Benz’s bright spark

The C-Class plug-in hy­brid main­tains the safety and luxury quo­tas and, for most, will mean a petrol-free com­mute

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Prestige - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

PLUG-IN hy­brids are about as popular as park­ing in­spec­tors but a ver­sion of Australia’s best­selling pri­vate sedan aims to amp up the in­ter­est.

The Mercedes-Benz C350e will go on sale here late this year as part of a three-pronged bid (along with the GLE soft-roader and S-Class limou­sine) to per­suade buy­ers there is more to se­ries hy­brids — where the en­gine and elec­tric mo­tor can both pro­pel the ve­hi­cle — than just a smaller car­bon foot­print.

The C-Class’s of­fi­cial fuel con­sump­tion is 2.1L/100km. For the 85 per cent of Aus­tralians who travel less than 30km to work each day that fig­ure could be zero, pro­vid­ing they have ac­cess to a power socket where they park their car.

Mercedes driv­ers are more likely to be among the 70-plus per cent of driv­ers who com­mute less than 15km to the of­fice, mean­ing they can the­o­ret­i­cally make the round trip be­fore recharg­ing.

The 2.0-litre petrol en­gine kicks in if the bat­tery ca­pac­ity dips and can also act as a gen­er­a­tor to top-up the lithium-ion cells on the run.

It all sounds good on pa­per. The key ob­sta­cle for Mercedes will be to over­come buyer in­dif­fer­ence to the tech­nol­ogy: just 482 hy­brids have been sold to pri­vate buy­ers this year.

That’s partly down to a lack of gov­ern­ment in­cen­tives and to a lack of de­bate on the need to lower emis­sions and avoid hav­ing Syd­ney and Mel­bourne join­ing the smog-smoth­ered cities. Smok­ing kills ... but so do ex­haust emis­sions.

VALUE

The num­bers aren’t fully crunched here but early in­di­ca­tions are the C350e could be about $85,000 — or $16,000 more than the C250 sedan on which it is based. That’s com­pa­ra­ble with the pre­mium Audi plans to charge for its hy­brid-pow­ered A3.

Be­yond the po­ten­tial fuel sav­ings, the C350e will be bet­ter equipped and ride on stan­dard air­matic sus­pen­sion rather than steel springs.

The price dif­fer­ence still won’t have buy­ers be­sieg­ing deal­ers to get be­hind the wheel … but the hy­brid Benz has an­other trick up its sleeve in terms of per­for­mance.

The com­bined out­puts pro­pel the car to 100km/h in a sports car-quick 5.9 sec­onds. That’s 0.7 secs quicker than a C250, de­spite the hy­brid’s ex­tra 280kg mass. The C63 AMG apart, this hy­brid is now the per­for­mance cham­pion of the C-Class range.

DRIV­ING

The C-Class is Carsguide’s reign­ing Car of the Year and with good rea­son. It com­bines a luxury in­te­rior with some of the best road man­ners in the busi­ness. The C350e faith­fully ad­heres to that for­mula.

The ex­tra bulk isn’t ev­i­dent in terms of ac­cel­er­a­tion or changes of di­rec­tion un­til driv­ers start push­ing se­ri­ously hard through down­hill turns. At that point the tyres will start to whine mo­ments be­fore a regular C250 would, sim­ply be­cause they’re con­tend­ing with greater mo­men­tum. That hap­pens well be­fore the nose be­gins to push wide and means 99 per cent of driv­ers won’t no­tice a thing.

What they will no­tice is the surge of torque as a com­bined 600Nm launches the Merc at the next turn — at least when the four-mode power de­liv­ery is in Hy­brid mode.

The C350e’s other modes are elec­tric only; “Hold”, which pre­serves the bat­tery un­til driv­ers reach a city; and Charge, which uses the en­gine to reen­er­gise the bat­tery while driv­ing.

Hap­tics — the force feed­back most peo­ple are familiar with from gam­ing con­soles — are used to en­cour­age driv­ers to max­imise elec­tric propul­sion.

In elec­tric mode the ac­cel­er­a­tor has an ar­ti­fi­cial limit that re­sists nor­mal foot pres­sure and as a way to warn driv­ers they are at max­i­mum e-ccel­er­a­tion. Press on past the de­tente and the en­gine kicks in.

Sim­i­larly when ap­proach­ing a slower ve­hi­cle, the pedal “dou­ble pulses” to en­cour­age driv­ers to ease off and use en­ergy re­cu­per­a­tion as the mo­tor acts as an al­terna­tor rather than just the me­chan­i­cal brakes.

As with with most tech in the C-Class, both fea­tures take very lit­tle adap­ta­tion.

VER­DICT

The three-pointed star aims to make the three-pin plug a popular auto ac­ces­sory. The C350e makes a con­vinc­ing case but un­til the price pre­mium over a petrol-pow­ered car can be cut, it will still be a niche ve­hi­cle for en­thu­si­asts and the en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious.

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