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Used test: BMW 530e vs Mercedes E300e interiors

You can save almost £20,000 on either of these luxurious hybrids if you buy them at two years old, but which should you choose?...

BMW 530e 2021 dashboard


Driving position, visibility, build quality, practicality

You’ll find plenty of adjustment in both cars’ part-electric driver’s seats, including for lumbar support to stave off lower back pain, but the BMW 5 Series 530e’s steering wheel, seat and pedals line up more neatly for a superior driving position. You can get full electric seat adjustment in the 530e (if the original owner opted for the £1495 Comfort Pack), but you’ll have to jump up to a more expensive AMG Line Night Edition Premium Plus example to get it on the E300e Mercedes E-Class.

Forward visibility can’t be faulted in either car, but seeing behind you isn’t as easy in the E300e, because its rear pillars are wider. Both have front and rear parking sensors plus LED headlights as standard from new, with the 530e adding a rear-view camera. The E300e goes a couple of steps further with a 360-degree camera and adaptive headlights that allow you to keep main beam on without dazzling other drivers.

Mercedes E300e 2021 dashboard

Both cars come with digital instrument panels. The E300e’s can show a far greater array of information than the 530e’s, but both have sharp graphics that make them easy enough to read.

The E300e’s interior, with its conjoined 12.3in instrument and infotainment displays, fancy metal air vents and swooping wood-covered dashboard, holds more immediate showroom appeal than the comparatively sober and conventional 530e’s. However, while there are lots of squishy plastics, glitzy trims and a glossy black finish to the steering wheel spokes, the E300e isn’t as well constructed. Its switches don’t work with the same precision and some of the trim panels tend to creak if you prod them.

The infotainment in the 530e is, frankly, the finest system available. The large 12.3in screen is crisp and highly legible, while the menus are easy to follow. You can operate the system as a touchscreen – handy for punching in navigation instructions when you’re stationary – or you can twiddle a dial controller between the seats.

BMW 530e 2021 boot

A 12.3in touchscreen was standard from new in the E300e, and there are touchpads between the seats and on the steering wheel to provide an alternative means of control. They’re not as easy to use as the dial in the 530e, but if you can master the one on the wheel, you can operate the system while keeping both hands on it. 

The panoramic glass roof is great for letting light into the E300e’s interior, but it also robs front-seat occupants of head room. You’d need to be at least six feet tall before your hair met the headlining, though. With nothing but a metal roof overhead, there’s far more air between scalp and ceiling in the 530e.

The rivals are too close to call when it comes to front leg room and width, while both have broad armrests and a good spread of cubbies. That includes somewhere to stash your mobile phone and keys between the seats, two cupholders big enough for the largest of lattes and decent door pockets on both. And regardless of which car you choose, there’s another giant cubby beneath the wide centre armrest – just what you need for life on the road.

Mercedes E300e 2021 boot

Separating our two contenders is much easier when it comes to rear seat space. The 530e has more leg room, while the E300e’s panoramic roof once again cuts into head room. Space for feet beneath the E300e’s front seats is rather tight too. Neither is great for three adults sitting side by side, with big central floor humps to straddle and raised middle seats that reduce head room.

Despite advances in battery technology, you’ll still find boot space in these plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models is reduced compared with conventional versions of the 5 Series and E-Class. In the 530e, the boot floor is at least usefully flat, although it's a bit higher than in regular models. The E300e, on the other hand, has a large hump beneath the carpet towards the back, making for an uneven cargo bay that can be awkward to load.

Despite its impractical shape, the E300e boot can swallow one more carry-on suitcase than the 530e (six versus five), and you get handy 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats as standard. The original owner would have paid an extra £395 for folding rear seats in the 530e. They split in a 40/20/40 arrangement too.

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