From £35,2058
Diesel is no longer the automatic choice for company car buyers. We drive an alternative: Mercedes' latest plug-in hybrid E-Class

What is it?

The plug-in hybrid version of the new Mercedes E-Class, which will be the first petrol-powered version to arrive in the UK, touching down before the end of the year. The E 350 e uses the combination of a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and an electric motor to deliver a combined peak output of 281bhp and what Mercedes predicts will be official fuel consumption of 134mpg and CO2 emissions of 49g/km.

Stop sniggering at the back, we know that achieving anything close to those numbers in the real world will mean making extensive use of the ability to recharge the 350 e’s 6.2kWh capacity battery pack using the charging port built into the rear bumper. This can replenish the pack in around an hour and a half using a high-voltage charger, or three hours via a standard domestic socket. The car’s electric-only range is a relatively modest 20 miles, but several different modes allow the assistance to be used or conserved in different ways.

These modes are Hybrid, which leaves the powertrain to its own devices; E-Mode, which operates it as a pure EV until the battery pack runs down; E-Save, which keeps the battery level constant, conserving it for use later; and Charge, which uses the engine to replenish the pack on the move. The system also communicates with the sat-nav so that when a destination is programmed it will work out the most efficient strategy over the entire route, for example, running the battery right down if the car knows it will end up at its home charging point.

The car we drove was still pre-production and Mercedes hasn’t given us a weight figure yet, but the company claims a 0-62mph time of 6.2sec and a top speed of 153mph. 

What's it like?

Plug-in hybrids are getting better, but the E 350 e emphasises how they continue to suit the needs of only a small section of buyers.

Most of the driving experience is identical to the very impressive E 220 d. The hybrid has an identically nice-feeling cabin, the same dynamic options of near-autonomy and equal high-speed refinement when asked to deal with a motorway cruise.

The electron-fuelled side of the powertrain is very well suited to the urban grind. The E 350 e will try to do its trundling under electric power whenever possible, making it whisper quiet in town. It accelerates surprisingly hard before firing the petrol engine into life, with a haptic throttle making it easy to judge when this will happen – the pedal gets firm when the electric motor is giving its all.

Once running on petrol power, it doesn’t sound as refined as you would expect for a car with a 350 badge on its rump; requests for serious speed leave you in no doubt there’s a relatively small four-cylinder unit under the bonnet. But performance is strong and the throttle response is excellent, with the braking system also blending its regeneration and old-fashioned friction seamlessly.

There’s no doubting the extra mass of the electric powertrain, though. The E 350 e feels noticeably heavier and less willing to turn than the impressively lithe E 220 d, and it has more tendency to understeer as the tyres run short on grip. The standard air suspension does a good job of smoothing the ride, but can’t disguise the fact the hybrid feels chunkier than any of the other E-Class variants we drove at the launch.

The trip computer emphasised the limits of the E 350 e’s appeal. A 25-mile trip that began with the battery pack full and ended with it depleted saw the display reading 6.6 litres/100km, or 42.8mpg; numbers we would be confident the E 220 d could beat by a considerable margin without the need to find a charging point at the end of each journey.

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Should I buy one?

Although Mercedes hasn’t released the E 350 e’s price yet we’re told it is likely to be higher than the impressively civilised E350 d diesel. Of course, the hybrid’s official CO2 figure will give it a compelling relevance to some company car users. Yet, although the hybrid system works well, we suspect that for most British buyers it remains an answer in search of a question.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class E 350 e AMG Line

Location: Portugal; On sale: Autumn 2016 Price £50,000 (estimated, AMG Line) Engine: 4 cyls, 1991cc, petrol, turbocharged; Power 208 bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 258lb ft; (Electric motor: 65kW/ 440Nm) Gearbox 9-spd automatic; Kerb weight tbc; Top speed 153mph; 0-62mph 6.2-sec; Economy 134mpg (est); CO2 rating & BIK tax band 49g/km (est)

Mike Duff

Mike Duff
Title: Contributing editor

Mike has been writing about cars for more than 25 years, having defected from radio journalism to follow his passion. He has been a contributor to Autocar since 2004, and is a former editor of the Autocar website. 

Mike joined Autocar full-time in 2007, first as features editor before taking the reins at Being in charge of the video strategy at the time saw him create our long running “will it drift?” series. For which he apologies.

He specialises in adventurous drive stories, many in unlikely places. He once drove to Serbia to visit the Zastava factory, took a £1500 Mercedes W124 E-Class to Berlin to meet some of its taxi siblings and did Scotland’s North Coast 500 in a Porsche Boxster during a winter storm. He also seems to be a hypercar magnet, having driven such exotics as the Koenigsegg One:1, Lamborghini SCV12, Lotus Evija and Pagani Huayra R.

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FletchJ 12 July 2017

E350e AMG Line

Having been persuaded by the reviews to buy one of these cars in November 2016 I have been so disappointed. Yes the insdie is great from a quality and thecnology point of view but....the 19 miles battery range that is claimed translates into 11 miles in real life driving - MB delaership suggested I turn off the air conditioning radio and parking sensors to see if I could get more but it made little difference! Therefore, I could not even get to work and back on a single charge and for the last part of the journey I was dragging a deadweight battery around so only getting 23 mpg which is not brilliant for 2 litre. Worse was to come! I had to take the car back to the dealership 5 times in the first 2,880 miles because I kept getting engine diagnostic fault warnings - poor reliability - and customer services at Mercedes Benz were awful, just said it was new technology and they were trying to improve. I have cut my losses, which were signifcant, and gone back to Jaguar. Six months with Mercedes but never again.
FletchJ 12 July 2017

E350e AMG Line

Having been spersuaded to buy one of these last November by the rave reviews I can only say how disappointed I have been. Yes the interior is great in terms of quality but... the 19 miles claimed battery range only achieved 11 miles in reality which did not even get me to work and back and for the rest of the journey I was lugging around a deadweight battery at 23 mpg which is not great for a 2 litre! Even worse was the fact that it developed faults that ended up with me having to take it to the dealership 5 times in 2,880 miles - a Friday car or not quite finished from the technological point of view. Customer services at Mercedes was alwaful, they simply were not interested. I have gone back to Jaguar!
jer 10 June 2017

@ spqr

Maybe after reading this there is a reason why... I read this expecting this to be a really useful car. Left thinking it was a waste of time. Engine refinement, handling, economy.