A Spacious, Uncluttered and Airy Interior
Belying its awkward exterior styling, the shape offers up generous interior space with tons of headroom and more than adequate leg, hip and shoulder room for both front and rear occupants. Likewise, the cargo bay capacity can handle packing of a decent sized load.
The interior is uncluttered and airy, thanks to the X-shaped cross member that gives the roof its rigidity while yielding lots of space for glass panels. There is one distraction—the two-tone lime and pistachio suede seats and trim.
With 70 mpg, Who Needs A Hybrid?
With nature being the emphasis of the bionic car you might think, as I did, that behind the short, stubby nose would be an example of the latest fuel cell technology, or at the very least, a next-generation hybrid system. Instead, propelling the boxfish-looking car is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged diesel with a common-rail direct injection system.
Mercedes-Benz was the first to implement Rudolf Diesel's combustion engine principle in a passenger car some 70 years ago. That legacy will continue into the future, according to Dr. Weber, who said that DaimlerChrysler is "committed to the diesel engine, not only in Europe, but also in the United States."
Producing 138 horsepower at 4200 rpm and 221 lb-ft of torque at 1600 rpm, the bionic car accelerated briskly (0 to 60 mph in just 7.9 seconds) during my short drive in an immense parking lot at Washington, D.C.'s RFK Stadium. The continuously variable automatic transmission directed power to the wheels in a seamless manner and there was absolutely no telltale diesel clatter from the engine.
The diesel engine, combined with the attributes of the superb aerodynamics and SKO construction, deliver an average of 70 miles per gallon fuel efficiency, topping out at 84 mpg on a straight highway run.
No Stinky Diesel Odor
After a half dozen laps around the mile-long parking-lot course, I stopped the car, engaged the parking brake, left the engine running, stepped out of the car, kneeled down and sniffed the exhaust to detect how much diesel odor was spewing out.
There goes the NOx emissions. Earlier, Professor Herbert Kohler, DaimlerChrysler vice president, body and powertrain research had explained why.
The bionic car's diesel engine incorporates a state-of-the-art particulate filter to minimize soot exhaust and a Selective Catalytic Reduction system to get rid of excess oxides of nitrogen (NOx). The SCR system sprays a precisely measured urea compound (determined by driving conditions) into the exhaust system. This processes the NOx emissions into benign nitrogen and oxygen. The urea solution, called AdBlue, is stored in the spare wheel recess. At this point, the fluid must be replenished at a typical service interval, or about every 15,000 miles.
SCR technology use has already proven successful in Mercedes-Benz's European commercial trucks. "With the bionic car, we are showing the potential that SCR has when used in passenger cars," Kohler said.
He says that SCR can reduce NOx emissions by up to 80 percent under road conditions in the U.S. When testing is complete and the Environmental Protection Agency gives it the nod, the SCR technology will be offered in the U.S. for light vehicles, Kohler stated.
Bionics to Meet Production Cars
Like nearly all concept vehicles, the bionic car will probably never see a production schedule. However, the benefits of the research are already paying off.
The SKO method has become an integral part of DaimlerChrysler's vehicle development engineering, noted Research and Development Head, Dr. Weber. The first examples will be a variety of small components on several vehicles beginning next year, followed by the A-pillar for the next Mercedes-Benz roadster, scheduled for production in 2008.