Mercedes Benz E 350e review
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is consistently one of the best executive saloons around, and the new generation is no different. This new E-Class is the first Mercedes wearing the famous badge to be available as a plug-in hybrid model though, filling in the gap between C-Class and S-Class PHEVs nicely. Mercedes has no shortage of experience with PHEV powertrains, but how does that translate with the new E-Class? NGC tests the Mercedes Benz E 350e to find out.
Review by Chris Lilly
Despite its eco-conscious foundation, the E-Class PHEV is a quick car. As can be expected from a car with an electric motor, pick-up off the line is instant, and the Mercedes has plenty of power available to keep the needle moving round the speedo quickly. The stats back this early impression up too, as the E 350e is powered by a 211 hp 2.0 litre petrol engine and 65 kW electric motor, which combined produce a total of 286 hp and 550 Nm of torque. The ubiquitous 0-62mph time is completed in 6.2 seconds, and the top speed is electronically limited to 155mph. In real world driving conditions, what it all actually means is that the E 350e is fantastically flexible. The Mercedes is equally capable pottering around town as it is stretching its legs for a long motorway run. The power available, and the two different characteristics proffered from the engine and moor combination, mean just about any situation is dealt with effortlessly. Problems are brushed away in a refined way, as the E-Class is no snarling performance saloon, but rather something far more Mercedes-like in general. The nine-speed automatic gearbox is rarely caught in the wrong ratio, and each shift is as smooth as you would expect from a Merc auto.
Complementing the drivetrain is the E-Class' handling set-up. The suspension allows for full-on wafting and means the whole driving experience is extremely relaxing. On a reasonably long run from the north of England to the Home Counties, I hit both roadworks and rush-hour traffic at various points. But the Mercedes cosseted me from the worst the M1 had to throw at me and delivered me at the doorstep relaxed and not even remotely angry at the UK's road infrastructure. That in itself was something seriously impressive, but the E 350e also manages to deal with other environments well. Town driving is aided by the slick transmission, but the well-weighted steering and supple suspension are well suited to the situation regardless. It's worth remembering that the E-Class is a long car, so spinning the wheel about in a car park needs to be undertaken with a modicum of sense. The only place where the E 350e doesn't excel though it on a twisty country road. The extra weight from the PHEV powertrain, combined with the comfortable springs, means that body-roll is noticeable when travelling fast around corners - even with the air suspension set to Sport mode. It's not going to induce sea-sickness though, and the E 350e doesn't wallow around at all. It's just the price to pay when you get a comfortable car.
As you would expect from a Mercedes saloon, the E-Class is understated but stylish. There have been plenty of good ones in the past, but this E-Class looks really stylish I think. It's not as nice as a Jaguar XF for example, but is more subtle than the new BMW 5-Series, a prized attribute in this market. As mentioned above, the E-Class is long, and this translates to lots of space inside. The boot is large even considering the car's battery creates a rather annoying step, reducing load capacity by almost 150 litres. You are still able to pack a lot into the boot though, and it does mean that the passenger space isn't affected by the addition of an electric powertrain. There is more than enough space for a couple of adults to relax in the back for a long cross-country drive in reality, with good leg and shoulder room, and even a decent amount of head space.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Those in the back of the E 350e will find an extremely comfortable set of chairs, ones that will support you while cornering, but then cosset you when the car's only trying to head in one direction at a time. Further forward, those in the front get yet more space, and the driver has a huge digital display to play with. One of the Mercedes' options is a large sheet of glass on the dashboard, which stretches from in front of the driver to the centre console. The driving instruments are all digital, while the infotainment screen is simply huge. Everything can be controlled by Mercedes' track pad/rotary dial system, with a few shortcut buttons to speed things up a bit. It's not the best in the business, but it works well nonetheless, and there are no complaints to be had with it. Sitting around the controls are the buttons that operate the drive select system and PHEV options, keeping everything in one easy to reach place on the transmission tunnel. The only controls on the centre console are for the air conditioning, and a few additional shortcut keys surrounding a lovely analogue clock. The whole thing is clean, simple, and as elegant as the exterior styling. Build quality feels rock solid and all the switchgear is beautifully made, complementing some great materials used inside. The E Class interior is a lovely place to sit, and the competition between the likes of Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Jaguar, and Lexus these days in terms of interior design is brilliant for customers.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Moving on to what this PHEV variant is all about, the E 350e naturally boasts some impressive economy figures. Officially, the Mercedes will return 134.5 MPG, cover 21 miles on a single charge, and emit just 49 g/km CO2 - not bad for a car that will keep up with a hot-hatch. In reality though, I might as well as pulled those figures out of thin air, since the economy of a PHEV depends dramatically on how you drive it and, more importantly, on how much you charge it. Travel everywhere on electric power and you theoretically never need to fill up the tank. Equally, never charge and you turn the E 350e into a conventional hybrid in essence, one able to only use the electric motor when you've either recuperated some energy under braking, or told the car to charge its battery with the engine. In my time with the car, I covered just shy of 600 miles, and didn't charge it as often as I would have liked because of some longer trips undertaken. The fuel economy displayed by the car's trip computer showed me 42.8 MPG, but this is almost a worst case scenario. In shorter trips, I regularly saw 60 MPG and above. An interesting bit of information provided by the car was also how much time the engine was not being used. Of 591 miles covered, the car was under electric power or coasting for 211 of them, representing almost half the amount of my combined 15 hours in the driving seat. A low-mid 40s MPG figure isn't bad at all for a large saloon either, and it would certainly improve with more regular and shorter trips.
