Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate E300de 2019 long-term review
Long journeys on diesel, short ones on electric – what’s not to like? We have six months with Merc's hybrid estate to find out
*Why we’re running it: *To see if the near-perfect theory of a car with diesel power for long journeys and electric power for short trips can be matched by the reality
-Month 3 - Month 2 - Month 1 - Specs-
-Life with an E-Class Estate: Month 3-
*Weight and size don’t impede its ability to satisfy its driver - 22nd January 2020*
I want this week to talk about handling, which might seem an odd topic of conversation when the subject is a two-tonne estate car, but I beg to differ. The heavier a car becomes, the harder it is to make it handle well, and therefore the more important it is that such efforts are made.
And by ‘handle’, I don’t mean a car’s ability to go sideways and lay rubber across three different postcodes, or at least that’s not what I mean today, but rather the perhaps more important ability to always feel pleasant to drive. In this regard, the 300de does better than you might expect from a car of its size, configuration and mass.
Then again, Benz has almost always taken pride in the way its big cars steer. I remember – and we’re probably going back 27 years now – editor-in-chief Steve Cropley had a long-term W140-series S500 SE in which I spent a glorious few days roaming around the south of France, and half my lifetime later, it’s not the ride or refinement I remember but how improbably good it was to drive. You’d just use the three-pointed star on its bonnet as a gunsight, aim the nose into the corner and the old girl would heel over but never deflect so much as a degree from your chosen line.
I’d not say that in this modern era and relative to its rivals, the 300de is that good, but most of the time it does an excellent job of masking its mass, which, you may recall, is a thumping 265kg more than it would be without its hybrid motor, batteries and ancillary equipment. What matters most is that the steering remains uncorrupted. It’s perfectly weighted and pleasingly linear and it retains its accuracy.
And the chassis is happy to play along, at least up until a fairly well-defined point. The damping exercises decent control over vertical body movements and seems fairly oblivious to changes of surface and camber. Of course, it’s not that difficult to upset it, particularly if you’re carrying a full load, but who’d go driving fast in such a car with a boot load of clobber and your wife and children on board? Not me, for sure. I’m not nearly brave enough.
Instead, I choose to savour that other chassis characteristic: its superlative ride. ‘My’ 300de has air springs at the back only (which are standard) and not at the front (optional) so I’m denied the full magic carpet, but I’d still back the Benz to outride any other similarly equipped rival. And I spend far more of my time appreciating that than finding out how fast it can tackle any given corner.
The next time I report, I’ll probably have to qualify all of the above because, as I write, I am told its winter rubber has arrived. Where I live in the Welsh borders, we’ve barely had a winter at all so far, so I’m hoping it will turn up before the car goes back to Mercedes at the end of March. I suspect that with the car’s long wheelbase, huge torque, rear drive and some chunky tyres, I might on a light covering of snow even find an inner hooligan lurking within those smart but sedate lines. Here’s hoping, anyway.
*Driver focus *I love that it matters to MercedesBenz that even a diesel hybrid estate remains a fundamentally engaging car to drive.
*Vocal interjection *The uncouth voice of stone-cold diesel engine when it cuts in after 20 miles of electric-only driving.
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*A toasty behind should be my choice - 8th January 2019*
The best bum warmers I’ve encountered were in a Bentley Continental GTC. Those in the Benz are pretty good but sometimes stop working after a while. I’ve had this on other Mercs too. It’s almost like they decide to shut down to prevent excessive irradiation of the nether regions. If so, I think that should be my choice, not theirs.
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*Long-distance classic at Spa calls for a long-distance specialist - 24th December 2019*
Last time I wrote about the 300de, I promised the next report would be about anything other than the hybrid system. Which is going to be really difficult because, for reasons both good and bad, it affects everything from handling and ride through to performance and economy. And purchase price, running costs and practicality. But a promise is a promise, and so long as you don’t conclude that me explaining why I am not going to write about the hybrid system is in fact just a slightly cute way of writing about the hybrid system, it’s a promise I’m going to keep. I hope.
So here goes. The miles are piling onto the 300de, largely because it seems perfectly suited to both types of journey that characterise my life on the road. There’s the 20-mile school run round trip for one daughter, for which it’s perfectly suited because it can do it all very cheaply and in complete silence for reasons I’m not allowed to talk about. And then there’s the 500-mile return trip to Durham, where the other daughter is at university.
