The Mercedes-Benz E-Class lineage arguably reached its zenith somewhere during the era of the W123 and W124 model generations. These two models were the bedrock upon which core values of the E-Class have been built – vehicles that are at once luxurious, refined, comfortable, and over-engineered to the point of being unbreakable.
Things took a bit of a downturn with the W210 model generation in 1996, and it wasn’t until the W212’s arrival in 2009 that the E-Class witnessed a welcomed return to form. It was the best E-Class we’ve seen from Mercedes for some time, but it still played second fiddle to BMW’s F10 5 Series for much of its life cycle; that was, until the E300 BlueTec Hybrid rolled along.
In the Malaysian market, the EEV-incentivized E300 BlueTec catapulted the then aging W212 to top of its segment’s sales chart – a RM338k price tag, which undercut even the E-Class’ own E200 entry variant helped matters along the way.
The E300 BlueTec’s success in our market meant that a hybrid variant of the current W213 E-Class was an all but inevitable development, and it has duly come in the form of the E350e plug-in hybrid. Locally-assembled to enjoy tax benefits, the E350e picks up from where the E300 BlueTec left off and raises its game to another level.
Price: RM392,888 – RM408,888 (OTR without insurance)
Engine: 2.0-litre, Inline-4 Longitudinal, Turbocharged Petrol, 211 hp, 350 Nm
Motor: 88 hp, 340 Nm
Battery: 6.2 kWh, 33 km all-electric range
Net system output: 286 hp, 550 Nm
Transmission: 9-speed torque converter automatic, RWD
Safety: 7 airbags, ABS, EBD, Brake Assist, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Autonomous Emergency Braking, ISOFIX, Reverse Camera
Origin: Locally-assembled in Pekan, Pahang
With the E350e onboard, the Mercedes-Benz brings to bear an E-Class line-up that is as complete as this market has ever seen. The E300 petrol may have been discontinued to make way, but bread-and-butter four-cylinder petrol engines continue to be offered in the E200 and E250. Above them, six- and eight-cylinder powerplants await in the E43 and E63 AMG specials.
The E350e itself is offered with a selection of three trim choices, though one of them is a limited-run Edition 60 version commissioned specially for the Malaysian market and restricted to just 60 units. As tested, the E350e presented itself to us in AMG Line trim, a configuration that sets you back RM395,888 before insurance. The more understated Exclusive trim is available for RM3,000 less.
Similar to the C350e introduced earlier, the E350e also features the 2.0-litre M274 petrol engine in its 211hp configuration. The arrangement of sandwiching the electric motor between the engine and transmission is also duplicated, but with a slightly more powerful 88hp / 340Nm motor and Merc’s new 9G-Tronic auto in place of the C350e’s 80hp motor and 7-speed ‘box.
Net system output of 286hp is seven horses up from the C350e, but max system torque of 550Nm is, in turn, 50Nm down, a measure of restraint exercised for the benefit of the 9G-Tronic’s longevity.
The E350e comes standard with air suspension, a feature not offered in the regular petrol models. Besides offering adjustable damper rates and self-levelling, the air springs also enable the E350e to be raised as much as 25mm to clear rough ground, or lowered by up to 15mm for added high-speed stability. Advanced electronics mean that the damping of each individual wheel can be individually adjusted to suit prevailing driving conditions.
Features and equipment of the E350e are otherwise mostly identical to what’s already offered in the regular E250 petrol model. To sum up, the RM9,000 jump in price from the RM383,888 E250 Exclusive to the E350e Exclusive pays for the hybrid drive module and air suspension.
The major tell tale sign of the E350e’s identity other than its badge is its rear-mounted charging port just below the right tail light. It differs from the front fender placement favoured by most of its rivals, but for most homeowners, this is likely to be a more convenient location as one can reverse park and present the charging port as close as possible to the nearest plug point. The other thing to look out for is the massive front disc brakes with bright giant blue callipers
Buyers of the E350e can choose between two distinctive looks for their vehicles. The sportier AMG Line trim as seen in our test car here presents the more aggressive large central star front grille; whilst the Exclusive and limited-run Edition 60 models get the classic star-on-bonnet front end. All variants of the E350e, as standard, comes with 19-inch alloys and Mercedes-Benz’s innovative multibeam LED headlights.
The E350e’s cabin adds little to the already familiar narrative of the W213 E-Class; an Audi A6 feels more solidly built, whilst a BMW 5 Series lines up more intuitive ergonomics, but where design and material finish is concerned, the E-Class is miles ahead in convincing its occupants that they are ensconced within truly luxurious surroundings. Only the Volvo S90, perhaps, has a legitimate claim of being able to offer a comparable sense of occasion and sophistication as the E-Class.
As with the E250, the E350e is similarly fitted with the E-Class’ distinctive Widescreen Cockpit that joins two 12.3-inch hi-res displays into one unit presenting virtual instruments and infotainment in vibrant and vivid colours. Surround sound is broadcast by a 13-speaker Burmester setup with a 9-channel amplifier and 640W power output.
