New Mercedes E300e vs BMW 530e
Serious opulence meets low running costs in this battle of the plug-in hybrid luxury saloons. But which is best?...
BMW 5 Series 530e M Sport Pro Pack
List price £54,820
Target Price £48,507
Our reigning Luxury Car of the Year combines a classy interior with low CO2 and a decent electric-only range
NEW Mercedes E-Class E300e AMG Line Premium
List price £52,540
Target Price £49,306
The 5 Series’ oldest foe has been revised for 2021 with fresh looks and upgraded infotainment
There’s no doubt history has a habit of repeating itself. Take plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), for instance: we’d argue that they have more in common with increasingly unfashionable diesel-powered cars than you might think.
Company cars that drank from the black pump were once a rather offbeat option, appealing only to those more interested in saving fuel than in driving dynamics and refinement. But as the years passed and technology improved, they became the default choice for those looking to save on company car bills. Now all you have to do is swap ‘black pump’ for ‘charging cable’ to see what we mean, because the same thing has happened more recently with PHEVs.
This plug-in 5 Series was refreshed for 2020 after a few years on sale, gaining a larger front grille, along with a few other styling tweaks. But the big news lay under the skin with the introduction of a larger battery (for an official electric-only range of up to 34 miles) and a bit more power, combined with CO2 emissions of just 33g/km.
Of course, its arch rival, the Mercedes E-Class, wasn’t going to take that lying down. As predictably as a politician ‘bending’ the truth, the E-Class has been updated with fresh looks, an updated infotainment system and new safety equipment. Is that enough for the plug-in version, the E300e, to topple the 530e? Its electric range and CO2 output are quite similar, so this ought to be a close fight.
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
Both cars follow a similar recipe, with a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine coupled to an automatic gearbox and a sizeable electric motor sandwiched between the two. However, the E300e has the upper hand on paper, with a combined power output of 316bhp to the 530e’s 288bhp.
That extra power helps the E300e to sprint from 0-60mph marginally quicker, with a time of 5.3sec to the 530e’s 5.4sec. It’s unlikely you’ll be trying to tear the tread from your tyres on a regular basis, though; a more useful barometer of real-world pace is the 30-70mph sprint that’s representative of a B-road overtake or getting up to motorway speed on a slip road. And here, there’s nothing to separate them in terms of times. You’ll need to plan a little farther ahead in the E300e, though; its gearbox is more hesitant to respond, and if you’re running solely on electric power at the time, the petrol engine takes a moment longer to fire up.
Their swift acceleration may be welcome, but it’s these cars’ ability to run on electric power alone that is one of the biggest draws. On a crisp winter’s day, neither could match its official range, but the 530e came out on top, covering 22.5 miles before the battery was depleted, with the E300e not far behind on 21.3 miles.
When it comes to ride comfort, our test cars couldn’t be much more disparate. Unlike the majority of AMG Line E-Classes, the E300e doesn’t get lower, stiffer adaptive suspension that you can firm up or soften off at will. Instead, you get non-adaptive suspension that brings to mind a 1970s Cadillac.
Seriously soft springs make the E300e feel suitably wafty on the motorway, but even on relatively small (18in) wheels it gets easily upset by craggy road surfaces and expansion joints, causing the car to bobble around.
Things get worse when you turn onto an undulating country road; loose body control means the car wallows and pitches in a way that might make your passengers quite queasy. It doesn’t even deal with sharp-edged potholes particularly well, with thumps and thuds being both heard and felt.
Although the 530e is much firmer, partly because of its standard 20in wheels (which you can swap for 19s for no cost), you’ll find it a much less irritating companion, thanks in part to the adaptive suspension that comes with the M Sport Pro Pack. It follows the road more closely, transferring more bumps to your posterior, yet there’s far more control and consistency. On balance, the 530e is the more pleasant car to be in – especially if you’re a passenger.
That firmer set-up also means the 530e handles far more sharply. True, it isn’t quite as agile as conventionally powered versions of the 5 Series, but you’d have to be pushing pretty hard to feel the additional weight of the battery. Most of the time you’ll just appreciate the natural-feeling, precise steering and abundance of grip, which make it the more appealing car to drive along a winding road. In comparison, the E300e’s inconsistent steering, ship-like body lean and lower grip levels really put you off hustling it along your favourite road.
The E300e is slightly quieter at 70mph, according to our decibel meter, although we found the wind whistle from around its standard panoramic roof to be more annoying than the 530e’s tyre roar. The E300e’s engine is a little coarser when you rev it hard, too.
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