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.