Or the 1000-mile round trip to Spa-Francorchamps, where, as regulars may recall, a few family members (actual and honorary) and I try to coax an old Ford Falcon into surviving the Spa Six Hours, far and away the best and best-known long-distance classic race of them all. We also always go to the little Friterie in the middle of the Masta kink on the old circuit, possibly the most terrifying corner in all motorsport.
We almost always fail to finish the race and usually do so in spectacular style. I crashed it one year, had a wheel fall off in another, grenaded an engine in a third and so on and on. A couple of years ago, Chris Harris brought it in with the back of the car impressively ablaze. But this was perhaps our most disappointing year: with just 20 minutes of the six hours remaining, and the old bus going better and running higher up the field than ever before, a wire came off the back of the alternator, forcing the car to coast to a gentle halt somewhere out on the circuit. We always say that if you’re going to retire from a race, at least do it with a little chutzpah by exploding or something, but if ever there was going out with a whimper rather than a roar, this was it.
So it was with a sense of overwhelming anticlimax and perhaps with the smallest of hangovers that the next day I loaded up the Benz and headed for home.
And on such journeys, it is outstanding. The air-sprung ride is terrific, the refinement beyond serious criticism and the seats among the best in the business. But it’s not perfect. Why, for instance, do you have to turn off the navigation prompts after every stop, however short? Why can’t it just accept I hate being talked at by a computer? And why do the seat heaters turn themselves down after a while? Also, I think I’d spend some money getting a better sound system, the existing stereo being the absolute definition of ‘adequate’.
Other than that, all is well. I’d like to tell you how cold weather affects the electric range, but that would be talking about the hybrid system, so it will have to wait until next time.
*Long-haul comfort *The effortless ease with which it’ll transport you great distances and the splendid seats which ensure you remain pain-free throughout.
*It keeps piping up *Having to silence the voice guidance after every stop, even if it’s just to refuel. Rivals can be set to permanently off. Why not this one?
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-Life with an E-Class Estate: Month 2-
*Long-distance touring a speciality - 27th November 2019*
There are many cars that could have done the five-hour journey home from Britain’s Best Driver’s Car 2019 as well as the Benz but, I expect, very few that would have been significantly better. After all that insanity, when you climb aboard it’s as if you can feel your blood pressure subsiding. And cars that can do that are both rare and special.
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*Our diesel-electric estate is currently one of a kind, with great powers of recuperation - 20th November 2019*
Thanks to this car’s claim to fame – being fitted with the only diesel-hybrid powertrain on sale at the moment – it’s far too easy to spend all your time thinking about the strengths and weakness of the system and not enough focusing on the car beneath. But there is so much to talk about, so I hope I’ll be forgiven for making more observations about its daily operation.
First, I have now sorted out home charging and persuaded my phone to talk to the charger – and any public Pod Point charger I might use in future – so I now know exactly what my electricity is costing me. And on my domestic tariff, 10kWh of energy costs around £1.55. Where I live, there are little or no urban miles to do but that charge will still take me around 24 miles on rural roads at sensible speeds, which would require around half a gallon of diesel on the same road at the same speed, which would cost around £2.95 if I bought it locally.
This means my domestic electricity supply nearly halves the fuel costs on short journeys, but you’d have to make a hell of a lot of short journeys to make up the £5000 extra Mercedes-Benz charges for the hybrid system. Then again, there are tax breaks for hybrids to consider, not to mention a very welcome additional slug of performance. Let’s not forget that this 2140kg estate car will still hit 62mph in 6.0sec, compared with 7.7sec for the same car without the hybrid. So it really is a completely different level of performance.
That’s the macro stuff. I find the micro just as interesting, largely because I’m a geek. I have noticed, for instance, that this car misses no opportunity to claw some ions back through brake regeneration, especially if you run the car in its Eco setting, which I usually do. Obviously, you’d expect this to happen while you’re actually braking, but it’s way, way cleverer than that.
For instance, it always knows where you are, and if it knows there’s a speed limit coming up and you’re off the throttle, it’ll just brake a little more to reduce your speed consistently until you reach the limit, rather than you approaching too fast and having to use the actual brakes rather than the electrics to slow the car. If it sees a tight turn coming up, it’ll slow for that, too, or a junction. You’re aware that it’s always there, chiselling away, recovering every mote of what would otherwise be lost power.
