Test drive: Mercedes-Benz C350e

The more you pay the more you get. Merc proves this by strapping its priciest C-Class with two sources of power

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54. My parents were both born that year. 54 was also the percentage of battery left in the Mercedes-Benz C350e as I prepared to drive home to see them on Chinese New Year's Eve. They’d be thrilled to see their son come home for the holidays in a new Mercedes-Benz, I thought. Only they didn't hear me coming. Not with the car’s electric motor assuming complete control as I rolled into the driveway in near silence.

Like BMW’s 330e, the top-of-the-line, non-AMG C-Class is a unique sort of automobile the millennials call a plugin hybrid – a car that can run on petrol one moment, and pure electricity another. The former is done with a 208bhp four-pot turbo derived from the Mercedes-Benz C250. The part that might spook your folks is when this two-litre mill goes to sleep, handing over propulsion duties to an 80bhp electric motor that harnesses power from a 6.38kWh battery tucked in the back where you’d normally store a spare wheel.

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Because of this, dad, whose joints aren’t as limber as they were back in the roaring eighties, didn’t have too much trouble helping me with the luggage. But the bigger picture shows a chip in practicality now that the floor of the boot is notably raised. We suspect enough space for a medium-sized luggage bag has been sacrificed – the boot now accommodates 335 litres to be precise, 145 litres less than a regular C – but surely that’s worth the extra 340Nm of electrically-derived torque and 31km of fuel-free potential that comes with it?

Officially, the combined output reads 275bhp and 600Nm – just 50Nm shy of the Mercedes-AMG GT S’s maximum twist. But the C350e is still a sophisticated C-Class first, and sports hybrid second. A mild one to be completely honest. A century sprint that manages to dip just below the six-second mark is undoubtedly impressive, but not quite out of this world. And unless Dynamic Select is fixed to a sporty driving mode, the car rarely ever calls upon the full potential of its two sources of propulsion simultaneously. So don’t let your aspirations for a Porsche 918 Spyder die just yet.

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This doesn’t render the electrified C-Class to something along the lines of a C250 with a few gimmicks up its neatly creased sleeves. The Mercedes-Benz C350e is opportunistic where its unique talents are concerned, taking every chance to remind the driver of the lowercase ‘e’ glued onto its boot lid, from the unusually massive brake calipers finished in an oceanic blue hue, Mercedes-Benz’s communication colour for eco-friendly tech, to the complete lack of sound upon ignition.

The silence persists for as long as the driver keeps the right foot above the throttle’s midpoint. In fact, we managed entire sub-10km trips without waking the gasoline engine up even though the powertrain was set to run in Hybrid mode – other options being the fulltime-electric E-Mode, E-Save for battery preservation and Charge, which forces the engine into being the sole power generator for both the battery and rear wheels. However, expect few of these runs on a single full charge as the C350e’s real-world range seems to hover closer to the 20-km mark than the 31km claimed.

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When the car senses a need to back up kilowatts with horsepower, the C350e’s transition from operating as a full-EV to an engine-aided hybrid is a relatively smooth one thanks to the cabin’s stellar sound insulation. A pedestrian standing right beside the car as this power shift occurs may not agree, as the M274 engine makes a surprising amount of noise completely uncharacteristic of a car clearly brandishing the three-pointed star from every angle. This is something we have observed in other C-Class variants in the past as well.

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You’re better off inside, where only the output of an opulent 13-speaker, 590-watt Burmester sound system is deemed worthy of your ears. There’s also plenty of grazing space for the soles of your Bally shoes in the back as the electrical baggage in the rear doesn’t eat into the cabin. It is in the back seat where mom and dad felt like royalty throughout the festive weekend. Their own leather-wrapped thrones from where they’d listen to me, the designated driver, ramble about the C350e’s technological highlights with every unfamiliar button I pressed. They’d nod in fascination every now and then, but were probably unbothered by the complexities for the most part.

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This brings us to the burning question: can the average driver who couldn’t care less about charging and swapping between driving modes for maximum efficiency appreciate the C350e?

Someone who has been eyeing the now-discontinued C300 after a few convincing test drives may still have a lingering desire for the old range-topper’s fully-fueled potential. But the Mercedes-Benz C350e is surprisingly easy to live with – our initial concerns about range and recharging quickly extinguished by the fact that you can technically drive it without ever opening the flap in the rear bumper. As a plugin hybrid, the C350e impresses with a usable EV range and clever management of both its power sources. As a Mercedes-Benz, it is endowed with just about the right balance of aesthetics, luxurious appointments and performance to justify its spot at the top of its class.

Engine: 1,991cc, 4-cyl turbo with electric motor, 275bhp, 600Nm combined
Economy: 2.4l/100km, 54g/km CO2
Performance: 0-100kph in 5.9 secs, 250kph
Weight: 1,780kg
Price: From RM289,888

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Author: Daryl Loy