After spending several days and driving hundreds of miles in the new Mercedes-Benz E250 Sedan, I found the latest iteration of the German brand's midsize luxury sedan to be a beautiful contradiction. It made me rethink what an executive car could be, what it could do, and how it might just be an example for others to follow.

The reason for the hubbub? That would be the E250's heart, a little 4-cylinder diesel engine. That right there might have given you pause. A small -- in this case 2.1-liter -- engine, and a diesel one at that, powering an E-Class? The notion might seem out of place when considering the sedan's history of hauling company VPs and its 2-ton-plus weight. Yet this is the little engine that can.  Thanks to a stump-pulling 369 lb-ft of torque, this turbodiesel has enough oomph to hustle the E250 from 0-60 mph in about 8 seconds. That's not terribly quick, but it's enough to merge onto freeways without drama, especially when you switch the car to Sport mode. The real headline, however, isn't this engine's ferociousness but its frugality. How does 42 mpg sound to you? That's the EPA's highway rating of this executive sedan, and it's no stretch.

In fact, on a trip down the California coast to the San Diego area, I averaged better than our car's particular stated rating. My test model was the all-wheel drive version (Mercedes dubs that 4Matic, and BlueTEC is the brand's wording for "diesel"), rated at 27 mpg city/38 highway. But in our trip we averaged 42 mpg on the highway, the same EPA number as a rear-drive model.

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An E-Class in Every Way

And yet for this 5-passenger luxury sedan's frugality, we never felt like the car was cutting corners. In every other facet, this E-Class had the comfort, quietness and overall refinement expected in Mercedes' executive sedan. The 7-speed automatic transmission worked flawlessly with the engine, and the steering feel was Goldilocks-perfect in its feedback and overall feel. The Mercedes E250 sedan is the kind of vehicle that makes you want to drive cross-country. With a theoretical range of well over 700 miles per its 21.1-gallon tank, you could do just that and only have to refuel a few times. 

The only thing that came close to aggravation was the car's Eco start/stop system, which cuts engine power at idle. These systems are gaining popularity as a way to save fuel that would otherwise be lost while idling at stop lights. But in heavy traffic or amid a row of stop lights it can lead to the consistent disruption of the engine being turned off and then on. And while this diesel is far quieter and has less vibration than past diesels, it's still audible. I opted to disable the start/stop system immediately.  

In addition to being the most frugal of the current E-Class lineup, the E250 diesel is the least expensive. Rear-drive models start just over $52,000, a few hundred below a gasoline V6-powered E350. The 4Matic all-wheel drive option on our test model added $2,500, and with options like the Premium 1 Package that bundled navigation, a superb Harman/Kardon audio system, rearview camera and power rear sunshade, this vehicle arrived with a $64,295 price tag.

Some may scoff at such a small engine in an executive sedan of this caliber and price, but one drive in an E250 should erase any uncertainties about its capabilities in this particular application, not to mention any lingering doubts about today's "clean diesel" engines in general. The E250's heart is small, but its power and efficiency are immense. While other automakers have followed Mercedes-Benz by putting diesel engines in sedans and SUVs for the U.S. market, the E250 Mercedes proves you can gain even more with less. 

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