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I’m Really Tempted to Buy a Used Mercedes S 350 Diesel

Recently, I was doing my nightly ritual of browsing cars for sale on Autotrader before going to bed. This ritual has resulted in plenty of impulse buys — like my most recent Tesla Model S — but now I find myself longing for the original luxury S: a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but with a dinosaur of an engine under the hood.

After over a decade of rolling coal and dealing with the various quirks of the 20 oil-burners I owned during that time, I thought I had finally outgrown my Mercedes diesel fixation. I felt the old diesels were too primitive and needy compared to modern cars, but with modern emissions restrictions on diesels, there wasn’t any benefit to owning a newer diesel. Unfortunately for my poor impulse control, I think I’ve found an exception with the S 350 BlueTec.

Only available for a few years, I see the 2012-2013 S 350 BlueTec as an apology. First, they were making up for the fact that a diesel had not been offered in the S-Class lineup for the U.S. market in almost 20 years, and I imagine they were hoping for some pent-up demand. Also, I think the S 350 was brought over so everyone would forget about the disastrous S 400 hybrid, which tended to stall randomly and has been reported to give a nightmare out-of-warranty experience.

I had always dismissed the S 350 because it was expensive, but depreciation has finally put these cars into the low-$20,000 range — and I can’t think of a much better car for the money. The car that particularly piques my interest is a well-equipped 2012 model offered by a dealer out of Texas for $21,986. While it does have higher mileage, the optional 19-inch wheels, panoramic sunroof and 4Matic all-wheel-drive system make up for it — as well as the black/black color combo. Of course, it has the normal S-Class niceties as well, like Distronic cruise control and 4-setting massaging seats.

So why buy a diesel over the standard gasoline V8 S 550? The only downside between the two is acceleration — but it’s not as dramatic a difference compared to the horribly slow diesels of the past. The S 550 grunts its way to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds, while the normally aspirated V6 diesel in the S 350 manages 6.9 seconds. I imagine the difference off the line isn’t much, as the diesel boasts an impressive 455 lb-ft of torque. Still, the reward for the sacrifice in acceleration is fuel economy, as according to EPA estimates, the S350 gets 31 miles per gallon on the highway. With its large fuel tank, the total range is over 700 miles — way farther than anyone’s bladder can last.

After my recent range-anxiety-addled trip in my 250-mile-max-range Tesla, having a big, comfortable sedan with enough range to cross half the continent on a few tanks sounds pretty good. For now, I’ve managed to resist the temptation to buy — but really, an empty bank account is making it much easier to do this. Unfortunately, I can’t buy them all…

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  1. “while the normally aspirated V6 diesel in the S 350 manages 6.9 seconds” … it’s not normally aspirated, it is indeed a turbodiesel. That said, here in 2022 a couple years after your article, I’m thinking about finding a low-mileage example of that exact vehicle. I still have the 2008 ML320 CDI that I ordered from the factory back in ’07, just upgraded the head unit to Apple CarPlay. But early on I chipped it for efficiency, this tune accentuates torque over HP. I figure it has about 230HP and 450 ft-lb’s now, up from the 215 and 398 stock numbers. Over 222,000 miles and it still gets in the high 20’s for MPG. At $5/gallon for diesel that’s helpful.

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