Plug-in-petrol-electric C-Class becomes an option even for the diesel’s cars drivers
The C350e is another reason to weigh up the advantages of plug-in hybrid power over a conventional diesel engine in your next compact executive saloon.
With the Volkswagen Passat GTE, Volvo V60 D5 Twin Engine, Audi A3 Sportback e-tron and BMW ‘iPerformance’ 330e, there are now plenty of ways for benefit-in-kind tax payers to combine premium- brand ownership with a sub-50g/km electrified powertrain and end up in a faster and more efficient company car for a lower monthly outlay than that of a mid-range diesel. And it might offer value to a private buyer with the right kind of usage in mind.
Like the Passat GTE and unlike the V60, the C350e has an electric motor mounted in line with the combustion engine and upstream of a seven- speed automatic transmission.
With only 80bhp of electric power and 6.2kWh of battery storage, the C-Class offers less zero-emissions power and range than most rivals, but a relatively healthy 208bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine makes this the only four-door PHEV of its kind capable of a sub-6.0sec 0-62mph time.
Mostly, this car appeals because it’s a well-equipped C-Class at an attractive price. Available from just under £39,000, it will actually cost you less than an equivalent 94g/km C300h diesel hybrid once you deduct the government’s £2500 PHEV car grant. For fleet drivers, the tax saving should more than offset the slightly higher monthly contract hire. To sweeten the deal further, Airmatic air suspension is thrown in as standard.
The interior is expensive-feeling, pleasant and solidly hewn. Packaging of the drive battery takes a sliver of boot space away, but it hardly makes a difference to the practicality. Back seats that fold 40/20/40 are standard and passenger space front and rear is competitive for the class, with room for bigger adults in the rear.
To drive, the C350e makes for a better limousine than it does a sports saloon. There are several drive modes, but even in Sport and Sport+ settings the steering feels rubbery and leaden off centre and the air springs struggle to maintain flat, the C350e will return about 50mpg. Use the car like any other, decline to bother to charge it and drive it with no regard for the talent of its powertrain to ‘sail’ and regenerate energy while braking and you’ll see economy in the low 30s.
Short-range motorists who like the idea of an upmarket compact exec with a zero-emissions twist might be at home here. The C350e is actually competitively priced compared with higher-end C-Class diesels, and for those who don’t do the mileage to see the benefit of a leggy oil-burner, it’s got plenty to recommend it.
That it isn’t more competitively priced compared with the PHEV competition may count against it, though, as will the fact that it doesn’t offer more robust and longer-lasting electric-only running.
A surprisingly well-priced alternative to a diesel, but not the greatest example of the new PHEV breed
Price: £36,400 (after gov’t grant)
Engine: 4cyls, 1991cc, turbo, petrol, plus electric motor
Torque: 442lb ft
Gearbox: 7-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 1780kg
Top speed: 155mph
Economy: 134.5mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 48g/km, 7%
Rivals: VW Passat GTE, BMW 330e