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Every time a luxury green vehicle hits the market, it should remind us that going green does not need to leave us exiled to those Priuses, Insights, and Civics.
Such vehicles contribute to a lingering perception - and fear - among consumers that a green vehicle equals tofu, granola, and sunflower seeds. It doesn't help that some chauffeured transportation companies offer the Prius as a serious livery vehicle.
Well, move aside, Prius, you preening little egglet impostor of a chauffeured car. The Mercedes R320 is ready to sideswipe you off the autobahn of luxury.
I got a chance to feast on the Mercedes R320 last fall, as Mercedes rolled out a livery version for 2009. And it's definitely not roadway trail mix; driving the R320 is more like dining at a Ruth's Chris than some snotty little vegan joint next to a boutique. The R320 not only sunders the earthy stereotype of green vehicles, but it helps pull the reputation of diesel vehicles out of the truck stop as well.
The R320 qualifies as a cross-over SUV - the 21st century term for a station wagon all cross-dressed as a sport utility vehicle. Driving it reaffirms what Germans do so well with vehicles: Provide graceful, understated, sophisticated elegance backed by solid structures and refined precision. The R320 just feels safe and solid, with firm, black leather seats that relax. We may never find such solid simplicity in our baleful, bailout economy, but the R320 can provide it daily.
What makes the R320 so green is its combination of clean diesel engineering and even cleaner BlueTEC emissions technology. Mercedes has refined its emissions technology since releasing the first generation of BlueTEC in 2006. It now provides an additive-based second generation version just in time for some of its 2009 models. That should assuage some of the global warming hysteria that persists despite sub-zero winters.
But greenest of all on the Mercedes R320 is the double-retractable dual sunroofs that open over both the front and rear seats. You can simply pull back the interior roof panels, leaving a glassed-in view of the trees above. Nothing completes the green experience of clean diesel and low emissions more than a roofline view of passing flora and blue sky. For chauffeured clients, the balance of headroom, legroom, and lumbar support makes it easy to lean back and contemplate greener lifestyles.
As can be the case with German automotive engineering, the automakers often master the macro-areas of their vehicles, but then get a bit too micro in their meticulous attention to detail. The R320 has three irritating tics: