The premium brands are forging ahead with their mission to establish a market for plug-in hybrid (PHEV) hatchbacks, saloons and SUVs, and none harder than Mercedes-Benz. The German firm is launching 10 PHEV models before the end of 2017, having dipped its toe a couple of years ago with the S500 PHEV. Leading the charge is the Mercedes-Benz C 350 e – a C-Class powered by a combination of a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine and an electric motor.
Although its showroom price is higher than that of the current most economical C-Class – the C 300 h diesel hybrid – the C 350 e might actually be cheaper to buy than that car, if you can take advantage of the £2500 grant currently on offer through the UK governments ultra-low emission vehicle (ULEV) scheme. Rated at 48g/km, the C 350 e qualifies for company car tax at just 7% of its list price, giving it clear appeal to someone considering a diesel taxable at three times that rate.
Under the bonnet is a 208bhp 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine, which drives a seven-speed automatic gearbox in tandem with an 80bhp electric motor. The combination is enough to make this the only PHEV in its class capable of hitting 62mph in less than six seconds.
What's the 2016 Mercedes C 350 e like to drive?
Despite the relative sporty market position of the C 350 e (most PHEVs have less powerful combustion engines than this), it’s not the greatest driver’s car. If you’re looking for a refined, upmarket executive saloon suited to town use and short-range commuting, it could suit you well, although even here Mercedes-Benz should arguably have done more to make the electric portion of the car’s powertrain more influential.
The car operates in four modes: electric-only, hybrid, plus one mode that allows you to maintain the car’s battery charge at its current level, and one that charges the battery as you drive. Mercedes claims the first of those gives the car a 19-mile battery range on a full charge, but it practice it’s more like 11-12 miles – which a VW Passat GTE or a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV will easily double.
Once the combustion engine starts, it runs fairly quietly at low revs, and is ably assisted at low speeds by the electric motor to ensure town driving is effortless. Look to gee the car up into a fast stride and it’ll oblige readily enough, but with little keenness, and the engine making more of a fuss when it’s working hard. The car should feel quite quick, but it seldom does in real-world use – and it doesn’t exactly excite its driver with its slightly rubbery-feeling steering or its occasionally noisy and restless air-sprung ride.
As for real-world economy, as with all plug-in hybrids it’ll vary a lot, depending on how you use the car. The limited size of the drive battery, the limited available power of its electric motor (it’s potent enough at town speeds but struggles above 50mph) and the relative thirst of its 208bhp petrol engine limit what’s possible somewhat.
On short runs, better returns are possible – but on a typical 50-mile commute, where you might see 80mpg from some rivals, the C 350 e will return about 50mpg. Use the car like any other, decline to bother to charge it, and drive it with absolutely no regard for the particular talents of its powertrain for ‘sailing’ and regenerative braking, and you’ll see fuel economy in the low 30s.
What's the 2016 Mercedes C 350 e like inside?
The C 350 e’s interior is expensive-feeling, pleasant and solidly hewn for the most part. The packaging of the car’s drive battery takes a sliver of boot space away immediately above the rear axle, but it’s hardly enough to make much of a difference to the car’s practicality in everyday use. Rear seats that fold 40/20/40 come as standard and passenger space front and rear is very competitive for the class, with room for bigger adults in the back.
The car’s standard instrument binnacle makes life a little bit tricky for those who’re seeking to use the electric motor to its fullest. You only get a small EV gauge to show how much more accelerator travel you may be able to use at any time without the intervention of the engine.
Mercedes gives you a Garmin navigation system and a DAB radio as standard, making its 8.4in Comand Online infotainment system and 13-speaker Burmester audio set-up available either individually or as part of a £2995 Premium Plus package. It’s a pricey option, but we’d recommend it if your budget will stretch that far. The upgraded navigation system is excellent, and the associated connected services allow you to pre-condition the car’s air conditioning system from your smartphone while it’s still plugged in.
Should I buy one?
If you’re wedded to the idea of running a C-Class and you want the model most suited to short-range commuting and laid-back town driving, definitely.
Although it doesn’t do as many things as well as a VW Passat GTE or an Audi A3 eTron, the C 350 e is at its best in the city. It’s also easy to use if you like the sound of the tax savings it’ll deliver and aren’t really interested in the hybrid part of the equation.
That the car isn’t a bit better priced compared with its plug-in hybrid competition from BMW and Volkswagen counts against it, and likewise that it doesn’t offer more robust and longer-lasting electric-only running. However, as a typically conservative early punt in what’ll need to be a long-running effort to tempt fleet drivers out of diesels, the C 350 e is a decent effort.
Read our full Mercedes C-Class review HERE
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Mercedes C 350 e Sport
Engine size 2.0 petrol with hybrid assist
Price from £38,900
Torque 442lb ft
Top speed 155mph
Fuel economy (official combined) 134.5mpg
CO2/BIK band 48g/km/7%