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The future of hybrid starts with the Mercedes E300
8:00am Thursday 17th May 2012 in Road Tests
AS with so many things that originated in America, petrolelectric hybrid cars have eventually found their way to Europe.
With the desire to reduce emissions and extend a petrol car’s range, Honda and Toyota added a parallel electric motor and battery system to assist with propulsion.
It is Mercedes’ E-Class model that promises all the usual features and creature comforts of its maker’s volume-seller, but with the added bonus of an unobtrusive hybrid system to boost range and economy over and above a conventional diesel model.
With its E300 BlueTec Hybrid, to give it its full name, Mercedes has adopted a lowkey approach to hybridisation.
A small 0.8kWh lithium ion battery is located in the engine bay of the E-Class, while an equally modest 27 horsepower electric motor adds the extra, silent motive power.
The result is a helpful addition to the car’s 2.1-litre twin turbo diesel motor, and brings total power output to 228 horsepower.
Why no plug-in electric option like some rivals? In a nutshell, Mercedes views this E-Class as a useful and cost effective step in the right direction. Fullblown hybrids with large batteries usually suffer with reduced load space and increased weight.
This E-Class is being sold in both saloon and estate form with no discernable reduction in load space, and it’s expected that a more expensive plug-in hybrid offering an increased electric-only driving range is in the pipeline.
For now, this E300 offers largely company car drivers the ability to reduce their financial outgoings without compromising the refinement and space of a premium-size car.
At a basic level, the E300 drives just like a E250 CDi diesel, which is a good thing as it means you don’t need to adopt a super-frugal driving style to extract a few more miles per gallon.
Officially, the car returns an impressive 67.3mpg in saloon form and, disappointingly for the taxman, emits a lowly 109g/km CO2. These figures are partly the result of the car’s ability to start and pull away in electric-only mode and continue for about half-a-mile if driven gently – shuffling along in city traffic springs to mind.
At the other end of the spectrum, consistent higher speed running allows the car to ‘sail’, as Mercedes describes it, when you lift off the throttle on flat or downhill sections, as the diesel engine is switched off for short periods.
It’s in these situations that the car’s battery contributes to the proceedings, adding welcome extra motive power, allowing itself to be topped up during braking actions and adding a subtle push alongside the diesel motor when extra acceleration is required.
Techno-savvy drivers will no doubt get excited by what’s under this E-Class’ bonnet, but for the rest of us, the key issue is that the technology just works.
Diesel engine start-up and shutdown on the move is barely noticeable, while the car’s seven-speed auto gearbox mirrors the smooth performance of its regular petrol and diesel counterparts.
Granted, there will be a small price premium over a diesel-only E-Class, but the logic is that you’ll make enough savings through fuel and tax outlay to make the sums add up.
It’s also fair to say that such a car will attract early adopters, where making a statement is often the priority, not the cash saving.
Either way, this diesel-hybrid Mercedes offers executive level buyers a genuine choice in the alternative fuel market.
It’s capable of delivering on its eco credential promises and offers a promising insight into the future of hybrid motoring.