In Exclusive trim, the E350e’s cabin is finished in Nappa leather and open pore light brown dash trim. For a sportier feel, AMG Line trim offers a darker-finished cabin with metal-weave dash inserts. Lastly, the limited-run Edition 60 cars get a two-tone designo scheme in macchiato beige and saddle brown colours.
Besides the obvious fuel economy benefits, which we will dive into later, a major appeal of PHEVs is their ability to cover short distances without needing a drop of fuel. This comes in handy when negotiating traffic jams or when you just want to head out and grab a pack of char kuey tiaw or Ramly burger for supper nearby.
A full charge of its lithium-ion battery provides the E350e with about 20-25km of all-electric cruising, which can be exploited at a fair turn of pace right up to 130 km/h. Setting the car to operate on all-electric driving mode prevents the petrol engine from kicking in unless the accelerator pedal is fully depressed. The electric motor is powerful and responsive enough that it can be driven no differently than a regular E200 or E250.
Call the petrol engine into action, the E350e delivers hugely respectable performance; which shouldn’t surprise us since the base E200 already feels punchy enough for the most part. The 9-speed transmission also has its gears well-optimized for effortless high-speed cruising. It fits well with the E-Class’ overall brief as a smooth highway operator.
Handling is competent rather than outright exciting. It’s balanced on the turn as you would expect of any rear-wheel drive vehicle, though added weight of the hybrid components meant that the regular petrol models handle with better agility. All the same, this is no 5 Series challenger on the dynamic stakes, but it will have the base FWD variant of the Audi A6 soundly beaten.
Comfort & Refinement
Pottering around town in an electric-powered E-Class is a beautifully serene experience. Complementing the electric motor’s smooth, quiet, and instantaneous power delivery is the beautifully supple ride made possible by the E350e’s standard-fit air suspension.
Compared to the E200 AMG Line reviewed by us last year, the E350e smoothens out road patches and potholes with far greater authority and aplomb. Even disregarding the merits of the plug-in hybrid system, superior ride of the E350e’s air springs alone make it a prospect worth considering over the regular petrol models.
Switchover between combustion and electric driving is smoothly managed. The petrol engine is able to cut in and out of operation in seamless fashion and ostensibly free of jerkiness, noise, and harsh vibrations. Sometimes, you barely even feel it.
The only blemish to the car’s overall refinement is the engine itself. Though capable in its performance, it is surprisingly coarse at high revs. It’s not what we would call a sporty note, and certainly not the kind of noise we’d expect from an otherwise serene top-of-the-range E-Class.
Economy & Maintenance
Fuel consumption averages for PHEVs vary greatly between individual cars, depending heavily on usage pattern. Those able to recharge their vehicles more frequently naturally enjoy far superior mileages than those who don’t. Fully charged, the E350e’s traction battery is able to provide about 25km of real world all-electric driving.
Biggest benefactors of the setup will be users who cover primarily urban commutes with mostly short trips. Those diligent enough to charge their cars in between usage every time can conceivably go days without needing to use much fuel, if at all.
For any user, the PHEV system comes in handy when driving through traffic jams, parking lots, or when you’re just sitting idle with the air-conditioning switched on. With regular combustion engines, fuel wastage is highest these scenarios – the E350e, or any PHEV for that matter, allow you to negotiate all these situations without needing to waste a single drop of fuel.
Regular outstation travellers benefit least from the PHEV system. Over a trip of, say, 300km, the electric motor is only able to thus cover about 10-20% of your travel distance, leaving the petrol engine to cover you the rest of the way.
Where an E-Class is concerned, the already efficient engine of the E200 and E250 coupled with the wide ratio spreads of a 9-speed gearbox, a sufficiently light-footed driver will easily come close to the E350e’s fuel consumption on highway cruising.
Such is the funny times we live in that luxury brands have turned out to be the main benefactors of the EEV incentives laid out in the 2014 National Automotive Policy. The Mercedes E350e is the latest in a long line of locally-assembled luxury hybrid vehicles made much cheaper than they otherwise would have been thanks to generous tax exemptions.
Mercedes-Benz Malaysia has also cleverly learned from its experience with the E300 BlueTec Hybrid, which not only severely impacted the business of parallel-imported W212 E-Classes, but also the company’s own E200 and E250 models at the time as well. By positioning the E350e above both the current regular petrol variants, E-Class customers are now faced with a more logical model hierarchy that starts with base four-cylinder models stepping up to a plug-in hybrid and onward to six- and eight-cylinder performance options.
The E350e itself convincingly embodies much of the qualities that have come to define the E-Class, namely that it is luxurious, refined, and pleasant to live with. The ruffled note of its petrol engine is the only aspect of the car on which we have any legitimate grounds to lay any criticism upon. Otherwise, the E350e represents the Mercedes-Benz E-Class at its very best.