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
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.
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.
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.
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.