Mercedes-benz C300de Es­tate

Hy­brid diesel rated

Autocar - - THIS WEEK - SI­MON DAVIS @si­mon­davisnz

There’s an in­cred­i­bly strong chance that Mercedes-benz might just be on to some­thing big with its new C300de. You’ll be well aware of the bat­ter­ing diesel cars have been sub­jected to over the past 18 months or so. Both govern­ment and the main­stream me­dia have in­creas­ingly been push­ing the idea that oil-burn­ers are bad news for the gen­eral pub­lic’s health – par­tic­u­larly in busy city cen­tres – even though any au­to­mo­tive en­gi­neer worth their salt will tell you that the most moden diesels are cleaner, less pol­lut­ing and more ef­fi­cient than ever be­fore.

But – and I don’t think this is a par­tic­u­larly un­rea­son­able but – what if your diesel car was ca­pa­ble of run­ning on noth­ing more than elec­tric­ity in th­ese built-up ar­eas? And what if, once you’ve left the con­fines of the ur­ban sprawl, you could rely on the su­pe­rior range, low CO2 emis­sions and ef­fort­less torque of its oil-burn­ing en­gine to get you to your fi­nal des­ti­na­tion, free from any as­so­ci­ated guilt about your choice of pow­er­plant?

That, es­sen­tially, is ex­actly what Mercedes-benz’s new C300de sets out to al­low you to do. Like any other plug-in hy­brid, it com­bines an elec­tric mo­tor, which is ca­pa­ble of pow­er­ing the car on its own for around 30 miles cour­tesy of a 13.5kwh bat­tery, with a tra­di­tional in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine. Un­like most other plug-in hy­brids, though, that in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine is fu­elled from the black pump at the fill­ing sta­tion.

It’s a 2.0-litre four-cylin­der unit that de­vel­ops 191bhp and a rea­son­ably meaty 295lb ft. The elec­tric mo­tor, mean­while, makes 121bhp and 325lb ft. Com­bined, the C300de pro­duces 302bhp, while torque has to be lim­ited to 516lb ft, most likely so as not to over­whelm the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the nine-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion.

This al­lows Mercedes to make the rather im­pres­sive claim that, in the es­tate guise you see on th­ese pages, not only will the C300de be able to hit 62mph from a stand­still in just 5.7sec, but it should also be ca­pa­ble of achiev­ing a com­bined econ­omy fig­ure 177mpg and CO2 emis­sions as low as 42g/ km – al­beit mea­sured un­der the out­go­ing NEDC test con­di­tions.

Now, tra­di­tional plug-in hy­brids have been mak­ing sim­i­larly im­pres­sive fuel econ­omy claims for some time. And although they might be able to rely on their

abil­ity to travel on elec­tric­ity alone to bring down their av­er­age con­sump­tion and emis­sions fig­ures in the city, show one a pro­longed stretch of mo­tor­way and chances are its petrol en­gine will strug­gle to re­turn a fig­ure that’s any­where near those on-pa­per claims. The Range Rover P400e, for in­stance, can sup­pos­edly man­age 101mpg, but I spent a day in one a few months back and the best fig­ure its trip com­puter could con­jure was 23mpg. This is likely to have been be­cause its 2.0-litre four-cylin­der petrol mo­tor strug­gled when it came to shift­ing a 2.5-tonne SUV.

Any­way, while some scep­ti­cism is al­ways rec­om­mended when look­ing at th­ese things, the point is that the C300de, with its abil­ity to switch to diesel power at the drop of a hat, should be able to come much closer to match­ing those claims than its petrol-pow­ered brethren.

It cer­tainly made a good ef­fort of it on the Stutt­gart test route, which com­bined plenty of time in heavy stop-start in­ner-city traf­fic with an few stints at speeds closer to what you’d be do­ing on a mo­tor­way. Although it didn’t man­age that hal­lowed 177mpg fig­ure, its trip com­puter was still show­ing an av­er­age con­sump­tion fig­ure of around 90mpg at the end of the route. That was with the diesel en­gine be­ing the sole source of power for a good pro­por­tion of the to­tal trip, too.