I could find that infuriating, but I don’t, and for two reasons. First, you can stop it whenever you want by changing modes. Second, you only need to coast down one long steep hill and see the projected electric range actually rise to realise this really is free energy it’s finding. So, in fact, the actual saving made by the car is measurable not just in cheap electricity pumped into its battery by my charger but also the free electricity recovered from the road. Which, I guess, is why on a 360-mile journey last week, it still returned over 60mpg despite no more than 25 of them coming from electricity I’d put into the car at home.
But, of course, there’s the not so good stuff. The fact that the battery pack takes up a third of the seat-up boot space is not great, but it’s the huge lump it puts into the loading floor that troubles me more. You lose both space and convenience. And you have to remember that when you drive 25 miles on electricity and then the engine cuts in, the diesel motor is both noisier and thirstier than it can be on account of being stone cold.
That’s it for now. Next time, I’ll try to talk about anything other than the hybrid system. Promise.
*Energy efficiency *The way it is constantly looking to save energy, even when the on-board supply of electricity is entirely depleted.
*space-hogging battery *The enormous lump in the boot floor is difficult to negotiate when you have large items of luggage to house.
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-Life with an E-Class Estate: Month 1-
*Up and running as intended - 30th October 2019*
For those of you who’ve not slept for wondering whether the 300de’s inability to accept the full 7kW capacity of my new Pod Point home charger was the fault of car, charger, installer or me, the answer is none of the above. As suspected, it was the cable. Benz has now supplied the correct cable and it’s blazing away at 7kW. Well, 6.6kW to be precise.
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*Time to install a charging point at home. Should be easy, right? - 23rd October 2019*
It’s a bullet I’ve been meaning to bite for a while now but actually it was another Mercedes-Benz that, if you’ll forgive the appalling melange of metaphors, finally persuaded me to take the plunge. After adding a grand total of 44 miles to the range of an all-electric EQ C overnight, I realised I needed to make the change. And what better excuse to sort it out than having a plug-in on the premises for a few months?
Living in the middle of nowhere, I have off-muddy lane parking, but until now, my charging has come courtesy of a three pin plug by the back door and it is frankly a miracle no one has tripped over the cable and brained themselves on the cobbles. Why are charging cables black – ie as difficult as possible to see at night?
Mercedes-Benz told me BP was its charging partner so I dropped BP a line back in August, and by the time October came around without a reply, I asked a mate who’d just had a dedicated car charger installed at home. His had been done by a company called Pod Point and he could not recommend them more highly. Knowing less than I should about such things, Pod Point’s website informs me that the company has sold and installed “over 40,000 charging points and developed one of the UK’s largest public networks”.
The only delay was caused by me deciding where I wanted the charger to go and then getting an electrician out to drill a hole through the wall of the house from the fuse box, dig a trench across the drive in which to sink the cable, and then route it underground around an old stone wall to where I wanted the point to be sited. Someone contracted by Pod Point then came out, and within a couple of hours, my dedicated charging station was installed.
Pod Point does two types of charger: one with a universal socket, enabling any car to be charged, and one with a fractionally more convenient but less versatile permanent cable. In any event, you’ll pay £779 for one that charges at 3.6kW (which isn’t that much better than a three-pin plug) and £859 for one that charges almost twice as fast, at 7kW. In both cases, so long as both you and the car are eligible for the OLEV grant (which the 300de is), the price comes down by £500 and Pod Point will apply for the grant on your behalf.
So far so good? Well, very nearly. I can’t fault Pod Point or the ease and speed with which the installation process took place. The only problem is that it’s charging at only 3.6kW, which almost but not entirely defeats the object. Pod Point has been back and triple checked its records and is adamant it installed a 7kW charger. One thought was that some plug-in hybrids won’t accept a charge greater than 3.6kW, but the Benz is not among them.
My bet (and that of Pod Point and Mercedes) is that the car has been inadvertently supplied with the wrong cable. By the time of my next report, it will have been swapped, I hope to be charging at 7kW and I should have my head around the Pod Point app, which, among other things, should tell me how much each charge has cost.
*Electric-only travel *Just how quiet and comfortable it is when cruising in electric only, and the decent available performance, too.
*UK’s charging points *Just starting to get my head around just how hopeless is the UK’s charging infrastructure. Thank heavens, I don’t need it.
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*Welcoming the E-Class Estate to the fleet - 9th October 2019*
If there is something I regard as most extraordinary about this Mercedes-Benz E300de, it is that it and its C-Class sister are, at the time of writing, the only cars of their kind on sale. What makes the E300de unique is of the fact that not only is it powered by a diesel engine, but also an electric hybrid drive. All other plug-in hybrid electric vehicles use petrol for their internal combustion engines.
