The world’s oldest carmaker offers U.S. consumers lots of choices.
There are 18 models on Mercedes-Benz’s U.S. website – eight SUVs, six coupes/coupe-like sedans, and five sedans from the uber-luxurious Maybach I reviewed a few months ago to five flavors of C-Class. Out of those, only three are gas/electric –$66,700 GLE 550e 4MATIC plug-in hybrid and $49,990 GLC 4MATIC SUV hybrid SUVs, plus our Brilliant Blue $47,900 C 350e Plug-in Hybrid. The C-Class was unveiled worldwide in 1993 as its smaller 4-door. Three more generations later, the baby has matured and now offers some executive-class styling in a 15.3-foot-long shape restyled in 2014, then touched up in 2017, the same year it went electrified for the U.S. market.
So here’s a luxurious German sports sedan made in Alabama with a turbocharged 2-liter four and electric motor to give it power, pace and some parsimonious petrol purchases.
C-Class shape– Take an S-Class and shrink it but keep its refined yet swoopy shape. The cab rearward design of the C-Class looks good, at its best from a front three-quarters. The prominent grill carries two silver bars with a big star midpoint. The headlights swoop up on either side, eyelash-like LED DRLs over quad projector beam headlights that curve into corners. The lower intake with black mesh is real, with slim alloy air dam below, then faux side inlets give the face some aggression. Front fenders wear flares framing 5-spoke satin alloy and gray wheels with Continental ProContact P225/45R18-inch rubber, Mercedes-Benz-badged calibers visible grabbing large cross-drilled disc brakes. Subtle “EQ Power” badges accent the front fenders. A design line runs off the headlights’ trailing edge to fade into the rear fenders, with another edge flowing up over chrome-accented lower sill. The roofline has a gentle arc, more sedan-like than some other Benzes, the sloped rear window blending into a short rear deck with gently upswept spoiler. Large LED taillights flow into the rounded rear fenders. A black lower fascia gets steel exhaust tips, the rounded rear end in total a bit short and less elegant. Unlike other plug-in hybrids, with sockets on a front fender, the C350e’s is on the right rear back bumper. I wonder what a fender-bender might do to it.
C-Class comfort– The C-Class used to be a bit down-market inside. But this generation, C350e included, does a good job of downsizing the wraparound design of the luxurious S-Class, with precise stitched leather, delicate alloy air vents and deep-grain ash wood. Hit the remote’s unlock button and puddle lights shine all-round the car as its Pre-Entry Climate Control system fires up the cooled seats and a/c before you get in – my kind of welcome mat. Both front tan leather bucket seats get heating and cooling as well as 3-way memory presets for their 10-way power adjustments, making them firm, comfortable and very supportive. Under the padded flowing black dashtop lives analog 160-mph speedometer and 8,000-rpm tach with digital gas and power use/charge displays on the bottom. In between, a color digital display for navigation, energy flow, charge and electric miles status and more, selected off a left steering wheel control. That manual tilt/telescope 3-spoke wheel gets a thick stitched leather rim with perforated cowhide where you grip it. Buttons to fire up a simple but effective head-up display, lane warning and steering correction controls, even a 360-degree camera display, are left of the wheel. The cascading open pore wood center dashboard is topped with a free-standing display for navigation, superb Burmeister stereo, cellphone, vehicle driving and hybrid settings and climate control. All functions are controlled by Mercedes-Benz’s familiar tap/twist COMAND rotary selector knob at the base of the console, palm rest atop it housing a glossy black touchpad where you can trace letters and numbers to spell out an address or radio station. It’s flanked by knurled alloy volume control and a Dynamic Drive select for Sport+, Sport, Comfort or Economy modes. There’s a button to select hybrid, all-electric, no electric or a battery charging drive mode. Mercedes mbrace lets you interface smartphone to car to remote start, lock doors, send an address to navigation and use apps. You can surf the internet when stationary, with hands-free Bluetooth and audio streaming. Aft of that, a wide center armrest with storage space and dual USB ports beneath. Standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto let you hook into your smartphone, and voice command handles most functions easily. Accent lights delineate dashboard and doors. It’s all elegantly spare in design, yet rich in wood, leather and alloy detail. Other than a slightly smaller rear door opening with a lower roofline that forced me to duck, rear seat accommodations offered good head and leg room, the 220-lb. high-voltage lithium-ion battery mounted under the rear axle so it didn’t eat into rear passenger space. Rear seatbacks split 60/40 to expand a wide and deep trunk space. The battery box did raise the trunk floor, 11.8-cu.ft. vs. the standard C-Class’s 12.6-cu.ft. But there’s decent room, the charging cable tucked into a side pocket. So we have a very usable baby executive sedan with lots of luxury and tech.
