Load lover: Mercedes E300 Hybrid Estate driven

24 July 2014

Mercedes-Benz E300 Hybrid rear view

E300 Hybrid Estate Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Good: spacious, comfortable, frugal
Bad: feels a tad lazy, clunky software
Price: from £41,670
It’s a couple of years since I last drove an E300 hybrid, and it’s good to see that things have changed for the better. April 2013 brought a set of mid-life updates to the entire Mercedes E-Class line-up, keeping it fresh until the next generation arrives in 2016.

A new nose with integrated headlight clusters has supplanted the previous face, with its four separate lamps. The pair of bright LED daytime lights have also migrated up from the bumper into the lamps, while the sport grille with its large central star has ousted the chrome radiator even on SE models. LED tail lights and more twinkly exhaust trim adorn the rear, while the noticeable crease that once hugged the curve of the rear wheel-arch has been straightened out to lance forward along the flank.

The overall result is smoother and neater than before, but also more bland and anonymous.

Mercedes-Benz E300 Hybrid cockpit

Interior tweaks were equally subtle and arguably more welcome. The cruise control and indicator stalks swapped places, putting the more frequently used stalk higher up on the left-hand side of the column, where most other manufacturers agree it should live. The indicator stalk is still lumbered with wiper duties, however, while the right-hand stalk still oversees the gearbox.

The previously cluttered, five-dial instrument panel has happily been ditched in favour of a more manageable three-dial layout. The power flow meter has taken up residence next to the fuel gauge, the two sharing a single dial, while the old analogue clock has found a new home between the central air-vents, becoming a much more attractive square-faced timepiece along the way.

Navigation with live traffic updates is provided as standard and the central colour screen has expanded from 5.8 to 7 inches from corner to corner. Sadly the multimedia controller wasn’t updated at the same time.

The twist and click device sitting on top of the centre tunnel is not a patch on the more versatile touch-sensitive device you’ll find in the new C-Class, and some of the on-screen software feels distinctly creaky too. I found the simple process of entering a new destination so frustrating I’d have hurled the screen across the car if it hadn’t been nailed down.

Mercedes-Benz E300 Hybrid screen controller

Fortunately, the cabin is a very soothing place to be, once finally on the move. The standard specification was raised along with the facelift, meaning items that would have cost £4,000 as options before became part of the SE roster, for a price hike of around £2,500 on the list price.

The E300 BlueTec Hybrid now costs from £39,880 for the saloon in SE trim, or £41,705 in slinkier AMG Sport format. The SE Estate edition I’ve borrowed, and shown in the pictures, now starts at £41,670, with the AMG Sport edition priced from £44,165.

Not that you should pay full price for a car due to be retired in a couple of years. Dealers ought to be willing to cut a deal and if they won’t budge, try online. Digital broker Orangewheels.co.uk suggests it’s possible to lop at least 17% off the asking price, after you’ve selected your options.

Mercedes-Benz E300 Hybrid front view

Under the skin, the E300 Hybrid setup hasn’t changed. The 2.1-litre 4-cylinder diesel engine provides up to 204bhp and a torque peak of 500Nm, aided by a 20kW (27bhp) electric motor offering an additional 280Nm. The motor fits in the same housing as the seven-speed auto gearbox, alongside an automated clutch that allows the motor to drive the car independently or in concert with the engine.

The 0.8kWh battery that provides electricity is a relatively modest item, able to store only about three quarters as much energy as the battery in a standard Toyota Prius. The battery is never charged from the mains, instead squirreling away energy whenever the car brakes or slows down.

Mercedes has opted for relatively pricey but more compact lithium-ion cells, as opposed to the nickel-metal-hydride items still found in Toyota and Honda hybrids, allowing the battery to be shoehorned under the bonnet rather than taking up space needed for luggage or the fuel tank.

Mercedes-Benz E300 Hybrid instrument panel

As a result, the E300 Hybrid has a full-size boot and retains the option of an 80-litre fuel tank (the standard capacity is 59 litres). Last month, a hybrid saloon fitted with this £100 range-extending tank was driven 1,223 miles from Tangier in North Africa to Goodwood in Sussex on a single fill-up of diesel, with enough left over for another 100 miles. That meant a real-world average of 73.6mpg.

Officially, combined cycle fuel consumption is 68.9mpg for the saloon and 62.8mpg for the estate. The corresponding CO2 ratings are 109g/km and 119g/km – both on the impressive side for such a large and luxurious car.

Mercedes-Benz E300 Hybrid clock

Moving off, the hybrid will tend to keep its engine dormant, with the muted diesel rumble joining in subtly as speed rises. The big estate remains very quiet and refined at all times, with motorway travel accomplished in a bubble of serene peace and quiet, helped by the long-legged seven-speed auto.

If you’re going away, the luggage bay of the estate E-Class is huge and handily cubic in shape. That’s an increasing rarity among today’s slope-roofed, coupĂ©-influenced, lifestyle holdalls that might struggle to swallow a couple of cases. I’m dismayed by rumours that the next E-Class estate is likely to resemble a Jaguar XF Sportbrake. For now, there’s a full 695 litres with seats up, and 1,950 litres with the rear bench folded.

Rear passenger accommodation is also pleasantly generous, with plenty of head, leg and elbow room – another feature threatened by a sportier profile.

Despite its generous dimensions, today’s square-rigged E-Class is not exactly a slug. The hybrid saloon will sprint to 62mph in just 7.5 seconds, and the estate is only three tenths slower. That seems pretty quick for such a cavernous, capable car.

Mercedes-Benz E300 Hybrid interior

Throttle response doesn’t feel quite as eager as a I remember from the saloon, mind you. You have to give the accelerator a solid prod to wake the car up, and the steering seems a little heavy, slow and reluctant too. But the car will move briskly when roused and the brakes seems strong – though I must admit I tested the car empty. The estate also gets self-levelling air suspension as standard, providing a combination of softness and strength of which Andrex can only dream.

By default, throttle response, gearshift behaviour and suspension is soft and lazy in pursuit of comfort and economy, though there is a button by your left elbow that switches all three into a sportier mode, if you’re in that kind of mood. You can also take temporary control over gearchanges using a pair of small paddles behind the rim of the steering wheel.

The improvements made to the E-Class in general have kept the E300 Hybrid in contention. But I’m not quite as impressed as I was a couple of years ago, in the saloon. Technology moves on, and it’s the navigation software that most lets the side down in the E-Class. If I were to spend £40,000 on a car, I wouldn’t want to still hanker after a £200 TomTom.

Mercedes-Benz E300 Hybrid side view

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