First Drive: Mercedes-Benz C350e

First Drive: Mercedes-Benz C350e

Lukewarm on the heels of BMW’s first hybrid 3-Series, can the Stuttgart behemoth persuade South Africans that a plug-in hybrid C-Class is worth the additional expense?

What is this car all about?

A hybrid C-class is supposed to be a small step on the road to emissions-free motoring. Mercedes-Benz say it’s the best of three worlds, offering extraordinary comfort, efficiency and dynamism. At more than R800 000 it’s going to need to be very persuasive indeed.

What’s under the hood?

Essentially it’s a C250 with an additional 60kW/340Nm electric motor and full hybrid capability, including a 6.2kwh battery pack good for a theoretical 31km of electric-only motoring. Combined that means 205kW and a handy 600Nm of shunt, and hence the 350 moniker for a car with a two-litre, 155kW turbocharged petrol engine. Mercedes claims some space-age consumption numbers that are all but meaningless because of the current, soon-to-be-scrapped EU test cycle. This notwithstanding, 2.ll/100km is the kind of number that requires investigation.

Mercedes-Benz C350e

Does is stand out from the crowd?

The C350e looks like a high-ranking C-Class and that’s a very good thing. Superbly resolved and very much in an elegant space of its own, the C-Class remains a class act, this case with Avantgarde styling pack as standard fit. Notable changes on the outside are the charging port on the rear bumper and the hybrid badging.

What’s noteworthy on the inside?

There’s not much to report inside that’s any different to a standard high-spec C-Class. It’s a high-quality interior, specced to a high level in this case. Hybrid-specific controls are near the central control module and sit next to the drive mode selector. The car comes with Attention Assist and Collision Prevention Assist as standard fare. Boot capacity is marginally diminished by the battery pack, but to be honest it won’t make much difference in daily life.

Is it good to drive?

It may “only” have a two-litre motor but 0-100km/h in 5.9 seconds is certainly sprightly enough, and that instantaneous electric torque makes for excellent throttle response as the two motors and 7-speed gearbox conduct their negotiations. The additional 271-kilograms incurred by the hybrid system seems rather bulky on paper but in real life seems to add a little heft to the C350e. Add standard airmatic air suspension and what you have is a car that feels and behaves like it’s playing in one segment up. It’s not one to chuck about but it does the fast cruise with absolute class.

Our test route sadly didn’t include much city driving but the moment we encountered slower conditions the car immediately began to register much improved consumption numbers. A longer test will be required to confirm this, but the C350e would appear to offer a good, very modern all-round package that includes true urban efficiency – and possibly week-long emissions-free motoring if you live less than 31km for the office. After all, it only takes two-and-a-half hours to recharge the car from a standard wall plug, so in daily life its possible you’ll use no fuel at all.

Mercedes-Benz C350e

Who’s going to lose sleep about this car?

Realistically, nobody. Who else is offering a plug-in hybrid compact executive car? We expect sales to be very limited indeed at these prices, but would add that while R805 000 seems like a great deal to pay for a C-Class with a four-cylinder engine, it’s an indication that this kind of technology is getting cheaper very quickly indeed. You might not buy this C350e, but one day soon you might be looking at something similar, and Mercedes-Benz will be waiting for you. It’s ahead of its time. – Alex Parker

Fast Facts: Mercedes-Benz C350e 

Engine: Two-litre turbopetrol and electric motor
Power: 155kW + 60kW
Torque: 350Nm + 340NM
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 5.9-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 250 km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 2.1l/100km (claimed)
CO2: 65g/km (claimed)
Price: R805 000