C350electric Ride–Mercedes-Benz’s take is 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine with 208 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, its first plug-in 4-cylinder. The electric motor adds up to 80 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque, for a total output of 275 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque. The 7- speed automatic gets tiny paddle shifters for manual mode, an additional clutch between gas engine and the electric motor for all-electric mode, decoupling gas engine from the drivetrain. Hit the “Start” button and the C350e quietly comes to life on electric power alone. You can decide to go all-electric, conserve battery charge for later and just use gas, mix and match power sources or recharge while driving. The small battery only took about two hours to charge off a 120-volt outlet to an indicated 11-mile range, although Mercedes claims up to 20. In reality, all-electric gave us just about 10 miles in a mix of 70-mph highway and 40-mph side road cruising, the gas engine kicking in if you need more passing power. That’s less than most other plug-in hybrids. The “Battery charge” mode allowed me to drive with gas engine and electric boost available, yet quite quickly recharged the depleted battery fully on my 16-mile round trip to and from work, bypassing plugging in. That gave me just enough for downtown business driving on quiet, pollution-free electric. Or set in “Sport” and “Hybrid,” the drivetrain continued to recharge a few percent every mile, meaning you can have “Sport” engine response and juice up the battery during a longer drive.
You can select Sport+, Sport, Comfort or Economy modes to alter engine, transmission, suspension firmness, steering feel and even climate control. Economy and charge mode was my commuting go-to, offering decent acceleration despite dumbing down throttle input, with continuous battery replenishment. But “Sport” or “Sport+,” which keep the gas engine on all the time, maximizes turbo boost and speeds up gearshifts, turning the C350e into a quick sports sedan with efficiency. Our 8,200-mile sedan launched hard to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, the electric torque on demand immediately with a bit of wheelspin at launch. Electric and turbo boost combined to offer power at any speed, with no lag and precise downshifts in “Sport.” The exhaust note was a bit puttery at idle, only a hint of sportiness when pushed. Overall, we saw an indicated 29 mpg average on premium gas after a week of mixed driving in Economy and Sport. If navigation route guidance is on in “Hybrid” mode, the system controls the battery charging according to the route, ensuring that the electric operating mode is used mostly in urban areas. ECO Assist uses the smart cruise’s radar and proximity warning to double tap through the haptic response gas pedal, telling the driver to back off the gas. The cruise control will even slow down on curves. All said, the result is a slightly more fuel-efficient, yet powerful sedan where electric propulsion is an extra edge to passing, with fuel-savings. The C-Class rides on independent multi-link front and rear suspension with coil spring, single-tube shock absorber and tubular torsion bars, plus AIRMATIC air suspension with continuously variable damper adjustment and self-levelling suspension. The result was a very relaxed ride in “Economy” or “Comfort,” absorbing bumps easily while not feeling mushy, just a whisper of driver’s mirror wind noise. Engage “Sport” and the suspension firms up, quickly swallowing imperfections with minimal travel to become a fairly responsive sedan that was fun to drive. It was neutral in turns, with minimal body lean. It isn’t AMG, but an agile and fun sedan to drive daily. Power steering was firm in feel, if a bit artificial in boost in “Economy” mode. Feel really firms up in “Sport,” still feeling a bit artificial if direct. The brakes had an abrupt initial bite as regen kicked in, then brought the 3,924-lb. car down quickly with no nose dive. For safety, we had a whole menu: pre-safe braking with pedestrian recognition, enhanced radar-based regenerative braking, active lane keeping assist, back-up camera with cross-traffic assist, blind spot assist and smart cruise.
Benz Budget– A base gas-powered C300 is $41,400, while the plug-in hybrid C350e starts at $47,900. But options included: $800 adaptive LED headlights; $1,000 moonroof; $1,480 5-spoke alloy wheels; $1,950 leather seats; $1,030 heated/cooled front seats; $310 ambient light accents; $850 Burmeister audio; $990 head-up display; $1,200 premium package with safety systems, $2,650 navigation/multimedia; $1,090 parking assist and more for a final price of $63,515.
There’re a few plug-in hybrid sedans out there, from the $33,000 Ford Fusion Energi and Chevrolet Volt to the $34,000 Honda Clarity, $35,000 Sonata and $44,000 BMW 330e. They all have better electric range – 50 miles in the Volt and 19 in the BMW. If usable electric range is more your desire than luxury, these all fit the bill. But my choice would be the BMW for sportiness – my last test saw 60 mph in 5.4 seconds, with full charge in about seven hours on 120-volt. Or check out the Volt (8.1 seconds to 60 mph/13-hour charge time at 120-volt) for friendly usability.
Bottom Line– A fun, luxurious and agile compact luxury sedan with room and power, and a price tag. Just drive it like a hybrid and get that estimated 30 mpg, and comfortably refill the battery on “Battery charge” mode own so the cord never gets used.
2019 Mercedes-Benz C350e Specifications
Vehicle type – rear-wheel-drive compact plug-in hybrid 4-door sports sedan
Base price – $47,900 ($63,515 as tested)
Engine type – Turbocharged DOHC, 16-valve aluminum inline 4 w/6.2 kWh lithium-ion battery and 80-hp electric motor
Displacement – 2-liter
Horsepower (net) – 275 hp combined
Torque (lb.ft.) – 443 combined
Transmission – 7-speed automatic w/paddle shift
Wheelbase – 111.8 inches
Overall length – 184.5 inches
Overall width – 79.3 inches w/mirrors
Overall height – 56.8 inches
Front headroom – 37.1 inches
Front legroom – 41.7 inches
Rear headroom – 37.1 inches
Rear legroom – 35.2 inches
Cargo capacity – 11.8 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity – 13.2 gallons
Weight – 4,079 lbs.
Mileage rating – 28-mpg city/32 mpg highway/51 MPGe combined