Rendezvous with Mercedes-Benz C 350 e in San Francisco

By HONG BOON HOW | 4 March 2016

It was in the City by the Bay that we first laid eyes on the Mercedes-Benz C 350 e.

Though it looks like a conventional C-Class, its innards indicate a future that Mercedes-Benz is embracing.

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READ MOREMercedes-Benz C 350 e to arrive in Malaysia in late 2016

Aside from being a vibrant and bustling city with a modern skyline, San Francisco also has a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean and its namesake bay.

First-time visitors to this “City by the Bay” are usually told to personally check out the must-see “ABC” - Alcatraz (a federal prison island from 1934 to 1963), Bridges (Golden Gate and Oakland Bay bridges) and Cable cars (first cable car operated in 1873).

These instantly recognisible icons have largely remained unchanged for decades and have even been featured in many blockbuster movies, travel documentaries and television shows.

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In addition to its traditional charm, San Francisco’s position as the gateway to the technology-driven Silicon Valley, proved to be an ideal backdrop for our test drive of Mercedes-Benz’s C 350 e plug-in hybrid variant.

With the C 350 e, Mercedes-Benz is maintaining its bold steps into the global hybrid car market especially after unveiling the S 500 Plug-In Hybrid in 2014.

The company intends to up the ante by introducing 10 new plug-in hybrid models by next year.

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Said to be the most advanced C-Class variant and most fuel efficient vehicle in its segment, the C 350 e still looks pretty much the same like other C-Class variants with stylish curves and refinement.

Inside, the familiar free-standing infotainment monitor, and leather, aluminium and wood trimmings impart a mix of luxurious and sporty ambience that Mercedes-Benz is known for.

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The obvious give-away is that the right side of the rear bumper comes with a flap that opens up the charging point for its hybrid battery.

While the C 350 e’s 2.0-litre turbocharged engine with 211bhp and 350Nm of torque is similar to that in the C 250, the plug-in hybrid gets an electric motor with 60kW and 340Nm of torque for extra kick.

The standard seven-speed 7G-Tronic Plus automatic transmission that is used in many Mercedes-Benz models, now incorporates the electric motor and an additional clutch which allows the engine to be decoupled from the drivetrain when the C 350 e is in electric vehicle mode.

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Both engine and electric motor work together to unleash 279bhp and 600Nm of torque, enabling a sports car-like performance with a 0-100kph sprint of 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 250kph.

But if you are keen on getting good fuel economy, the combination can also work to give a frugal consumption of 2.1 litres per 100km.

Running on electric vehicle mode along Embarcadero, San Francisco’s waterfront road, the C 350 e is whisper quiet and silky smooth, making you think that you are in a S-Class.

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Low to mid-range acceleration is immediate and strong because of the electric motor’s high torque.

The C 350 e’s accelerator pedal is the haptic-type that provides “resistance” to the driver’s foot when the vehicle’s full performance under electric mode is about to be achieved.

If the driver continues to depress the accelerator pedal, the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine will fire up to deliver additional power.

Compared with energy flow meters on typical hybrids, this haptic-feature is more intuitive and direct in getting drivers to be gentle on the accelerator and keep their vehicles running on electric power without using the petrol engine.

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Under certain conditions, the haptic accelerator can send a double impulse to the driver’s foot to lift-off the pedal and shut down the petrol engine, leaving the car to coast and save fuel.

Meanwhile, the C 350 e’s hybrid lithium-ion battery with a capacity of 6.38kWh has enough juice for a 31km drive on a full electric vehicle drive.

The C 350 e can clock a top speed of 130kph on full electric power which is impressive.

The hybrid battery, which is stored in the boot, can be connected to a normal house socket and be fully charged up from empty in two hours.

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While bootspace has been reduced to 335 litres from 480 litres in the non-hybrid C Class, space is still decent enough for luggage and other items because of the partially-raised flat boot layout.

Although the water-cooled battery weighs some 100kg, this extra load factor does not seem to affect the C 350 e’s agility or handling dynamics.

Steering is sharp, and with minimal bodyroll you can engage in exuberant driving and throw the C 350 e around fast twisty roads without dramas.

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The Airmatic air suspension system, while allowing for a comfortable ride over rough surfaces, can be stiffened up for a sporty driving.

In addition to driving programmes of Economy, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual, drivers can also select hybrid modes of Hybrid (most fuel efficient), E-mode (all-electric driving), E-save (maintains the hybrid battery charge level for later use) and Charge (allows the battery to be charged by the petrol engine).

In short, the combined punch from the electric motor and turbocharged engine is exhilarating, delivering a performance similar to a big block V6.

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Other key features include LED headlights, electronic stability programme, Collision Prevention Assist Plus and Attention Assist to name a few.

There is also a pre-entry climate control where the interior temperature of the car can be set earlier before driving off.

Blending sportiness with fuel efficiency and comfort in a plush mid-size car, the C 350 e is certainly a few steps up from conventional and other hybrid cars.

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Prices for the C 350 e starts from 50,000 euros (RM232,000) in Europe.

There will be plenty of smiles if Mercedes-Benz Malaysia could offer the C 350 e in Malaysia, preferably under a locally-assembled programme and benefit from the hybrid vehicle incentive scheme.