This proposition really would seem to offer the best of both worlds. We know that plug-in hybrids when they are out of town and on the motorway end up carrying a large lump of electric architecture around while it is doing nothing to help the car progress, so you find yourself not only in a heavy vehicle but one that is being powered by petrol. The Mercedes approach means that while you still have to carry that load, at least it is an efficient diesel engine doing the carrying. And when you get to the city limits, which is where people become concerned rightly or wrongly about the particulate emissions of diesel engines, you just switch to electrical power and waft around on a wave of electrons like everybody else with a plug-in.
As theories go, it really does seem pretty flawless – at least until we can figure out a way of providing cars that not only use very little fuel but are also capable of travelling long distances before either refuelling or recharging.
Of course, what works so well on paper rarely translates into practice without a few drawbacks, and quite clearly there are flaws in the plan. Two problems in particular are not difficult to discern: the first is that additional weight I referred to. In this case, Mercedes is asking you to carry around another 265kg of batteries and electric motor.
According to official claims, this makes the car capable of travelling up to 27 miles on electric power alone and at speeds of up to 70mph. But if you are driving on the motorway, there is no way you can expect the 2.0-litre diesel to be as frugal in this car as it would be in another E-Class estate without the hybrid drive, so the car is best for those who will do not only long journeys with diesel power but also many much shorter ones, which it can complete entirely on electric power.
The other issue which might prove particularly troublesome for a car like this with a world-class reputation for its ability to carry luggage is that the battery pack takes up a sizeable chunk of space in the boot. In fact, with the seats up, you lose about a quarter of your carrying capacity. That said, if you really want to carry vast amounts of stuff with the seats down, the load area is still enormous and only about 10% smaller than that found in a conventional E-Class.
Finally, there is the price: the same E-Class without the hybrid drive will cost £5000 less than this one, and you would have to travel a very large number of miles using electric power only to recoup the deficit.
Of course, what such hard facts fail to reveal is that the E-Class when powered only by electricity is a fabulously quiet and comfortable way of going about your business. Compared with Mercedes’ previous diesel, the motor under this bonnet is actually fairly refined, but so quiet is the car in electric mode that it still comes as something of a shock when the conventional engine cuts in.
Moreover, you find yourself trying to drive as frugally as possible to extend the electric range as far as you can. So far I have managed to cover 24 miles on a single charge, which is the most the car has indicated when I have climbed aboard.
The other positive side effect of the hybrid drive is that it turns this four-cylinder diesel estate into an unlikely performer. This is not the kind of car you expect to go burning up the road in but, with the combined efforts of both the electric motor and the internal combustion engine, it is capable of a genuinely surprisingly turn of speed, especially considering its mass.
There is much that will be learned over the months to come but, as a person lucky to have off-street parking and who does many small journeys and many long journeys, if anyone can prove the point of this car, I expect it will be someone like me. The early signs are good and I look forward to each journey, particularly if I think I have a chance of completing it all on electricity alone. I have also become a zealous home charger: if your battery pack is not kept charged, it becomes worse than useless – and in the most literal sense.
I’ve only had to fill the car once so far, which revealed it sipped diesel at 68.8mpg, a figure we calculated based on the fuel I’ve put in, not taken from the trip computer. If it can maintain or improve on that, this Mercedes-Benz E300de will start to make its case on the number of journeys it can complete between filling stations alone.
Despite diesel’s bad press and falling sales of oil-burners over recent years, Mercedes-Benz’s CEO claims sales of its diesel cars are recovering again. So the E300de could have been launched at the right moment. Aside from the mpg and tax benefits for company cars, the E300de also appeals because, with some charge in the battery, it’s smoother, quieter and kinder to the local environmentin town driving than a standard oilburner. The performance benefits are welcome, too, and it’s noticeably punchier than an E220d.
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-Mercedes-Benz E300DE EQ Power SE Estate specification-
*Specs: Price New* £49,700 *Price as tested* £58,115 *Options *Cavansite Blue metallic paint £685, privacy glass £345, premium equipment pack £2395, Driving Assistance Plus pack £1695, comfort pack £3295
*Test Data: Engine* 1950cc, 4cyls, turbo, diesel, plus electric motor *Power* 302bhp at 3800rpm *Torque* 516lb ft at 1200-2800rpm *Kerb weight* 2060kg *Top speed* 155mph *0-62mph* 5.9sec *Fuel economy* 201.8mpg *CO2* no WLTP data *Faults* None *Expenses* None
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