Mercedes has packed the E 350e with supporting kit for its PHEV system to try and allow it to run as efficiently as possible. The 6.2 kWh battery pack is not the largest around, which is reflected in the available electric range. It flags behind rival PHEVs even half its price in all honesty. The car is charged with a Type 2 charger via an inlet situated on the off-side rear bumper. I would anticipate the charging flap would get rather grubby in the middle of a British winter, but that's only speculation. Charging will take a little under three hours from a three-pin plug, or as little as one and a half hours from a 3.6 kW charger. Brake energy regeneration will top up the battery as you slow down or go downhill, while there are four different powertrain modes to help out too - Hybrid, E-Mode, E-Save, and Charge. These are relatively self explanatory, the last two holding the battery's charge, or using the engine to top it up on the go respectively. There is also a drive mode select which allows for an Eco mode, along side Comfort, Sport, and Sport+. Each will tweak the steering, gearbox, throttle, and suspension settings to tailor the car to the driver's needs. There is also haptic feedback from the throttle when the car decides you could lift off a little, and an eco-trainer that gives feedback on how well (or poorly) you are driving in terms of economy. A wealth of driving data helps drivers analyse what how the trip went too, which is useful to take on board to aid driving development. Mercedes also has an app for PHEV users which can control various functions of the charging process, and give updates on state of charge etc. According to our calculations, the tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 40.
Many plug-in vehicles have high levels of equipment, in part to help justify the higher price tags relative to internal combustion models. The E 350e is no different and benefits from Mercedes' clear plan to make the E-Class a leader in technology. Standard equipment for the E 350e AMG Line tested consists of 19-inch alloy wheels, electric windows all-round, 12.3-inch COMAND infotainment system including sat-nav and DAB radio with USB and Bluetooth connectivity, front and rear parking sensors with park assist and reversing camera, cruise control, LED lights, automatic headlights and wipers, electric front seats, and automatic climate control amongst many other features. The model tested had the 12.3-inch cockpit display fitted as an option - the large sheet of glass on the dash. The Driver Assistance Plus pack was also added, which allows for semi-autonomous driving using lane-keep assist, emergency brake assist, variable cruise control, evasive steering assist, and active blind spot assist. The Premium Plus pack was also installed which features a keyless comfort pack including automatic boot closing, memory options for the front seats, a panoramic glass sunroof, multibeam LED headlight system, and excellent Burmester surround sound system.
Mercedes has some competition in the executive PHEV sector, with BMW's 530e boasting better economy figures than the E 350e. The Merc remains a seriously impressive package though, despite the relatively small battery capacity. It's so flexible in its abilities that it will work in just about any situation. And the fact that it is so comfortable and refined will really appeal to many drivers. With a high price, the E 350e will not be bought by many private buyers in all probability. However, the very favourable company car tax rates will mean the Mercedes becomes a favourite of fleet buyers and user-choosers - it's a big reason why the Mercedes C 350e has quickly become the third best-selling plug-in car in the UK. Good fuel economy figures, especially when charged regularly, and some sophisticated systems that help make the most of the car's electric drivetrain make the E 350e a seriously good car.
Model tested: Mercedes Benz E 350e AMG Line
Body-style: Executive saloon
Engine / CO2: 2.0 litre petrol engine and electric motor / 57 g/km
Trim grades: SE and AMG Line
On-road price: From £43,010 inc PiCG. Price as tested £45,505
Warranty: Three year / unlimited mileage
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4.0 Stars