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Road Test: Mercedes-Benz C-Class & E-Class PHEVs

More range, faster charging and a diesel option add up to perhaps the perfect all-round choice for fleets, says Kyle Fortune.

In four years, Mercedes-Benz claims every product in its line-up will be electrified. That’ll vary from 48-volt ‘mild’ hybrids, to plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), and, at the top, its battery electric vehicle options. They’ll all be bundled under the EQ brand, with its ‘EQ Power’ PHEVs being a “key technology” in the brand’s electrification initiative.

It’s a broader range this time. The E-Class retains the E 300 e petrol PHEV but gains a diesel alternative, the E 300 de, which is a variant shared with the C-Class. Both use a 121bhp motor, integrated into the nine-speed automatic transmission and supplied by a larger-capacity 13.5kWh lithium-ion battery.

The battery shares its dimensions with the pack in previous PHEVs, but a switch in the cell chemistry means there’s a 68% increase in energy density. Skipping the science class, this offers a greater electric-only range of up to 35 miles and the ability to run at up to 80mph on battery power alone. They can also be charged at up to 7.4kW, or twice as fast as the outgoing models, using a dedicated wallbox.

In the C-Class that hybrid system is mated to a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel, which gives a system output of 302bhp and 516lb.ft torque, enough to allow a 5.6-second 0-62mph time in the saloon (the estate takes 0.1 seconds longer), though it’s the circa 40g/km CO2 and 201mpg combined consumption rating that’s the more significant number to fleet users. Those are numbers created using the old NEDC testing cycle but, even under WLTP, the C300 de should create some compelling figures as, once the battery range is exhausted, it’s utilising an efficient diesel engine.

That’s true, too, of its larger E-Class relation. It shares its drivetrain and combined power output with the C-Class relation, but is quoted at 176.5mpg and 44g/km. Mercedes-Benz is also offering the E-Class in mere e guise, which instead of the 2.0-litre turbodiesel of the de, uses a four-cylinder 2.0-litre petrol engine, for a combined system output of 316bhp and 516lb/ft. It can’t quite match the stellar combined consumption figure of the diesel plug-ins, but 141.2mpg is very respectable, so too is the 45g/km CO2 output. Mercedes is anticipated to offer the same petrol hybrid system on the C-Class, too.

The greatest compliment you can pay all of these models is their conventionality. From how they look, to how they drive, the only visual tell being a plug-in cover on the rear bumper, otherwise you’d never know these C and Es gain hybrid technology. Inside you have to look for the tells, the E mode button is a giveaway, as are the various different hybrid-specific settings in the driver modes and instrument displays, but that’s it.

Leave them in hybrid and the system best judges the motive power, using a combination of sat nav, mapping, radar sensors and live traffic data to do so. The powertrain management even takes into account the topography, to best scavenge back power whenever possible. It’s a cleverly integrated system, with the car helping you get the most of it, with subtle resistance from the accelerator pedal. If that sounds like it’s interfering then it isn’t, indeed, all these plug-ins are the model of serenity, only the slightly gruff rattle of the diesel when starting being a reminder of the combustion technology underneath.

That aside, all are compelling choices, coming without the range compromises of fully electric vehicles, yet a decent circa 35-mile battery-only range. As a stepping stone to a brave-new plug-in world, it’s a very compelling one indeed.

The Verdict

Some hybrids can feel like half-way house compromises, but the latest choices from Mercedes-Benz offer a fine balance of good EV-only range, excellent integration and superb overall range.

* final figures TBC

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Kyle Fortune

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