The Mercedes C-Class is arguably at its most complete in C 300e plug-in form. Jonathan Crouch looks at the C 300e.
Ten Second Review
If you want to plug your Mercedes C-Class in, you'll have to pay quite a premium for it but the reward is a 30 mile all-electric driving range capability from this car, the C 300e. It's petrol-powered, but if you want even more frugality, there's also a C300de diesel PHEV version too.
Mercedes was one of the earliest brands to embrace plug-in hybrid tech, so it's appropriate that this Stuttgart manufacturer's range offers more PHEV options than any other auto maker. One of the first Merc model lines to get this technology was the C-Class and today, that car features it in both C 300e petrol form - which is what we look at here - and an alternative C 300de diesel guise.
This electrified Mercedes primary job is to take on its most direct rival, the BMW 330e - possibly also the Volvo S60 and V60 Recharge Plug-in Hybrid models which represent the other direct alternatives in this segment. Potential customers will also be considering various mid-sized plug-in hybrid SUVs too.
The hybrid drive system in the C 300e combines a 211hp 2.0-litre petrol engine with an electric motor offering 122hp. Intelligent technology, courtesy of the third-generation EQ Power hybrid transmission, makes for smooth gear changes. If overall efficiency isn't a priority, the C 300e can also be a pretty rapid thing, thanks to quite a prodigious total system output of 320hp, enough to dispatch 62mph from rest in 5.4s en route to 155mph. There's a substantial 700Nm of torque on offer. But it will really feel its 1.8-tonne kerb weight if you start to try and throw the car around; that's around 200kgs more than an ordinary C 300 petrol variant.
For those prioritising an ultimately absorbent ride, air suspension is available at the very top of the range. The latter feature is pretty desirable. 'AIR BODY CONTROL', as Mercedes call it, promises a cosseting ride when you want luxury or flat, sportscar-like handling when you're in a hurry. As usual on a C-Class, the powertrain works through a standard 9G-TRONIC PLUS 9-speed auto gearbox which works with the usual 'DYNAMIC SELECT' 'Eco', 'Comfort' and 'Sport' driving modes that alter drive response, steering feel and ESP settings.
Design and Build
There are no visual giveaways to designate this PHEV variant; not unless you count the extra charging flag and bespoke badgework anyway. There's a choice of both saloon and estate body styles. All variants get 'intelligent' Multibeam LED headlamps that adapt to toad conditions are now optional. And if you avoid entry 'Sport' trim, you'll get a 'Diamond Star' style front grille and 18-inch AMG wheels, upgraded to 19-inches further up the range.
Inside, providing you avoid base trim, you'll get a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. Further up the range or as an option, there's the superior 'COMAND Online' infotainment system which offers internet access, voice control, traffic information data and advanced hard disc 3D navigation. Business buyers will particularly like the 'COMAND Online' system's 'In-Car Office' feature, a Mercedes me connect service which allows drivers use of certain office functions directly in the vehicle and access to important data - almost as if they were in their office. 'In-Car Office' uses, for example, the locations of calendar entries and automatically transfers these to the car's navigation system. The user can also dial into a telephone conference on the basis of a calendar entry, then the system will automatically detect the required PIN access code before simultaneously dialling it. All that's needed is an active data connection.
In the back, rear seats space isn't especially generous - and boot capacity falls a lot due to the incursion of the PHEV tech beneath the floor - from 455-litres in a standard C-Class to just 300-litres in this C 300e. The Estate boot capacity is 315-litres, down from 460-litres normally.
Market and Model
Pricing sits in the £40,000 to £50,000 bracket and the C 300e plug-in hybrid is available in 'Sport', 'AMG Line', 'AMG Line Premium', 'AMG Line Premium Plus' forms as both a Saloon and an Estate. To give you some perspective, this 211hp petrol plug-in hybrid model costs around £2,300 more than an equivalently-specified 194hp C 220d diesel. The alternative C 300de PHEV diesel costs cost over £2,000 more than a C 300e petrol model.
At least you get plenty of equipment. Even base 'Sport' trim gets 18-inch Aero 5-spoke alloy wheels, Agility Control Comfort suspension, Multibeam LED headlamps, leather sports seats and a 3-spoke multifunction nappa leather-trimmed steering wheel. Most stretch to 'AMG Line' trim, which includes a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, privacy glass, a unique 'Diamond Star' radiator grille, a sports braking system, sports suspension, Sports Direct Steer steering, AMG sports seats and AMG sports pedals.
There are two optional audio upgrade choices - a 9-speaker 225-watt set-up and the top Burmester surround sound system. Safety-wise, 'Active Brake Assist' autonomous braking is standard. And there's an optional 'Driving Assistance' package that delivers the 'Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC' system enabling 'level 2' autonomous driving capability.
Cost of Ownership
We've covered some of the key facts already in our driving section. The way that an electric motor powered by a 13.5kWh battery is capable of running the car on electricity alone for up to 30-34 WLTP-rated miles before a 2.0-litre combustion engine chimes in. This Plug-in variant can be charged from 10 to 100 per cent in an hour and a half with a 7.4 kW charger, or in five hours from a standard three-pin UK socket. Based on notoriously unrealistic WLTP cycle figures produced for plug-in hybrids, the petrol C 300e is supposed to be able to achieve between 148.7 and 188.3mpg on the WLTP combined cycle and emit up to as little as 33g/km of CO2. Of course, you won't get anything like that in normal use, but we could see a realistic return of around 60-70mpg being regularly achievable from a C 300e, which in itself is pretty impressive. BiK taxation is rated at 12% - as opposed to 27% for a C 220d or 29% for a C 300d. The insurance group is 40E.
What else? Well, you get a comprehensive three year warranty that has no mileage restriction (rival BMW and Audi warranties restrict you to 60,000 miles). And this package is built upon by Mercedes' Mobilo scheme which delivers breakdown cover for up to thirty years, as long as you continue to have your car serviced at a Mercedes main dealer. And it's worth knowing that your maintenance outlay can be kept a little in check by going for the optional Service Care package that takes care of routine maintenance, spreading the cost of regular servicing.
You'd expect this C 300e to offer a thoroughly well engineered take on plug-in technology - and that's exactly what you get. We're still at the stage where you have to be completely sold into the concept of plug-in hybrid technology to choose a car like this C 300e. If you're not, you'll find yourself wondering whether saving over £2,000 in choosing a C 220d diesel model might not be a wiser course of action to take, given that it'll be the best part of a decade at least before diesel becomes an impossible option to choose with ever-more stringent emission restrictions on European markets.
But if you think diesel is the fuel of the past, you'll want to embrace this appeal take on the technology of the future; the relatively near future anyway. PHEV tech is difficult to get right; this model's big reduction in boot space shows that. This C 300e shows though, that in virtually every other respect, Mercedes has quite a handle on plug-in power.