How­ever, while it proved to be im­pres­sive from an econ­omy point of view on first con­tact, it’s not an en­gine you’d be will­ing to la­bel as a glow­ing ex­am­ple of re­fine­ment. Although there are cer­tainly far gruffer diesel en­gines out there, the C300de’s has a dis­tinctly agri­cul­tural edge to its tim­bre un­der load. Even at a steady cruise, the man­ner in which it hums away in the back­ground is no­tice­able, although ad­mit­tedly I may have be­come more sen­si­tive to any sound it made af­ter an ex­tended pe­riod of run­ning about on bat­tery power alone.

The man­ner in which the two mo­tors work to­gether is im­pres­sive, though. Leave the Mercedes in its stan­dard Hy­brid drive mode and the elec­tric mo­tor pro­vides smooth, lin­ear ac­cel­er­a­tion off the line. Take off with a bit more ur­gency and the diesel en­gine will en­gage in a largely seam­less fash­ion, with both mo­tors pro­vid­ing that size­able slug of low­down torque to get the Merc up to speed in very swift fash­ion in­deed.

The nine-speed au­to­matic gear­box works well, too. You largely won’t no­tice it swap­ping cogs un­der the more laid-back driv­ing style that a busy ur­ban route de­mands, although whether the same is true if you were to drive with a de­gree more en­thu­si­asm I’m un­able to say.

As for the way the Mercedes rides,

❝ Its trip com­puter showed an av­er­age of around 90mpg ❞

it’s a mixed bag. The C300de is cer­tainly a com­fort­able car. There’s tight, pli­ant body con­trol here that al­lows it to deal with un­du­lat­ing sur­faces with plenty in the way of con­fi­dence. That said, lumps, bumps and other im­per­fec­tions in the road’s sur­face did cause the C-class to lose a touch of its com­po­sure on our test route – at times giv­ing the im­pres­sion that it was stum­bling over rather than iron­ing out th­ese less than stel­lar patches of Tar­mac. Body roll through the few tighter cor­ners we came across was well man­aged, too, and the steer­ing, while not ex­actly bristling with feel, was pleas­ing in its di­rect­ness and weight.

The cabin, mean­while, main­tains the same sense of opu­lence that is com­mon to all C-class in­te­ri­ors. Am­bi­ent light­ing and wood pan­elling look the part, although the wood trim does feel a bit dis­ap­point­ing to the touch, and the leather-up­hol­stered seats of our test car were com­fort­able and sup­port­ive. The C300de does with­out the new dual-screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem you get in the new A-class, though, and while it’s easy enough to op­er­ate, it’s not the slick­est sys­tem, par­tic­u­larly next to those of­fered by Audi and BMW. In gen­eral, though, you’re in no dan­ger of feel­ing short-changed.

With the mid-2019 launch of the C300de still some way off, prices are yet to be an­nounced, although some­thing around the £40,000 mark is mooted. This is likely to mean that the C300de will make fi­nan­cial sense for only rather deep-pock­eted in­di­vid­u­als who know they’ll cover a fairly high num­ber of miles each year. But that’s gen­er­ally the case with diesel-pow­ered cars, isn’t it? They don’t make sense for the driver who is only ever go­ing to use one for the school run or the morn­ing com­mute. Ex­cept that with a C300de, you can do those trips on elec­tric power alone.

There are driv­ers who ben­e­fit greatly from diesel en­gines in their typ­i­cal daily mo­tor­ing. If com­bin­ing a diesel en­gine with an elec­tric mo­tor goes some way to re­vers­ing the dam­age that has al­ready been done, then surely that’s a good thing.

C300de puts on speed briskly and rides with a mea­sured pli­ancy but sur­face im­per­fec­tions can dis­turb its com­po­sure

Driver can en­joy the op­u­lent cabin as well as di­rect, well-weighted steer­ing

On a full charge, you can cover about 30 miles on elec­tric-only propul­sion

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