The C350 Plug-in Hybrid, the version of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class that can go about 20 miles purely on electricity, has an elegant, sporty look. The C-Class conveys luxury and prestige.
The C350 Plug-in Hybrid starts in a near-silent electric mode, with the gasoline combustion engine inactive. Electric output of up to 80 horsepower is available for driving in the electric mode, with delivery of up to 251 pound-feet of torque. But that’s only the electric side of the plug-in hybrid system. The 1.9-liter four-cylinder gas engine produces 208 of its own horsepower, with 258 pound-feet of torque. When operating in unison, the combined total system output is a capable 275 ponies, with an impressive 443 pound-feet of torque. Acceleration to 60 miles per hour takes place in less than six seconds.
The ability to use either electric, internal combustion or a combination of electric and gas propulsion means sporty performance when you want it, and stellar fuel consumption for local miles. Either way, the seven-speed automatic ensures a familiar relaxed Mercedes driving experience.
The driver is in control of the system by way of four hybrid-related operating modes:
- E-mode. All-electric driving while the battery holds sufficient charge.
- Hybrid. All-electric, gas-alone, gas with boosts of electric power, or whatever combination yields the greatest efficiency.
- E-save. Rely on the gas engine with little or no help from the electric motor, in order to reserve energy in the battery for later use.
- Charge. The combustion engine is not only on, but some of the fuel is consumed to pump energy in the battery pack.
The C350 will also provide the driving modes usually found in a Mercedes vehicle: comfort, economy and sport.
Efficiency & Range
The plug-in C-Class carries a liquid-cooled 220-pound battery pack (under the rear axle) with a total capacity of 6.2 kilowatt-hours. That allows the driver, after plugging in for about two hours via a 240-volt outlet, to go about 20 miles without using any gasoline. If your daily commute is below 20 miles, or you can charge throughout the day, you can virtually eliminate visits to the gas station and emissions from the tailpipe. But during road trips, the capable gas engine can extend driving range by hundreds of miles. (The no-plug version, and presumably the C350 plug-in, has an 18-gallon gas tank.)
Like all hybrid and electric cars, the C-350 Plug-in Hybrid reclaims energy during braking and coasting. But when you pull into the driveway or garage, it's possible to plug in with a 240-volt charging station. That will produce enough battery power for about 20 miles of all-electric driving. (A 120-volt source will take overnight.)
Passenger & Cargo Room
The C-Class is a small car, with comfortable spacious front seats—but the back seats are generally considered just adequate in terms of legroom. Reviewers believe that the compact sedan’s trunk is relatively small for its class, a shortcoming that could be exacerbated by a reduction of trunk capacity from 12.6 cubic feet to 11.8 cubic feet to make room for the battery pack.
The instrument cluster is mostly unchanged from the conventional C-Class. It does, however, feature a small eco meter and an energy-flow screen.
The C350 Plug-in Hybrid has not been officially tested for safety. But Mercedes C-Class models, including the plug-in, come standard with collision prevention systems that engage automatic braking of speeds of up to 65 miles per hour. These autonomous braking systems can avoid accidents or help reduce their severity. More robust safety functions available in the new E- and S-Class vehicles are available as options.
Pricing for the plug-in C-Class $46,415, including destination.
Comparisons of Similar Cars
The field of plug-in hybrids is small but growing. So far, it’s been dominated by the Chevrolet Volt, two Ford models, and the plug-in version of the Toyota Prius. (There are also a handful limited run Porsche and BMW models.) But the Mercedes-Benz C350 Plug-in Hybrid is among the first small luxury plug-in models that can go all-electric for local driving, but engage a relatively powerful gas engine to provide driving range similar to conventional cars. The other plug-in model that arguably stacks against the C350 is the Audi A3 Plug-in Hybrid, also due in fall 2015.
The Audi A3 has a sportier personality, and will provide about 30 miles of all-electric range compared to the C350’s electric range of about 20 miles. The Audi is likely to have a lower sticker price. The Audi A3 will apparently only be available as a wagon, while the C350 will have sedan and wagon variants.
The C-350 joins the Mercedes S-550 Plug-in Hybrid in the Benz line-up. The brand is planning to launch a total of 10 plug-in hybrids by 2017.
The C350 Plug-in Hybrid will be available in U.S. dealerships in fall 2015.