The new Mercedes-Benz E300 BlueTec Hybrid.
The new Mercedes-Benz E300 BlueTec Hybrid.

Road test: Mercedes-Benz E300 is green without compromise

MEET guilt-free luxury. No longer does driving a prestige large car mean hefty fuel bills.

This Mercedes-Benz E300 BlueTec Hybrid is the most economical large car on the Australian market and emits less CO2 than a pint-sized Smart car.

With average fuel consumption of 4.3 litres/100km, it sips less than half that of a Holden Commodore Evoke.

But while daily running costs might be cheap, the price-tag is just shy of $110,000. Mercedes-Benz Australia undertook some hard-nosed lobbying with head office to get the price down, and the premium is $10,000 over the E250 CDI with which it shares specification levels.

While some may scoff that it's not worth it, customers are already disagreeing. The pre-order bank is running at about 60, which is about half of what Mercedes hopes to sell annually.

Comfort

This isn't the Jetsons nor is it a poverty pack. About the only thing separating the hybrid from its combustion engine siblings is a power meter which replaces the temperature gauge within the driver's instrument hood.

Real leather on the seats and dash creates an ambience which lives up to the Mercedes-Benz standard.

Black ash inserts provide a modern environment and thankfully there is no sign of the old-school woodgrain - but some of the stately favourites are on the options list.

Head, leg and knee room is good front and back, although those sitting in the middle of the bench seat have to straddle the transmission tunnel.

On the road

Silence meets start-up. Hit the silver button and the E300 comes alive within the instrument cluster and with gentle acceleration it makes a hushed departure.

Only when you call on the throttle does the diesel engine fire, and while sounding agricultural at low speeds, it quickly calms once above 40kmh.

The transition from combustion to battery is seamless and happens automatically depending on acceleration and terrain.

Uninitiated drivers would struggle to detect when the diesel cuts in and out…the only indicator is the tachometer which drops to zero when battery power takes precedence.

There are two drive modes, sport and efficiency, but the driver is unable to select pure electric mode.

It will run on battery power for about 1km as long as the speed doesn't go above 35kmh - which makes easy work of commuting in heavy traffic.

Performance

Switch on the drive diagram and you can see exactly where the drive is coming from (and going). Under braking power is sent back to the lithium-ion battery, energy which is then used to either power the saloon by itself or aid acceleration when summonsed.

On the diagram "green" highlights battery power, "white" shows combustion input while "red" is a combination of the two.

It's no slouch in a straight line, ripping from standstill to 100kmh in 7.5 seconds.

Cornering isn't bad either considering the hybrid technology adds about 100kg. You can attack a bend with confidence courtesy of well-weighted steering as it answers the call with each tug of the wheel.

What do you get?

Features are what you would expect of a Mercedes-Benz.

The stock-standard car includes electric adjustment of the driver and front passenger seat as well as the steering wheel, real leather trim, 19-inch five twin-spoke alloys, 17.8cm colour display, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, stereo with 10GB hard drive and CD/DVD player as well as a SD card slot, sat nav and dual-zone climate-controlled air-con with rear vents.

This also gets some awesome safety kit, including blind-spot warning, radar cruise control and technology which stops you straying from your lane.

One option worth considering is metallic paint which costs an extra $2100.

Other options

While there is no other diesel hybrid available, competitors include the BMW 5 Series ActiveHybrid ($122,900) and the Infiniti M35h GT Premium ($99,900).

Practicality

All the hybrid technology is hidden within the engine bay, meaning the rear seats still have a 60-40 split and boot space is unhindered.

Mercedes has a solid list of accessories for externally mounting sporting equipment.

The E-Class also has some handy storage spots, including stowage under the front seats, a deep centre console with iPod/iPhone and USB port and dual cup holders in the console.

Funky factor

Forget gawky styling or a silhouette which places aerodynamics in front of style. The E-Class is still one slippery customer, but the hybrid's mechanical beauty is not in-your-face. There is no need to tell all and sundry you are saving the world one drive at a time. It's actually quite sexy, with dual pipes out the back, nice alloys and the pronounced star in the front grille.

The lowdown

The E300 BlueTec Hybrid provides an outlet for the well-heeled who have an environmental conscience. Analyse the figures and it doesn't stack up…it would take decades to recoup the $10,000 you pay over the E250 CDI which has near identical performance but sips about 0.6 litres more every 100km.

But this is outstanding technology. A car this large, this luxurious achieving these figures - it's a feat thought impossible not so long ago. No longer do you have to compromise on luxuries, looks or performance to drive a hybrid.

WHAT MATTERS MOST

The good stuff: Ability to travel about 2000km from one tank, seamless transition between diesel and battery power, standard spec.

What we'd like to see: Greater green tax breaks, wagon option.

Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is at 25,000km or annually, capped price package available for three years. Battery life forecast for at least 10 years.

VITAL STATISTICS

Model: Mercedes-Benz E300 BlueTec Hybrid.

Details: Five-seat, rear-wheel drive, large, luxury hybrid sedan.

Engine: 2.2-litre two-stage turbocharged four-cylinder diesel generating maximum power of 150kW (20kW electric machine) and peak torque of 590Nm @1800rpm.

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic.

Consumption: 4.3 litres/100km (combined average).

CO2: 113g/km.

Performance: 0-100kmh in 7.5 seconds.

Bottom line: $108,900 (plus on-roads).



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