660 Miles, 5 Passengers and One Determined Driver
We drive a long way on our road trips. Typically the first day starts with 600 miles. Then, there may be side trips of 200 miles or so, and bucket lists to accomplish. For us, the destination is the goal: We try to limit our stops so we can maximize our time at the road’s end.
So the idea of a car that could get us from home to vacation without a single stop for gas is very intriguing. Add to that five passengers, five suitcases, a dog and few other assorted necessities, and we had to wonder, could we really get there on one tank? And could a car that would get that sort of mileage really accommodate all of us and our gear?
(And yes, the suggestion that five humans and a dog could ride for 660 miles without stopping is silly, especially given the round of vente Starbucks drinks that got us going early in our drive.)
But we like a good challenge: Connecticut to Charlotte on a single tank. Could we do it?
Challenge #1: Comfort for Five Passengers on a Long Drive
Mercedes Benz loaned us the GL350 BlueTEC for the trip. A seven passenger, three row SU
V, the car offered the seating and cargo space that our group needed to not be at each others throats or suffering an embolism from sitting cramped all day long. The car’s individual climate zones allow all passengers to set their own comfort levels, and leather seating made sitting for 12 hours not that much of a chore. With one of the third row seats folded flat, there was ample cargo space for all our luggage and no problem seeing out the back window (and plenty of space for extras in case we came across an irresistible outlet mall or antique center).
Challenge #2: Safety and Avoiding Fatigue
Cutting out fuel stops meant we could spend longer stretches of time behind the wheel. But that also meant a greater risk of driver fatigue. Mercedes-Benz, in crafting a car that can travel 600+ miles on a single tank, has considered this. Besides the entertaining and luxurious features like front seats that massage the occupant, Bluetooth voice activated phone and easy to operate radio and navigation, the GL350 has several safety features that we loved: First, the car’s Attention Assist, denoted by a coffee cup icon that lights up on the dashboard and is accompanied by chimes, signals when it senses the driver isn’t as actively engaged in driving as she has been, and suggests it might be a good idea to stop for coffee. The car’s Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control allows you to set your cruise speed and then slows the car automatically when traffic in front of you slows or some rude-and-reckless dude decides to zip unsafely into the lane in front of you. This may be my favorite feature. It takes some getting used to, but ultimately it removes a lot of the stress from long distance driving and also, improved my gas mileage. Another great feature is the car’s Active Lane Keeping which nudges you with a gentle rumbling of the steering wheel when you get too close to the solid or dotted lines on the road and actively nudges the car back into its lane if you start to veer out. Again, these features take some getting used to (but also add to the car’s entertainment value).
Challenge #3: Maximizing Fuel Efficiency
The GL350 BlueTEC is estimated to get between 600 and 700 miles to a tank. With a 26 gallon tank and an estimated 26 MPG on the highway, seems easy, right? Our itinerary was 660 miles; with a full tank and at max efficiency, we should hit our destination just as the tank hits empty. The Distronic Plus system helped this by keeping the car performing at it’s most efficient. And the range calculator kept me constantly informed about how far we could go before we needed to start worrying about fueling up. The car’s estimates dropped when we got off the highway for coffee or restrooms, but it was satisfying to see it recalculate when we got back on the highway.
Challenge #4: Non-Fuel Stops
Not having to stop at gas stations gave us some nice freedom along the road: Coffee? Lunch? Ice Cream? We could more freely choose the our destinations because we didn’t need to consider proximity to gas stations. We chose Wendy’s, Starbucks and for an afternoon break, Wendy’s again for a round of Frostys (the kids insisted; it’s their favorite). It was nice to be able to look over at the lines at the gas station and smile that we weren’t in one.
Challenge #5: Fueling Up
Shifting into the final leg of our trip, the part that takes us down out of the mountains of Virginia and into North Carolina, we had 135 miles to go and 150 miles left on our tank. But, low fuel prices in Virginia presented us with a quandary: fuel is about .20 cents per gallon cheaper, and multiplied by 20 or so gallons, getting gas in VA would pay for our ice creams. So we decided to stop and refuel, even though we still had a quarter of a tank. But here’s the other advantage: finding diesel along the highway can be much easier than in the suburbs. So rolling into town with a nearly full tank means no range anxiety while visiting; we can start crossing off items on our bucket list without having to first search for diesel in a regular-plus-premium world.
A Few Facts About BlueTEC Diesel:
*Uses diesel fuel only; regular gasoline will cause severe engine damage.
*BlueTEC is an engine additive that reduces emissions and keeps the engine clean; it is added at regular dealer service visits, so you don’t need to worry about adding it yourself (and if you for some reason run low, a light on the instrument panel will let you know this).
*It operates just like a normal car. You just push the start button, put it in gear and go.
*It’s not noisy, smelly or dirty like old fashioned diesel engines. This is due partly to advancements in diesel fuel that make it cleaner, and to technology such as BlueTEC that increase the clean factor and eliminate the smog factor.
*Diesel fuel costs about the same as premium gas. So while it’s not cheaper (due to improvements that make it cleaner burning), it’s not more expensive than the fuel that most luxury cars demand.
*We averaged about 25 MPG; on a recent road trip in the GL450 we averaged 17 MPG combined city and highway (EPA estimate is 19 MPG highway).
Disclosure: Mercedes Benz provided the GL350 BlueTEC for our trip; opinions are entirely our own.