If you thought American drivers weren’t big on diesel, just look at Japan where the fuel has long been perceived as being dirty and offering sluggish performance. Until yesterday, when Mercedes-Benz began selling its E 320 CDI Avantgarde diesel in Japan, the only other diesel passenger vehicle on the market was Toyota’s Landcrusier Prado SUV which sold 1,800 units last year or just 0.4% of total industry sales. In Europe, 49.5% of passenger car sales are diesel. Still, Mercedes’ new offering is a timely boost for diesels in Japan. For one thing, with a top speed of 155mph and 0-60 in 6.6 seconds, the turbo-charged engine dispels the myth of sluggish performance. For another, the quality of diesel on offer in Japan has improved remarkably in the last five years and is now the cleanest in the world in terms of sulfur quantity, which has been reduced 50-fold to 10ppm since the beginning of the decade, according to the Japanese Petroleum Association. Whether that’ll be enough to get more people demanding diesels—and domestic automakers offering more diesel models—remains to be seen. But at $72,000 for (or $75,000 for the stationwagon) the Mercedes offering, welcome as it is, isn’t one for the masses.
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