The Mercedes E-class saloon is the company’s best-selling model. It dates back to 1993, with the launch of the W124 which took the E-Klass moniker. Refined, relaxing, and still something of a status symbol, the E-class today is offered in saloon, estate, coupe and cabrio. While we’ve tested the saloon – sadly a dying breed – the powertrain is anything but. That little “de” suffix means it’s a diesel plug-in hybrid, mixing a 2.0-litre diesel engine with a battery and motors. So you get the “EQ” badging in the electric dials on board, which signals Mercedes’ electric range and is the name of their first pure electric car, but it’s not fully electric.
Our test car has the AMG Line badging, too, just to confuse matters – not a pure-bred AMG powertrain, the “Line” bit means AMG styling is onboard, in the same way BMW offers M Sport styling.
The E saloon is crammed with bells and whistles if you ride the trim train, reminding us of the luxury on offer from Mercedes. Standard equipment includes 64-colour ambient lighting, which makes an enormous difference to the vibe inside, weirdly. There’s four-way lumbar support for the front seats, charging cables for wallboxes and public charging stations in the boot, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, sports leather steering wheel and dynamic drive mode with choice of comfort, eco, sport and sport plus.
We also had, from the options list, a Premium Plus package (£4,399) which includes 360-degree parking camera, touchpad and control wheel for the 12.3in colour display, wireless charging, Burmester surround sound system (highly recommended for a rich, deep sound), and panoramic glass roof. Then we had the Comfort package (£3,295) with Nappa leather, "Air Balance” and “Air body control" which means a (very nice, actually) fragrance pot in the car’s glove box, dispersing upmarket scents around your car, and ionised air, which means fewer bacteria and spores entering the car, if you believe the marketing.
Of more use is the Driving Assistance Plus package (£1,695) with brake, distance, lane-change and steering assistance. Finally, we also had the Night package (£595) which is a styling package with lots of black lowlights and glass black 18in alloys.
Mercedes says you’ll get “around” 30 miles of electric only range when your battery is fully charged. We got 24 miles, in winter, with the heater, windscreen wipers and lights on, which isn’t bad. The main point is, it’s enough for most people’s daily commutes or the daily return school run, so you could feasibly spend most of your time not tapping into the diesel tank, depending on your lifestyle. If, however, you do a long motorway journey most days, you’ll find yourself simply lugging around the extra weight of the added battery and motors, while glugging the diesel, which makes little sense. As with petrol versus diesel, it all depends on what you use your car for, and how often.
What remains, in either case, is Mercedes’ trademark supple suspension and smooth, powerful acceleration. The combination of the 2.0-litre diesel and the motors results in 306PS (302bhp) and 700Nm (516lb ft) of torque, which delivers 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds. It’s a lovely, refined experience in electric-only mode, which suits the understated character of this familiar saloon well. You can choose to drive it in hybrid mode, E-Mode (electric only), E-save (engine only) and Charge (engine only, battery is charged).
This is a car for the head rather than the heart. No one feels passionately about saloons any more, which is a shame. Everyone should step out of their SUVs once in a while and get into a saloon for the weekend, to be reminded about good handling and the practicalities a saloon still offers – easy access for rear-seat passengers and mighty boots (although that of the plug-in hybrid is curtailed somewhat by battery storage). Plug-in hybrids also don’t sound as sexy an offering as a pure electric car, but offer the best real-world blend of sustainability and convenience, as we wait for more charging points to appear and the likes of Chargemaster and Podpoint to run most of them, so we don’t have to subscribe to a million different networks. In the meantime, get a PHEV.