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Plug-in C-Class adds super low running costs to this attractive upper-medium package.
We try Mercedes' upper-medium saloon with hybrid power.
Digital Light with projection functions, 12.3in digital driver display, 11.9in digital central display, Driving Assistance Package Plus, MBUX infotainment with augmented reality for navigation and head-up display, Burmester 3D surround sound system, Wireless smartphone integration, including Apple Carplay and Android Auto.
The latest, all-new C-Class has already impressed us with its technology and strong mild-hybrid diesel engine. We've now had the chance to drive what will be the 'go-to' version for company car drivers - the C300e PHEV.
The big changes happen underneath the baby S-Class bodywork, with the 204hp, 2.0-litre petrol turbo engine combined with a 95kW electric motor, equalling an impressive 312hp. While the performance of the C300e will play its part, company car drivers are going to be more interested in the 7% BIK charge, emissions as low as 14g/km, average economy of a scarcely believable 403.5mpg, and the fact that this Mercedes can travel 62 miles on electric power alone. This is 26 miles more than its closest rival, the BMW 330e, can manage.
Another clever feature that the BMW can't match is that the C300e's battery can be fast charged to 100% capacity in just 30 minutes, using a 55kW charging station.
Inside, like the standard C-Class, the C300e's dashboard is dominated by the latest MBUX infotainment system, with its iPad-like screen curving out of the centre console. An impressive system, based around personal profiles, you sign in when getting in the car, notifying the C-Class of things like the preferred driving position and radio station. It features top quality graphics and, despite all the features, is simple to use. However, the updated 'Hey Mercedes' voice recognition system can be more miss than hit when using some functions. Plus, the excellent augmented navigation display obscures the whole screen when making direction changes - wouldn't it be better in the head up display, like in the latest Audi models?
The quality feel carries on to the rest of the C-Class's interior, although our AMG Line test car was left-hand drive and in German specification, so had some odd trim combinations.
Like the standard C-Class, rear passengers will be wanting more legroom, even though there is 35mm more knee room and 15mm more elbow room than the outgoing model. In fact, the biggest compromise to this C-class's practicality is the boot space, which is shallower and drops 140 litres, thanks to the battery being underneath, to 315 litres.
The C-Class automatically defaults to electric mode, so there is no engine noise as you press the start button, with engine only being called on at higher speeds. Hybrid mode feels much the same - overall, the C300e is best described as refined and comfortable, but definitely not sporty. The harsh way the petrol engine cuts in and the way the nine-speed automatic gearbox searches for a gear when accelerating hard undoes some of the refinement. Sport mode works with the engine only, but adds a harder, more uncomfortable edge to the ride. Still, after our 40 mile drive, the 62 mile electric range seems believable, with over 20 miles left on the range.
The plug-in hybrid drivetrain adds significant weight to the C-Class, which you can feel in corners, although this Mercedes is a tidy handler. The steering is reasonably communicative, too - but not quite at the levels of the BMW 3-Series. There are also two regenerative models to the braking, the second giving an almost one pedal drive, but we found them hard to moderate on the road.
Diesel plug-in hybrid versions of the new C-Class will follow, but like the standard car, the C300e impresses with its high levels of comfort and refinement, together with the significant savings that only plug-in hybrid versions are able to offer. We look forward to right-hand drive, UK specification cars to confirm that the BMW 330e doesn't have everything its own way anymore.