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Tuesday 21st March
First Drive

Mercedes-Benz E-Class review: hybrid E300e tested

Published: 11 Aug 2020

Ah, a revised version of the thoroughly sorted E-Class. Must be ridiculously well-developed then?

Hmmmm. I suspect I'm actually in one of the least sorted versions of the facelifted E-Class. UK-spec cars aren't ready, and this German one has air suspension, which won't be available here. The ride's a little stilted, as if the wheels are too heavy.

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Never mind. Coils on the pre-facelift car were smoother, a wonderful blend of relaxed comfort with decent control too. No doubt that's still the case, as the engineer told me there've been no significant changes in that department.

OK what is different?

Ooooh you're an impatient thing. First, I must tell you about the powertrain on the actual car I drove. Because it too has imperfections. I'm in the E300e, the plug-in hybrid. The petrol engine is a dieselly-sounding thing which you notice all the more because much of the time it's absent, its job replaced by electric urge. Also the battery makes a lump in the boot floor the size of a trombone case.

This 300e setup is actually exactly the same as it was in the pre-facelift car, and will no doubt be a popular seller in the UK because… because in many ways this powertrain is a triumph. The electric range is a stated 30 miles WLTP, and if you allow it to mix petrol and electric on say a 100-mile run, your economy will be terrific. The 37g/km CO2 figure is company-car bliss. In hybrid mode it rarely issues a jerk, whether shifting gears or swapping between petrol and electricity. In sports mode, it's chuffing quick too, with 320bhp and a 516lb ft thwack of instant torque.

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Same suspension, same hybrid engine. You're telling me this is a revised car but I'm about to click on by.

No wait. There is an all-new engine. The E300 petrol has a brand-new four-cylinder with lots of doodads including a turbo with electric-motor support to spool it up fast. I'd like to have a go in that. But I can't because, like the air-suspension, it's not for sale in the UK.

My finger is now hovering perilously close to the close-window button…

Sorry. Here's actual new news: the engines that do remain here, the same diesels and petrols, have a mild-hybrid 48V starter-alternator. It's integrated with the transmission, so it's easier to mate with all engines. Well, all that aren't full-hybrid and don't need it. If you think a four-cylinder diesel is a bad idea you haven't tried an E220d. It's hushed, urgent and amazingly economical.

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Anything else?

The dash is now Mercedes' twin-screen MBUX setup. An drumroll – you get a new steering wheel. This matters because the spoke-mounted multi-function touchpads have better actions. They were infuriating before.

Other new touch sensors in the wheel's rim feel the presence of your hands and stop you naughtily engaging the abundant driver assist and devoting both hands to your outside-lane BLT and flapjack.

Bet that widescreen dash is an expensive option?

Nope, entirely new, and always-on connected for live traffic and other apps. While it's complex to use at first, you'll probably just find a configuration that suits you and leave it be. CarPlay is a lot better-integrated now too.

Talk styling please.

Business as Mercedes-facelift usual. The grille is poutier, the light patterns blingier, there's more chrome in the tail. I miss the dignity and sobriety of 1984's W124.

So has the E-Class slipped behind?

Hardly. The E-Class remains a superb machine for long hauls. As usual, it starts out feeling a bit dead to drive, but push it and you realise the manners are pretty much flawless, disguising its two tonnes. The seats are superb, the ride near-matchless, the refinement and sense of security wonderfully reassuring.

Despite what I said at the start, you can't really go wrong.

Score: 8/10

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