By Zack Klapman.
You’ve decided to buy an SUV, a nice one with 14-way adjustable seats, and a badge that announces a pedigree equal to your dogs. And, miraculously, you want a diesel. You must be very smart. Or you met someone like me who regaled you with tales of fuel efficiency without sacrificing the ability to move forward at over 6MPH. How turbo-diesels have the same “oomf” as V8s, without the threat of Greenpeace activists trying to board you.
Diesel engines suit SUVs (and luxury sedans) perfectly; They’re torquey and smooth. They’re not the coal-mine-on-wheels of yesteryear; the modern diesel engine is quiet and clean. These two cars make 240HP, over 400ft-lbs of torque (406 for the Porsche, 455 for the Mercedes), and they exhale cleaner air than I’m currently breathing in (Ah, Los Angeles).
If you want a comfortable, expensive, diesel you look to Germany (or at Jeep, but mostly Germany). Specifically, the 2014 Porsche Cayenne Diesel and the 2014 Mercedes ML 350 BlueTec. Both companies have a long resume of making smart and comfortable cars, and these won’t besmirch those records. They are both very refined, likable cars.
In fact, in many ways, they are the same. They both make about the same power, and accelerate at nearly the same rate (the 2014 Mercedes-Benz ML 350 is faster to 60MPH by .2s, a number sure to cause a war). The Mercedes gets 28MPG highway; Porsche gets 29. Mercedes has 7 speeds; Porsche: 8. They weigh about 5,000lbs, hold the same amount of people and stuff, and would wear the same sized suit. Their starting price is only different by $4,000, practically negligible in this market. The Mercedes was very nice to drive. It gets off the line, the cabin is quiet, and it looks and feels the part of entry-level-royalty.
Now, look back up at the word “starting”, because it’s about to be very important. You see, the Mercedes starts at $52,000, but the one I drove had $12,000 in options. It’s a lot, but they were nice things to have: Sat NAV, heated seats, a backup camera, dimming mirrors, and a leather interior. In my opinion, essentials to the luxury car experience. The 350 come standard with lots of great stuff, but no one wants a base model anything.
But with its options the 350 BlueTec delivered exactly what I expected. I never found myself wanting more from it…until I got in the Porsche. Holy systems, gizmos, and opulence, Batman. Height-adjustable suspension. A Burmeister sound system that pissed off all of Palm Springs (you know, because it was too loud for 6pm). Cooled seats. Sport systems this, panorama that, what a car! It feels good in the hands, it corners a bit flatter than the Merc, and wow does the cabin look more modern- I’m sorry, how much did all this cost?
It didn’t have a pool of dolphins jumping in the back. It doesn’t raise your children. It’s the better car, and it had better be. I had to know why, so I went to the Porsche options list, which is the same length as Stanford University’s course book. The air suspension and sound system alone cost 9 grand, but even ignoring those, Porsche stuff is just more expensive. 14-way seats are $2,000; they’re free in the Mercedes. Leather costs twice in the Porsche. The Comfort Package, responsible for the cooled seats, NAV, and a backup camera (among other things) is 10 grand, more than double the Merc’s similar package. Perhaps the Porsche factory is on the moon? And when you add that Comfort Package, Porsche makes you add a sunroof…for $1,200. You get that free in the ML.
These cars are both very, very good ways to get around. The Porsche’s height-adjustable lets you tailor the car for the conditions, like sand, or helping the door clear a tall curb (true story). All-around it looks and feels more modern, capable, and expensive. And that’s because it was. I liked it, a lot. But I don’t know if I need it. Delete the stereo and air shocks and you’re still at $76,000, a hard amount to swallow when the ML did everything I wanted an SUV of this caliber to do.
Porsche builds exceptional cars, no doubt, and there is a tangible feeling of soundness, solidity, and maybe even superiority when you drive them. I understand the draw in their sports cars, including the Panamera. But do you need that in an SUV used for commuting? I’m not so sure.