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Driven: Benz adds diesel-hybrid E-Class

Bright spark: Mercedes-Benz has already banked 60 potential buyers for its history-making diesel-electric hybrid E-Class.

It has been a long wait, but a Benz-badged hybrid is finally on sale

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24 Jul 2013

IT’S unusual that the brand that invented the car should be late to market with technology that is already more than a decade old.

But even so, Mercedes-Benz has still claimed an Australian first, launching the only hybrid car on the market to feature an electric motor paired to a diesel engine.

The E300 BlueTEC Hybrid features the same 2.1-litre twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel engine under the bonnet as the more mainstream E250 CDI, priced from $98,900 plus on-road costs.

However, the extra bits of electronic technology shoehorned into the diesel-electric E300 add another $10,000 to the price of the four-door sedan, and shave an extra 0.6 litres of diesel fuel per 100 kilometres off the bowser bill.

It’s also a start to the hybrid-fuelled future for the German premium brand. A twin-turbo V6-engined diesel electric hybrid S300 limousine is “almost 95 percent certain” to come to Australia after gaining approval for the right-hand-drive Japanese market, according to Mercedes-Benz Australia senior manager of corporate communications David McCarthy.

Also high on Australia’s list, he said, was a hybrid version of the C-Class due sometime in the next year.

Until those arrive, the E300 BlueTec Hybrid will have to soldier on alone.

“I think that with the price premium of $10,000 our expectations of the sales of this car is not huge volumes, but it offers something different.

“I think we already have 60 orders,” Mr McCarthy said. “The response from the dealers who spoke with customers is actually a surprise, as we didn’t expect that many orders.”

He said the long wait to get hybrid technology would benefit buyers, with expectations that sales could push as high as 100 over the course of a full year of sales.

“The technology’s advanced a long way and this is a very, very advanced system,” Mr McCarthy said.

“It (hybrid technology) was only left-hand drive previously. We made a strong case for it (the new-generation E-Class hybrid) as soon as we knew it was coming.

“We wanted to get the absolute best technology and we’ve waited and this is what we’ve got.”

The car uses a very similar hybrid system to the one developed for the Volkswagen Group’s hybrid models, including the Panamera four-door coupe and Cayenne soft-roaders.

That version of the hybrid drivetrain sandwiches an electric motor – Mercedes-Benz has tagged it an “electric machine” based on an almost literal translation of what its German parents have dubbed it – in between the petrol engine and the seven-speed automatic gearbox.

When the car slows or while cruising, the electric motor acts as a generator to feed electricity back into a 23-kilogram lithium-ion battery pack – it is made up of 35 separate battery cells mated together – sitting under the bonnet to one side of the engine.

The technology cuts the diesel engine’s fuel use from 4.9L/100km down to 4.3L/100km. Likewise, emissions are cut from 129 to 113 grams per kilometre of carbon dioxide.

All up, the extra electronics and wiring in the E-Class hybrid weighs about 100 kilograms over its conventionally-engined sibling.

Under acceleration, driving up a hill or taking off from a standing start at the traffic lights, the electric motor gives a helping hand to the diesel engine, providing an extra 20kW of power and 250Nm of torque almost from rest.

Those figures look small, but they’re paired to the twin-turbo diesel engine, which by itself is good for 150kW and 500Nm.

The batteries are good for only a couple of kilometres of low-speed driving, but operate across six different modes including under full electric power at speeds of up to 160km/h.

The E-Class hybrid is well equipped for the price, with a similar level of equipment to its conventionally engined E250 CDI sibling.

That includes keyless entry and start, full electric seats with leather trim, adaptive cruise control with a speed limiter function, a premium Harman Kardon sound system with digital radio, in-car internet shared form a smartphone paired to the Bluetooth system, and 19-inch alloy wheels.

Because the batteries are housed under the bonnet, the rear seats are just like the more mainstream benz-badged E-Class models. That means they keep their ski-port hidden behind the drop-down armrest, and the split-fold function that folds down the seatbacks at the pull of a lever to open up the boot into a low, wide load space.

Safety runs to seven airbags including a driver’s knee airbag, and even a pedestrian-friendly active bonnet that can pop up and create an extra air gap between a pedestrian’s head and the hard points around the engine bay.

One thing that is missing, though, is Mercedes-Benz’s traditional full-size, alloy-clad spare wheel. Instead, owners make do with an air pump and can of sealant, although the loss does open up a big underfloor bucket of storage space.

The E300 BlueTEC Hybrid is on sale now.

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