Mercedes-Benz E300 Bluetec Hybrid Sedan: Quick Drive

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It's often said that diesel cars are in their element at highway speeds, ticking over at low, constant revs, while hybrids are best-suited to cities--where the internal combustion engine can shut off regularly, saving gas.

You might wonder then why so few carmakers have mixed the best of both worlds in a diesel hybrid.

One company that has is Mercedes-Benz--and we've now driven the fruits of its labor, the E300 Bluetec Hybrid.

How it works

The Mercedes-Benz E300 Bluetec Hybrid operates differently from the last diesel-electric hybrid we tested, the Europe-only Peugeot 3008 HYbrid4.

In the Peugeot, a 2.0-liter diesel four-cylinder supplied power to the front wheels, while a rear-mounted electric motor supplied the back wheels, in a part-time all-wheel-drive format. This is known as a "through the road" hybrid system.

Mercedes' diesel-electric hybrid is more similar to traditional petrol-electric setups, where an electric motor is mated to the engine. Like the Infiniti M Hybrid and BMW's ActiveHybrid 5, the Mercedes uses a traditional automatic transmission (seven speeds, in this case), rather than an e-CVT planetary gearset like Toyota and Ford hybrids.

With a 20 kW (27 horsepower), 184 lb-ft electric motor providing assistance, the E300 uses only a relatively small 2.1-liter, four-cylinder turbodiesel to provide motive force. This develops 201 hp and over 368 lb-ft of torque (from only 1,600 rpm), though as usual you can't just combine the electric and diesel outputs for a total figure.

How it looks

There's little externally to signal the car's hybrid drivetrain. The only giveaways are relatively small wheels--wrapped in chunky low rolling-resistance tires--and a "Bluetec Hybrid" badge on the trunk lid.

Otherwise, it's standard Mercedes-Benz E Class: An imposing, Germanic profile, large grille with three-pointed star sat atop, and a slippery drag coefficient of only 0.25, thanks to careful surfacing.

Inside it's all standard E Class too. The interior is luxuriously-appointed, spacious, and feels like it will last for a thousand years. Virtually everything can be adjusted to find your ideal driving position, and you'll want for very little equipment.

A large display in the center of the dashboard can be set to display the hybrid drivetrain's status, as well as other standard functions, like navigation and audio.

How it drives

Suffice to say, the combination of diesel and electric power is a smooth, refined and punchy pairing.

In fact, it's hard not to believe there's a six-cylinder turbodiesel under the hood, such is the refinement of the car--more than a match for other hybrid luxury sedans in the class, including the BMW ActiveHybrid 5 and Lexus GS 450h.

Mercedes quotes a 0-62 mph time of 7.5 seconds, and a top speed of around 150 mph. We tested neither the former nor the latter, but both are believable figures given the ease by which higher speeds are reached.

There's little in the cabin to give away the car's means of propulsion, save for the tiny electric motor assistance gauge swinging away in the instrument cluster, and the tachometer occasionally registering zero rpm. Drive selection is handled by a tiny lever, no bigger than you'd expect for a cruise control lever, just behind the steering wheel.

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Comments (5)
  1. No station wagon version for the U.S. market, and no manual transmission. I hate that. This car is not for me.

  2. @Annatar: The Mercedes-Benz E300 BlueTEC Hybrid is not coming to the U.S. market in any body style, sedan or wagon. As our author noted.

  3. It does not matter, I still hate that particular configuration, and if it ever did come to the U.S. in one, I would not give Mercedes my money for it.

  4. The diesel-hybrid system is a bad idea for one reason: EXPENSIVE STARTER. The compression ratio for diesels is more than twice the compression ratio for standard gas engines. Diesels have no spark assist for starting. Turning the diesel engine on-and-off creates unnecessary wear and tear of the starter. This is one of the reasons for truckers idling their trucks while refilling their tanks. Hybrids start-and-stop their engines far more than standard engines. Excessive wear-and-tear and the law of diminishing returns will kill this option.

  5. Randall - as far as I'm aware, and in common with many hybrid vehicles, the E300 Hybrid doesn't have a traditional starter motor. Instead, it uses the electric motor itself to re-start the engine, so the starter motor wear you describe isn't an issue.

    Incidentally, diesel vehicles have been offered in Europe with start-stop systems for many years, and to my knowledge there have been very few systems. Carmakers have always seen fit to fit heavy-duty starter motors on these vehicles to negate the issues you foretell.

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