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Steering, suspension and ride comfort

The Mercedes C-Class C300e isn’t quite a natural sports saloon and it won’t be a default choice for interested drivers, but it handles well – much better than the apparently softened specification of its suspension might lead you to expect.

In slippery and testing conditions, it showed close enough body control and sufficiently well-balanced grip levels to carry plenty of speed, to maintain an interested driving style and to contain any kerb weight-related negative impacts.

C300e has a relaxing and refined driving style but is a willing accomplice when hurried, demonstrating composure, precision and traction, if little flamboyance, in corners.

The car changes direction progressively rather than keenly, and hints at handling adjustability in tighter bends (what rear-driven saloon with 406lb ft wouldn’t?) without fully following through with much rear-driven handling flair.

But it generates more than enough grip, handling precision and dynamic composure to cover ground quickly when called on to do so, and is easy to drive briskly – which is probably exactly the effect its maker intended.

The chassis tune feels slightly comfort-biased at all times, with plenty of suppleness, but it stops well short of floating or wallowing on cross-country roads, and maintains good pitch control. Some body roll presents when cornering hard, but not enough to affect the steady-state grip levels, or to make the stability control electronics intervene intrusively. At the limit of grip, the front axle washes wide first, but with the weight of the batteries over the rear one, that’s probably as you would want it.

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Vertical body control at speed over uneven roads is good; absorptive but hard to fluster. The steering is quite light and feels filtered, and it lacks a little in helpful definition of feedback, just like the brake pedal tuning.

Comfort and isolation

The C300e is a quiet-riding, well-mannered car at cruise. In comparable test conditions, it recorded better results at both 30mph and 50mph than the DS 9 E-Tense PHEV we tested a few months ago (itself a subjectively pleasingly refined car) with its engine shut down and both wind and road noise quite well contained.

When the engine is running, especially when turning at revs, the story is a little different. At maximum engine revs in fourth gear, the car actually proved two decibels noisier than the DS 9, and noisier too when stationary and with the engine turning over at idle. The hush of the ride can be upset by certain coarser asphalt surfaces, which find a way through to reverberate a little in the cabin. By and large, though, the car is much more often quiet and relaxing than at all uncouth.

The visibility granted from the driver’s seat is good – about typical of a fairly compact saloon with chunky modern pillars, some of which are necessarily close to your eyeline. The primary control ergonomics are sound, seating you low enough at the controls to feel nicely ensconced but high enough to give a good vantage point. A BMW 3 Series feels much more naturally sporting to sit in, but the C-Class marries convenience and comfort with an ideal hip point well.

The driver’s seat itself could be more comfortably cushioned and effectively bolstered, though. Only one seat design is offered in UK-market C-Classes, with either electric (with memory function) or manual adjustment depending on trim level. There is no optional ‘comfort seat’. As they are, the seats offer lateral support that is ultimately less effective than they look fit for, and both shoulder and thigh support could also be improved.

Assisted driving notes

Mercedes uses its advanced suite of active safety systems as a lever to sell its highest-trim-level cars. So if you want a collision avoidance system with pedestrian and cyclist detection, or an adaptive cruise control system that can automatically adapt your speed to the posted limit, or a blindspot monitoring system clever enough to warn you before you open your driver’s door into the path of a passing motorbike? Well, you need to have AMG Line Premium Plus specification, and then add the £1695 Driving Assistance Package Plus on top, making for a rather expensive car.

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As standard, however, the C300e gets simpler blindspot warning, autonomous emergency braking and active lane keeping systems that all work fairly unobtrusively and effectively. The lane keeping system reactivates itself with every ignition cycle, and can only be deactivated through the touchscreen, but thereis at least a shortcut to switch it off.