After being pulled kicking and screaming from the extremely rapid Mercedes-AMG CLA45 S four-door coupe, I was expecting the Mercedes-Benz C300e plug-in hybrid sedan to be nothing more than a Sunday bowls car for someone considerably older me (Positively prehistoric, then – Ed).
Therein lies the problem with perceptions. This humble C-Class with an ‘e’ badge looks positively innocuous, but the combination of e-power and a petrol engine mean this vanilla four-door can catch hot hatches napping.
I couldn’t quite believe it first time, but a few more pokes at the throttle and sure enough, this thing is genuinely fast and right from the get-go.
It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and effectively eliminates the need to visit a petrol station if work or school is close and your garage has a power outlet – you’ll need to charge it nightly if you want to use electric mode and avoid the servo.
While the tech isn’t quite up to the very latest Mercedes-Benz standards, there’s more than enough gadgetry and functionality to keep most drivers entertained, as well as offering a bona-fide luxury driving experience.
There’s a real danger of buyers overlooking the C300e given the sheer number of C-Class variants on offer. By last count there 22 different versions; from the entry-level C200 sedan to the range-topping C63 S Cabriolet.
There’s another issue worth considering. The current-generation W205 C-Class has been around since 2014, with a 2018 update tidying up the exterior, freshening the cabin, and adding new powertrains to the mix.
Despite its age, the C-Class still has the looks thanks to a design that appears as a well-proportioned but scaled-down version of the flagship S-Class. I’m convinced that’s one of the reasons behind its long-held popularity.
For those folks that know little about Mercedes-Benz’s hybrid history in this segment, the C300e replaces the C350e, delivering more power, better economy and lower emissions. Well, that’s the promise.
The C300e is yours for $81,689 before on-road costs. On the one hand it’s a hefty price to pay over the regular C300 sedan but on the other, you can look at this latest C-Class hybrid as a very different proposition offering performance, miserly fuel consumption, and lower emissions.
If the hybrid is a bit rich for your budget, you can step into a C-Class for as little as $65,800 before on-roads. The entry-level C200 has the same 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine minus hybrid assistance.
Rivals are few and far between in this segment, with BMW’s 330e lining up as the only price competitor with a starting sticker of $81,900 before on roads. Problem is, it’s got nowhere near the punch of the Benz.
For Lexus fans there’s the IS300h Sports Luxury priced from $81,600 before on-roads, but it’s drastically short on power and torque and uses a CVT transmission compared the C300e’s smooth-shifting nine-speed auto.
First and foremost, you get a well-equipped Mercedes-Benz C-Class with headline features including adaptive air suspension, the driver assistance package with adaptive cruise control, full leather upholstery, keyless entry and start, and hands-free boot opening.
There’s also heated front seats with memory, LED headlamps with adaptive high beam assist, rear privacy glass, 18-inch alloy wheels (down from 19-inch on the regular C300), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as DAB radio.
Another useful feature the C300e gets is the ability to pre-start the climate control before you get in the car, great for cold winter mornings or hot summer days.
You also get a charging cable with a Type 2 (seven pin) plug, but you’ll need to install a home wall box if you want the convenience of fast-charging at home – two hours versus all night using a regular power socket)
There’s an excellent 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that includes fully configurable gauges, in addition to a 10.25 floating media display.
It’s an older (not MBUX) system that’s only accessible using a rotary dial, because there’s no touchscreen. It’s annoying to say the least, especially compared with the dual-screen setup that made its debut in the A-Class.
Our test car was fitted with a few optional extras including the Vision Package ($6300) which adds a panoramic sunroof with roller sun blind and heat-insulating glass, multi beam LED headlights, a 360-degree camera, and a head-up display.
It was also equipped with the Seat Comfort Package ($900) which adds memory with three settings and includes the door mirrors, heated front seats, and power adjustment for headrest, seat cushion, and steering wheel.
While the infotainment unit falls short of newer Benz models, there are USB ports front and rear.
It’s also refreshing to grasp the perfectly round leather wrapped steering wheel as it feels great in your fingers – especially when you punt it through some of your favourite bends on the way home, dare I suggest you do that.
One thing you’ll notice about the C-Class is how light the doors are. They almost feel like they’ve been fabricated from carbon fibre, so effortless are they to open and close.
Last tested in 2014, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class was awarded a five-star ANCAP safety rating after scoring a maximum 36.46 out of a possible 37.00 points. It should be noted that the C300e wasn’t tested specifically.
Standard fitment are nine airbags, autonomous emergency braking, attention assist, blind-spot monitoring, reverse collision avoidance, and following distance warning for when you’re distracted in traffic.
The C300e gets additional safety features (as does the C300) including the Driving Assistance Package, adding active distance assist, rear cross-traffic alert, evasive steering assist, active blind-spot assist, and lane-keeping assist.
It might getting on in years, but climb aboard and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how well this interior has stood up. It still looks and feels special.
