More than just a fuel miser, Mercedes-Benz’s rechargeable C-Class throws extra performance into the hybrid mix.
WHAT IS IT?
Yet another C-Class model, but one with a major enviro focus. This time it’s a four-cylinder petrol teamed with a 60kW electric motor claimed to make it the most fuel-efficient in its class.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
The C350e will be the first of three Mercedes plug-in hybrids to go on sale in Australia before the end of 2015 and we had an opportunity to get behind the wheel in San Francisco ahead of its local launch.
None directly compete in terms of a plug-in hybrid vehicle, but the BMW Active Hybrid 3, Lexus IS300h and Infiniti Q50 Hybrid do similar fuel-saving things.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
We’ll reserve final judgement on its fuel saving ways until we drive it locally, but on first blush it seems the “V6 power with three-cylinder consumption” sales pitch isn’t far off the mark.
PLUS: Enviro credentials for short trips; torquey performance; C-Class elegance
MINUS: Short electric-only range; weight of hybrid system; price premium
THE WHEELS REVIEW
WHEN it comes to breadth of talent, the Mercedes C-Class stretches itself wide. Volume-selling four-cylinder models kick off a range that has upped its luxury game over the past decade, while the C63 thumps hard for anyone chasing Porsche performance for less money.
Yet it’s taken until now for Benz’s top seller to be offered with a plug-in hybrid engine, something getting increasing attention in the US, and a drivetrain configuration becoming more important in an era of intense CO2 scrutiny.
With the imminent arrival of the C350e, Mercedes has trumped its Japanese and European rivals with a hybrid that can also be recharged for electric-only driving.
Electric-only range is limited to a claimed 31km (our experience suggests you can knock 20 percent off that in regular driving), but for many that will comfortably do the kid run and fill the boot with shopping.
In gentle driving, the 60kW electric motor comfortably does all the work, though if you squeeze the throttle too far the 2.0-litre petrol four breaks the silence with a dull drone for added boost.
There are four hybrid modes, three of them tailored to European cities that call for zero emissions in CBDs.
The E-Mode is interesting, though, because it brings a throttle feel that noticeably stiffens once you approach the point where the petrol engine will kick in; it’s designed to make it easy to keep the car running purely on electricity while still providing easy access to full hoof when required.
And while 60kW may not sound like much to shift a luxury mid-sizer, there's a healthy 340Nm surge of torque when you first squeeze the pedal.
But there’s plenty to shift in the 350e – 1705kg – and that’s about 220kg more than a C250, with most of it residing behind the rear seat, at least helping adjust the weight balance.
Only occasionally is there an overly aggressive downshift or grumble as the engine comes to life.
Cruising, there’s the usual C-Class refinement and hushed comfort. But launch it at some tighter bends and the 17-inch Pirellis can let out a yelp as it gently deviates wide.
Riding on the air suspension system that will be standard on Oz-delivered cars, it’s a controlled but compliant affair in Comfort mode. Dial up Sport and there’s more pitter-patter from smaller bumps, but the quicker recovery and more planted high-speed feel make it the pick for tighter twists.
Most of the C practicality is intact, with the exception of boot space. A shelf-like compartment behind the rear seats reduces boot space by 145 litres to 335. It’ll only be noticed on airport pick-up runs or if you pile the family on board for a week away.
There are mouthfuls of C-Class flavour bursting through elsewhere, from the elegant cabin to the hushed driving experience.
Model: Mercedes-Benz C350e
Engine: 1991cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo; 60kW electric motor
Max power: 155kW @ 5500rpm (petrol engine); 205kW total output
Max torque: 350Nm @ 1200-1400rpm (petrol engine); 600Nm total output
Transmission: 7-speed auto
Kerb weight: 1705kg
0-100km/h: 5.9sec (claimed)
Price: $80,000-plus (estimated)
On sale: Late 2015
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