Mercedes-Benz C350e

More than just a fuel miser

TOBY HAGON

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

WHEN it comes to breadth of talent, the Mercedes-Benz 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 AMG thumps hard for anyone chasing Porsche performance for less money.

Yet itís taken until 2015 for Benzís top seller to be offered as a plug-in hybrid, a drivetrain configuration that is getting increasing attention in the US while 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. Range is limited to a claimed 31km (our experience suggests youíll get 20 percent less in regular driving), but for many, thatíll comfortably cover the school run and fill the boot with shopping.

In gentle driving, the 60kW electric motor effortlessly does all the work, although if you squeeze the throttle too hard the 2.0-litre petrol four breaks the silence with a dull drone for added boost.

There are four modes for the hybrid system, 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.

Itís designed to make it easy to keep the car running purely on electricity but gives you easy access to full hoof if you need it.

While 60kW may not sound like much to shift a luxury mid-sizer, thereís a healthy 340Nm surge when you first squeeze the pedal.

Yet thereís still plenty to shift in the 350e; some 1705kg. Thatís about 220kg more than a C250, most of it residing behind the rear seat, assisting weight balance.

Cruising, thereís the usual C-Class refinement and hushed comfort. Riding on an air suspension system that will be standard on Oz-delivered cars, itís a controlled but compliant affair in Comfort mode. Dial up Sport and thereís more pitter-patter from smaller bumps, but the quicker recovery and more planted highspeed feel make it the pick for twistier roads.

Most C-Class practicality is intact, with the exception of boot space. A shelf-like compartment behind the rear seat reduces the boot by 145 litres to 335. Itíll only be noticed on airport pick-up runs or if you pile the family on board for a week away. Yet thereís lots of C-Class flavour bursting through elsewhere, from the elegant cabin to the hushed driving experience. ar

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Mercedes-Benz C350e 1991cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo + electric motor 205kW (total output) 600Nm (total output) 7-speed automatic 1705kg 5.9sec (claimed) n/a $80,000-plus (estimated) Late 2015

PLUS & MINUS

Short electric-only range; weight of hybrid system; price premium Enviro credentials for short trips; torquey performance; C-Class elegance

City smart

THE 350eís sat-nav is part of the plug-in hybridís fuelsaving regime. By entering a destination, the computer analyses the route to determine the most efficient places to use the electric charge, something that also helps in achieving zeroemissions motoring in CBDs, as required in some European cities.