From previously appealing mostly to lentil-eating, hemp cloth-wearing greenies, hybrid cars are becoming ever more mainstream. After the Toyota Prius pioneered the breed, several other brands in South Africa have launched petrol-electric cars with ostensibly lower fuel consumption and more planet-friendy emissions.
Trouble is, the fuel-saving reality hasn’t really kept pace with marketing hype and most of the petrol-electric hybrid vehicles we’ve road tested have been no more economical than a (usually much more affordable) diesel car. If they really wanted to lower fuel bills, we wondered, why didn’t anyone create a diesel-electric hybrid car?
Well, that’s now happening and Mercedes-Benz is one of the first automakers to offer such a car in South Africa in the form of the E300 Bluetec Hybrid.
Priced at R634 000, the car is Merc’s first diesel-hybrid passenger car and pairs a 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine with an electric motor fed by a lithium-ion battery. This is the same 150kW/500Nm diesel engine that powers the E250 CDI model, but with the addition of the electric motor the combined outputs are 170kW and a mighty 590Nm of torque, along with a very low claimed fuel consumption of 4.2 litres per 100km and a C02 output of 110g/km.
In the interests of saving fuel this green E-Class is able to drive solely on electric power at up to 35km/h and for up to one kilometre – as long as there’s enough charge in the battery – and it also has a stop-start system that prevents the diesel engine from needlessly idling when the car’s waiting at a robot (but leaves the aircon running).
The lithium-ion battery is charged under braking and coasting, while under acceleration the electric motor performs a boost function. A display in the instrument panel gives a real-time animation of the energy flow and charge status of the battery.
Power-wise there’s nothing to complain about and the E300 Bluetec Hybrid has plenty of easy-revving shove. It’s a relaxed drive and the car doesn’t require hard throttle inputs to get going with gusto. It’s a very refined engine too and you’re hard pressed to notice it’s a diesel, while the transitions between electric and internal-combustion power occur seamlessly.
Equally smooth is the 7G-Tronic Plus auto transmission which feeds the rear wheels, and offers Economy and Sport modes.
It’s all good on the performance and refinement fronts, but a little disappointing was the 7.5 litres per 100km consumption our test car averaged. It’s good fuel economy for a large car with such mighty torque, make no mistake, but it’s more or less what you’d expect from a standard turbodiesel without hybrid drive. As economically as we tried to drive it, we couldn’t get this hybrid Benz anywhere close to Merc’s very optimistic 4.2 litre claim.
The lithium-ion battery’s located in the engine compartment, not the boot as is usual with hybrids, which means the luggage compartment remains unchanged. The car wears runflat tyres and there’s no spare, which is a pity as there seems to be enough space under the boot for at least a space saver.
Along with the introduction of this new diesel-hybrid version, the entire E-Class line-up was given a dramatic visual makeover. More than just a bit of botox to iron out the wrinkles, it looks like a new car.
The headlamps are redesigned into single units which lends a more harmonious and integrated look than the previous twin-headlamp design. The low-beam headlamps and the daytime running lamps are LEDs, while full LED headlamps are also available as an option.
For the first time the E-Class is available with two different front ends: the basic variant and Elegance equipment line come with the classic three-louvre grille and Mercedes-Benz star on the bonnet, while the Avantgarde equipment line has sportier front end with a central star in the grille. A modified side view with new feature line and repositioned trim strip make both the sedan and the estate appear longer.
The E-Class was also given a safety boost in that now all versions come standard with Collision Prevention Assist, a radar-based collision warning system with adaptive brake assist. Also standard is Attention Assist, which senses when the driver’s getting drowsy and flashes a cup of coffee in the instrument panel to suggest a rest stop.
Merc’s first hybrid-diesel is a hearty performer with silky smoothness, but doesn’t quite come to the party as the super-economical car it’s marketed to be. We can’t quite explain why as there’s a lot of clever technology at work here and we really did try and drive with a light foot.
Consumption conundrums aside, at R634 000 the E300 Bluetec Hybrid is still relatively well priced against luxury non-hybrid diesel rivals like the BMW 530d selling for R722 436 and Audi’s A6 3.0 TDI quattro for R713 500, both of which have slightly more power but less torque. -Star Motoring