Noise, it has this uncanny, yet amusing way of weaving its way into the experience and memory of driving any car. The exhaust note of the engine provides that pulse of excitement, a beat if you will, much like a bass guitar accompanies the rhythm of your favourite Rolling Stones soundtrack.
For more than a century – cars have provided this. The chord progression on which any good song is based is much like an exhaust note that simplifies the message of just what the engine is doing, and how much more of this wonderful sensation, one calls power, is left to be explored.
I don’t mean to get philosophical here, but strapped in the calming confines of the Mercedes-Benz C350e Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV), I feel nothing! The speed builds almost exponentially when you have your foot firm to the floor, but, it's so quiet. The century sprint takes just 5.9 seconds and it’ll keep accelerating to an electronically limited 250km/h.
The hybrid propulsion comes courtesy of a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 211hp and 350Nm of torque. The electric motor of the C350e has an output of up to 60 kW and delivers a torque of 340Nm. A total system output of 279hp is on tap, as well as a torque of 600Nm.
The 7G-Tronic Plus seven-speed automatic transmission incorporates both the electric motor and with an additional clutch between the combustion engine and the electric motor. When driving in all-electric mode, this decouples the combustion engine from the drivetrain.
But today isn’t about the noise or the power, although this much vaunted Jekyll and Hyde trait (of power and efficiency) is what Mercedes will tell you is the best feature about their recently launched, top of the range C-Class model. There is that V8 powered AMG model too, but that’s a story for another day.
The C350e PHEV replaces the C300 model and is available in three trim lines.
- Avantgarde Exterior / Avantgarde Interior: RM289,888
- Avantgarde Exterior / AMG Interior: RM294,888
- AMG Exterior / AMG Interior: RM299,888
As opposed to its deadliest rival, the very talented BMW 330e, which is considerably cheaper, the C350e is packaged to take full advantage of the EEV incentives and deliver added value in terms of features. The C350e is the first locally sold C-Class to offer Airmatic suspension as standard. Other top tier features include the automatic climate Pre-Conditioning that can adjust the interior temperature according to a pre-set time, immediately after you unlock the car or at a push of the control button before you get in.
The C350e driving experience attempts to qualify the eco-credentials of the C350e in a real-world situation, a select group of journalists were challenged to consume the least amount of fuel from Kuala Lumpur (KL) to Port Dickson (PD), circa 90kms of mixed driving.
The rules were simple, no modifications to the car's aerodynamics (by folding wing mirrors or covering up panel gaps) and we had full disposal of the car’s four drive modes to suit our driving requirements. This then would come down not only to ‘feather footing’ the throttle button select the perfect mode for the car to be in.
- HYBRID: Default setting where all modes used based on driving condition. The car decides.
- E-MODE: Full electric driving, haptic accelerator paddle provides feedback when IC engine begins.
- E-SAVE: Battery charge is preserved.
- CHARGE: Battery charged using the internal combustion engine while driving.
Each mode presents very different effects on fuel consumption, but the key parameter being – use up all the battery juice at the start and final legs of the journey, manage the engine’s response in between. The cars would start at full charge – which Mercedes-Benz claims will deliver 31km of full electric driving range.
The high-voltage lithium-ion battery has a total capacity of 6.2 kWh. The battery is water-cooled, and weighs around 100 kgs, mounted in a sheet-steel housing underneath the rear axle in the interest of crash safety, the cars driving dynamics and to occupy as little boot space as possible.
The intelligent on-board charging system can recharge the battery in around 1 hour 45 minutes at a wall box (230 V, 16A, 3.7 kW single-phase). Alternatively, charging via a standard (230 V and 13A, 3.0 kW) domestic socket requires around two hours.
My partner for the challenge and I agreed, we were not going to go to extremes simply to produce extremely good results, but keep accessories like the air-conditioning and radio on, to be truly reflective of a real world driving situation. The only further measure involved keeping our speeds constant and being as gentle as we can with the throttle.
The rest would be up to the intrinsic efficiency of the C350e PHEV itself.
Creeping out of the new Mercedes-Benz HQ, on electric power alone, is a mighty stylish affair, after all this is the best looking C-Class of all time, in my opinion, matched to one of the best drivetrains on sale.
With the full 100 percent of battery power available, we hope to thread the busy streets of Puchong in EV mode until traffic clears up toward the edge of town. Over a space of 10-odd kms, the cars uses up around 35 percent of its battery potential in E-Mode.
Once on the highway, we switched to Hybrid mode, to reduce dependency on the battery and since speeds were constant, it made sense to call the internal combustion engine into play. Speeds are kept at around 90km/h with the engine humming along at around 1400rpm in seventh gear.
The engine and gearbox medley is delightfully refined and the switching between EV and hybrid mode is almost imperceptible. Top speed in EV mode is limited to 130kph, and if one isn’t trying to conserve fuel, forcing the throttle all the way will also activate a ‘Boost’ mode in ‘kickdown’ mode – the electric-motor kicks-in another 60kW for a short period of time.
If I have one bug bear with the C350e, it’s the brakes, which is forceful enough to slow the car down… rapidly, but requires a fair bit of pedal travel before it transitions from a regeneration phase into a braking phase, so I frequently passed my intended stop point, such as near toll booths and while in town – admittedly this takes some getting used to.
The Airmatic dampers otherwise do a superb job of managing the 1780kg kerb weight of the C350e, some 300kgs more than the C250, which utilises the same engine, but for the most part, the sensations from behind the wheel belie the overall heft of the car. Turn in is precise and body control during tighter bends is gradual and very progressive. In town or on the highway, it’s hard to fault the comfort and poise of the C350e.
For the most part, during our 60kms stint on the highway, we switched between the Charge and Hybrid modes, the larger plan was to have enough juice to finish the final 15kms on electric power alone, the fuel consumption hovers around 4.5 litres/100km according to the car's telemetry in Hybrid mode, at these speeds, and bumps up to circa 4.8 litres/100km when in Charge.
In hindsight, perhaps we had the car for far too long in Charge mode, reviving the battery from 35 percent after the first 30km, to 78 percent within 40km of that point. The 20km stretch between the PD toll and PD Township was completed in Hybrid mode, which comfortably brought the fuel consumption figures back to 4.6 litres/100km.
The last 5kms or so were easily despatched in full electric mode, we had overshot expectations, our car still had 15 percent of battery charge left when we completed the 90km journey. With hesitance, we handed the keys back to Mercedes-Benz knowing we could have eked quite a bit more range out of our car.
The best result on the day was a parsimonious 4.1 litres/100km, that team explained that they frequently switched between Charge and Hybrid mode depending on road conditions, and ran some distance without air-conditioning.
My car delivered 4.6 litres/100km at the end, which may seem less impressive in this company, but a tremendous result when compared to other cars within the segment. The C350e represent in fine fashion, the near future of high-efficiency motoring, the only downside, you’d have to enjoy noise from the Burmeister speakers on the inside.