.

The Beetle Convertible goes on sale later on this year, the TDI included, with a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed DSG dual clutch transmissions. Pricing has not yet been announced.