It’s not any one thing that stands out. It’s the entire package that works, with bountiful quantities of real aluminium trim popping among the sumptuous leather and lacquered piano black spread throughout the cabin.
It’s relatively roomy up front, with decent living space for second-row passengers – but only two back there in comfort, thanks to a nasty transmission tunnel bulge almost cancelling out legroom for the middle back-seat passenger.
There’s also decent leg- and headroom in the back row, with room to slide boots under the front seats making for a more comfortable journey for rear-seat passengers.
Storage for knick-knacks is good, with space for wallets and phones forward of the centre-console bin, as well as proper map pockets and generous bottle holders in all four doors.
Vision is good on a 360-degree basis even though the belt line is quite high, which makes the C300e feel open and airy. It really is a pleasant place to be, despite the old-school infotainment system.
However, there is a sizeable issue that rears its ugly head the moment you open the boot. It’s a bit of a shock, because first impressions are that you’ve only got half the normal space.
It’s almost that bad in reality, because cargo capacity is a measly 300 litres as opposed to 455L in the standard C300 sedan, and some of that space is hindered by a large battery bulge. It’s soft bags only back there.
As a plug-in hybrid the C300e uses two power sources. In this case, there’s a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine with direct injection under the bonnet making 155kW of power and 350Nm of torque on its own
When packaged with the car’s e-motor, which generates up to 90kW of power and 440Nm of torque, the two motors combine to make 235kW and a whopping 700Nm.
It’s all sent to the rear wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission calibrated specifically for EQ PHEV models.
If you want to operate the car under full EV mode that’s fine, because claimed range on a full charge is up to 52 kilometres. That’s almost double that of its C350e predecessor.
Charging is simple enough. Standard equipment includes a Type 2 charging cable which, if used in conjunction with the Mercedes-Benz home wall box, will give you a full charge in two hours. Using a domestic socket will take seven hours.
From the outset the C300e is a thoroughly entertaining drive that will have you rotating through various power modes and drive modes more frequently than you might have thought.
I jumped into this harmless-looking Benz thinking I’d cruise around all week in e-mode exclusively. For the first 24 hours I pretty much did just that with an average fuel consumption of less than 1.0L/100km.
I find that remarkable after going through a tanker’s worth of 98 RON in the CLA45 S.
Still a sharp looker
It's getting on compared to the BMW 3 Series, but the C-Class can hold its own.
My own garage is full with two cars, a motorcycle, and the Volvo XC40 family chariot taking up its position on the driveway, so plugging in at home wasn’t an option. That meant a bit of time was spent driving in Charge mode or E-Save.
That went on for a couple of days before I finally got the chance to unleash the full force of the Hybrid setting. This is Jekyll and Hyde stuff for real. The C300e has 700Nm of torque, with a large dollop on offer from the very instant you give it full throttle.
Whoosh, and in no time at all the Granddaddy of the Benz fleet is hitting 100km/h in 5.4 seconds. The torque doesn’t let up, it keeps on pulling. Pity about our speed limits, because you’ll need an autobahn to properly put this hybrid to the test.
Very few people are going to out-drag a determined C300e driver from a set of traffic lights. Remember, C-Class is rear-wheel drive so getting on the power early is more fun again. There’s a tonne of grip on offer.
Despite the fact this particular C-Class tips the scales at 1740kg, more than 200kg heavier than the stock C300 sedan, it handles like a regular C-Class.
After a while it’s easy to forget you’re driving a significantly heavier car, because the C300e is relatively agile with communicative steering that’s quick to respond to driver inputs. I like this car a lot.
What’s more, I don’t recall C-Class ever delivering a truly comfortable ride until now. The C300e is equipped with adaptive air suspension, and it’s simply brilliant in its ability to soak up the lumps and bumps on our crappy suburban streets.
It firms up in Sport but even then, the suspension has enough compliance dialled in to cushion all but the very worst of it. Best of all, body control tightens up. This is where the C300e becomes a pseudo performance car.
Honestly, if this is the next step towards full electrification for the masses bring it on. Mind, it’s not exactly the most pleasant engine note, but it’s not entirely awful either.
My worst consumption reading was around 6.5L/100km but that was in Hybrid mode having the most fun. My most efficient was below 1.0L/100km.
While that was indeed astonishing and real-world possible (if you can charge the car) it was the extra punch from the hybrid powertrain at full-throttle which was the most fun.
Mercedes-Benz was the first volume-selling luxury carmaker to move to a five-year, unlimited-kilometre factory warranty. Moreover, the on-board lithium-ion battery is covered for six years.
Servicing intervals are recommended every 12 months/25,000km with various service plans on offer including; three years at $2000, four years at $2800, and a five-year schedule for $4300.
The Mercedes-Benz C300e is a huge surprise, and a pleasant one at that.
It’s not perfect with its outdated infotainment system and mini-size boot, but for a luxury daily driver than doesn’t cost the earth and goes like stink using minimal fuel? I can’t think of anything better.