From £29,0357
Hybrid C-Class stars around town but disappoints outside the city limits

What is it?

The steady rise of the plug-in hybrid continues with Mercedes’ roll-out of the technology in this latest version of the C-Class.

Available in saloon and estate bodystyles, the C350e is the second of 10 plug-in hybrids that Mercedes will launch by 2017, following the S500 Plug-in Hybrid into production.

It’s a first in the segment, beating to market BMW’s planned introduction of a plug-in hybrid in the soon to be facelifted 3 Series range and also the all-new Audi A4, which will be available in plug-in hybrid form when that launches in the autumn.

The C350e’s powertrain mixes a four-cylinder petrol engine with an electric motor and battery pack, all driving the rear wheels through a seven-speed automatic gearbox.

It’s a combination that results in the typically impressive on-paper figures we're used to seeing for plug-in hybrids. Combined system outputs of 275bhp and 442lb ft help propel the C350e from 0-62mph in just 5.9sec and onto a 155mph top speed, all while emitting just 49g/km of CO2 and returning a combined economy figure of 134.5mpg.

The car can run on electric power alone for a useful 19 miles, while a full recharge of the 6.2 kWh lithium-ion battery pack takes up to two hours.

Quite an insatiable mix of numbers, then.

What's it like?

Driving the C350e can be as simple or as complex a process as you wish. There is a dazzling array of driving modes – Economy, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual – and on top of that there are four operating modes for the hybrid system: Hybrid, E-Mode, E-save and Charge.

In truth, there’s too much choice; this almost seems a car made for engineers and road testers. As an everyday ownership proposition you’re never realistically going to be flicking through the driving modes to best suit the next few hundred metres of road in front of you. So it's best to remember you’ve bought this car because it’s a hybrid, so stick it in Economy and make the most of the hybrid system's four modes.

I say four, but you’re really only going to use one of them: Hybrid mode. Here, you get to drive the car on electric power alone should you wish, making use of one of the car’s cleverest features. There is a haptic throttle pedal, which only allows you use of the electric power to a certain point of resistance. But push beyond it and the four-cylinder engine kicks in for greater boost.

The real highlight of the C350e is when you drive it through town on electric power. It's quiet, smooth and nippy, and really is a very premium and thoroughly modern driving experience, so much so that it feels like something from a class or two above - a baby S-Class, even.

That premium halo slips when the four-cylinder engine kicks, be it because the battery has run out of juice or you need extra grunt up a hill. It is far too gruff and vocal, and feels tuned to the benefit of economy and the detriment of refinement. Shame.

The C350e is only available in Sport trim, which means plenty of equipment inside and out including leather, parking assistance systems and navigation. The trim also includes Mercedes’ Airmatic air suspension as standard, which makes for decent ride quality, particularly around town, and lessens the impact of that extra quarter of a tonne of weight the hybrid system adds over a standard four-cylinder petrol model.

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Should I buy one?

Plug-in hybrids hold plenty of appeal with their low running costs. Yes, we know that the way these numbers are calculated is flawed, but with taxation based around those figures, this C-Class’s appeal is not to be overlooked.

It’s a car of mixed messages, though. At town speeds it is simply as smooth and refined as cars in this segment come, but on the motorway it never reaches the same heights.

As such, it’s a car with plenty of appeal, but only to the right kind of city-based or tax-savvy buyer. So in a segment where cars typically cover some serious motorway mileage, this C-Class, as impressive and resolved as its technology is in town, is one that’s hard to justify for anyone looking for something for long-distance refinement.

Mercedes-Benz C350e Sport

Location San Francisco; On sale June; Price £37,875; Engine 4 cyls in line, 1991cc, turbocharged petrol, plus electric motor; Power 275bhp combined; Torque 442lb ft combined; Gearbox 7-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1780kg; Top speed 155mph; 0-62mph 5.9sec; Economy 134.5mpg (combined); CO2 rating & BIK tax band 48g/km, 5%

Mark Tisshaw

Title: Editor

Mark is a journalist with more than a decade of top-level experience in the automotive industry. He first joined Autocar in 2009, having previously worked in local newspapers. He has held several roles at Autocar, including news editor, deputy editor, digital editor and his current position of editor, one he has held since 2017.

From this position he oversees all of Autocar’s content across the print magazine, website, social media, video, and podcast channels, as well as our recent launch, Autocar Business. Mark regularly interviews the very top global executives in the automotive industry, telling their stories and holding them to account, meeting them at shows and events around the world.

Mark is a Car of the Year juror, a prestigious annual award that Autocar is one of the main sponsors of. He has made media appearances on the likes of the BBC, and contributed to titles including What Car?Move Electric and Pistonheads, and has written a column for The Sun.

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eseaton 21 March 2015

What is the appeal in buying

What is the appeal in buying these technically clever but flawed things to beat the taxman, if the end result is not very nice? By which I mean the only way this is nicer than a conventional 6 cylinder petrol is tax driven.

A rough 4 with an electric motor bolted on (or indeed a turbo) is never going to be a comparable experience to a nice 6. It just isn't, whether it is by Mercedes, BMW or whoever. So we are in a depressing world of minimising the amount less desirable the new is to the old with each generation.

In general, it was somewhere between 1995 and 2005 that new cars stopped being nicer than the cars they replaced.

jer 21 March 2015

How was can

The petrol be less refined than the standard c class which is a pretty refined car? Is it the contrast from electric to petrol or is this engine install combo somehow far worse? Baffling. Sounds an interesting car though will it come in an estate?
jer 21 March 2015

Just read

Available in estate