Merc says hi to hybrids
In general, hybrids are not cheap. All that investment in batteries and clever computer systems to manage their output means that the price you pay to put one on the road is usually well above what you would pay for an equivalent diesel.
In general, Mercedes cars are not cheap either. They are certainly competitive within their segments, but the nigh-on legendary levels of research and development, combined with the cachet of the three-pointed star, means that if you want to put a Mercedes on your driveway, you’re going to have to splash out a little.
So when we learned that Mercedes would be introducing a hybrid to the E-Class range, we sat back and braced ourselves for the price tag. Given the cost of hybrid tech and the fact that Mercedes prices its cars according to premium badge tradition, this was going to be a whopper.
Hang on, €51,070? That’s actually not bad at all. Admittedly, it’s not an insignificant amount of money (and it’s a price that will creep up slightly post-budget), but it means that the E300 BlueTec Hybrid seriously undercuts the price of its most significant rival, the Lexus GS450h, by as much as €8,000.
Mercedes has done this, to an extent, by trimming back the work that the electric half of the drivetrain needs to do. So, while most of the car’s power and performance comes from the familiar 2.1-litre 204bhp diesel, as found in the E250 CDI, the hybrid module consists of a 20kW electric motor sandwiched in with the seven-speed automatic transmission, and a compact lithium-ion battery positioned up front in the engine bay. Now that the battery is smaller, there is no intrusion into boot or cabin space. And if that also means that the E300 cannot run as far or as long on pure electric power, then its claimed figures are still pretty impressive. How does 109g/km of CO2 and 4.2 litres per 100km (67mpg) grab you?
To drive, as it is to look at, the E300 Hybrid feels entirely conventional. Start up and there is silence, save for the whirr of the air conditioning fan. The car pulls away cleanly under electric power; a few hundred yards later, you’ll hear a discreet cough as the diesel engine, its noise very impressively suppressed, kicks in.
From then on, performance is brisk (Mercedes does not yet claim official figures but says that it is comparable to the 3.0-litre E350 CDI V6 diesel, although 35 per cent more efficient) and that claimed fuel economy figure seems doable, albeit only with a light right foot.
The rest of the car is classic E-Class. A little less agile than a BMW 5 Series, perhaps, but refined, comfortable and exceedingly satisfying.
The arrival of the E300 BlueTec marks the start of a busy year for Mercedes. The much-anticipated new A-Class arrives in dealerships this week, with prices starting from €26,435, while the gorgeous CLS Shooting Break estate arrives in January.
Meanwhile, Mercedes is gearing up for the launch of the all-new S-Class later in 2013, which is claimed to have groundbreaking safety levels thanks to a suite of electronic sensors and cameras which scan the road up to 500m away, constantly on the lookout for danger or an impending accident.
Wondering how much all that will cost? So are we.