The much improved eighth generation Mercedes-Benz E Class makes business sense in E300 BlueTEC Hybrid form. Jonathan Crouch reports on this diesel/electric executive express
We're used to petrol/electric hybrids in the executive saloon sector. But not so familiar with diesel/electric ones. Mercedes wants to change that with this E300 BlueTEC Hybrid model. Offered only with saloon and estate bodystyles, it can offer 150mph performance with returns of nearly 70mpg and just 109g/km of CO2. If you're shopping in this segment, can you afford not to try it?
Mercedes-Benz is rapidly acquiring a market lead when it comes to the provision of hybrid models to executive saloon buyers. The latest generation S-Class saloon offers a wide range of them and amongst the units on offer is one you'll also find in the slightly smaller, more affordable E-Class model, based around a 204bhp 2.1-litre diesel and a 27bhp electric motor. Doesn't sound especially ground-breaking? Just check out the efficiency figures it produces. After all, if you'd have told anyone five years ago that a heavy, luxury-orientated 150mph executive saloon would be able to return nearly 70mpg in regular use, they'd have laughed at you. Like all other E-Class variants, this one gets the styling updates and equipment upgrades that have lately improved the line-up. And it has the advantages that its direct competitors - the BMW Active Hybrid5 and the Audi A6 Hybrid - are both pricier and less efficient petrol/electric models.
Most UK E-Class customers opt for a diesel - and you can see why. The 2.1-litre CDI four cylinder engine that accounts for most sales offers 30% more pulling power than you'll get from the equivalent petrol powerplants. There are two choices, the 170bhp E220CDI and the 204bhp E250CDI. It's the pokier of these two that donates its engine to the car we're looking at here, the E300 BlueTEC Hybrid. This diesel/electric variant adds a 27bhp electric motor to the mix so that manoeuvring, parking and setting off a modest throttle loads for up to two-thirds of a mile are all conducted exclusively using power from the 19 kW lithium-ion battery. The 7G-Tronic Plus seven-speed transmission you get as standard is smooth but not especially responsive unless you use the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Performance is exactly the same as the standard E250 CDI, 62mph taking 7.5s on the way to 150mph. The diesel engine also switches itself off when coasting at speeds of up to 100mph. But would you really want to go that fast in an E-Class? Well, should the need arise, surprisingly these days, you just might. Dynamically you see, this car is much improved over the original version of the same design we first saw back in 2009. For a start, all models get an improved 'Direct Control' suspension set-up with selective damping with is further firmed up on AMG Sport variants. So the rear wheel drive chassis actually feels unexpectedly responsive when you pitch the car into a tight corner, especially if, as here, your car is fitted with the optional AirMATIC air suspension set-up with Adaptive Damping and you've switched off the magic carpet 'Comfort' mode in favour of 'Sport'.
This hybrid variant was launched before the most recent E-Class model update, so benefits from all the aesthetic upgrades you'll find elsewhere in the range. The traditional bonnet mascot's gone, replaced by a larger brand badge in the centre of a more prominent front grille flanked by a redesigned pair of curvaceously flowing headlamps. These now operate within a single lens that incorporates flowing light elements intended to maintain the typical four-eyed look that has come to characterise this car. Slip behind the wheel and smarter materials with meticulous detailing serve to raise the perceived quality and functionality of this car. There's a redesigned centre console too, with extra storage space making up for the fact that the door pockets are as small as ever. As before, you sit quite low and you'd be excused for some initial confusion with all the stalks, paddles and buttons that need to be mastered on the nappa-leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel, along with the endless menus of the standard COMMAND infotainment system whose 7" colour screen dominates the top of the dash. But you quickly adjust, not only to these but also to familiar E-Class anomalies like the foot-operated parking brake and the steering column-mounted gearstick. And once you have, you're set to more readily appreciate ergonomic design that's just that bit more special this time around. Out back, the 505-litre boot in the saloon (down from 540-litres in a standard E-Class) while the spacious estate version ups luggage capacity to a 650-litre total (down from 695-litres).
Expect to pay somewhere in the £40,000 to £45,000 bracket for your E300 BlueTEC Hybrid. That means a premium of around £3,000 over an E250 CDI model with the same 2.1-litre diesel but without the hybrid technology. If you'd like the extra practicality of the estate version with its standard self-levelling rear suspension for heavy loads, then you'll need to allow an extra £1,800 over the cost of an equivalent saloon. You can't order this diesel/electric engine in either an E-Class Coupe or an E-Class Cabriolet. The standard kit tally runs to alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, leather upholstery, cruise control, a leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, hill start assist to stop you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions and an Active Park Assist with Parktronic system that'll help you identify a parking space then, if you wish, even steer the car into it for you. Most importantly for many business users, all models get a COMMAND infotainment system incorporating 3D satellite navigation, a DAB digital radio, Bluetooth 'phone compatibility, a hard disc drive, in-car internet access and aux-in, ISB, iPod and SD card connectivity. Opt for the AMG Sport trim package and you get a body styling pack, sports seats with special leather/microfibre upholstery, studded aluminium pedals and an AMG steering wheel.
The diesel/electric E300 Hybrid manages 68.9mpg and 109g/km. That falls to 62.8mpg and 119g/km if you go for the estate model. For reference, if you save £3,000 and order a conventional E250 CDI diesel with the same 2.1-litre diesel engine but without the hybrid system's electrical assistance, the saloon model's figures are 57.7mpg and 134g/km.
There's little doubt that if you're looking for a hybrid model in the executive saloon or estate sector, then this is the one to go for. Rivals are pricier and less efficient. Mercedes has stolen a key march on its rivals here. Unfortunately for the Stuttgart brand though, the market for hybrids in this segment has yet to take off, so for the time being, E300 BlueTEC Hybrid variants will sell here in vanishingly small numbers. Except to those in the know. Count yourself as one of those now.
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