Don't buy the hybrid version of the Mercedes C-Class for the gas it'll save you.
Buy it for the speed it will give you.
The hybrid version of the Mercedes C sedan has almost 500 foot-pounds of torque awaiting your right foot — which is much more fun than the plug that's in the trunk.
What It Is
The C350e is the hybrid gas-electric version of the compact Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan.
It's a plugin hybrid, too, which means it does more than just creep briefly — and slowly — on the batteries. Full EV operation is possible for about 20 miles and at speeds as high as 80 mph.
Base price is $47,900, about $5k more than price of the standard (nonhybrid) C300 sedan. But that one doesn't have almost 500 foot-pounds of torque.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now available in all C models including the hybrid.
—The torque of a big-block V-8 (with acceleration to match) in a car that averages 30 Mpg.
—The mini-me S-Class interior.
—A back seat you can sit in — if you're not mini-me.
What's Not So Good
Headroom is more the issue than legroom.
The BMW 330e hybrid, the C hybrid's closest direct rival, is similar and roomier and costs about $2k less to start — saving you green.
The rear-wheel drive-only layout isn't snow-day friendly.
Under the Hood
Like the regular C-Class sedan, the hybrid C has a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gas-burning engine. But it also has a high-performance 6.2-kilowatt water-cooled battery pack, and an high-performance electric motor backing that up.
Combined output is 275 horsepower and 443 foot-pounds of tire-abusing torque feeding through a beefed-up seven-speed automatic transmission. The non-hybrid C only has 241 horsepower and 273 foot-pounds of torque.
The combo averages 30 mpg — and more is possible because, being a plugin hybrid, it doesn't have to burn gas to recharge its batteries. If your trip is within the action radius of the Benz's batteries on a full charge, you could get there on battery power alone.
On the Road
You can run silent or fast.
It's neat to move without sound; it's fun to point out to passengers that the engine is not running but the car is doing 70.
But this is a Mercedes, which means it must also move quickly.
The double dose of torque provided by the turbo and the electric motor/battery pack takes care of that, replicating the motive force of the biggest V-8s of the muscle-car era, just without the big gas bill.
Another neat feature is the haptic feedback accelerator pedal, which coaches you to maximize the mpgs via slight but perceptible points of resistance through the accelerator pedal — to ease off the accelerator in order to let the electric drive take over.
When decelerating in ECO mode, the electric motor is used to help brake the car without actually using the brakes and generate electricity to help recharge the batteries.
You save pads as well as gas.
At the Curb
The C is a pretty small car — 184.5 inches long overall, just slightly longer than a Honda Civic sedan (182.3 inches). Legroom in both rows, though, is actually pretty good: 41.7 inches for the driver and front-seat passenger, and 35.2 inches for the back-seat riders.
It's headroom that's the problem — at least for taller people.
The C sedan has just 37.1 inches of that — in both rows. That's noticeably less clearance than you'll find in the hybrid BMW 3 Series sedan. That one has 40.3 inches of headroom up front, a difference of almost 3 inches.
If you 6 feet tall (or higher), the BMW will be a much better fit, which is a shame, because the Benz's interior is otherwise a really nice place to be — and to see.
The layout and ambiance is similar to that of an E-Class, or even an S-Class, just on a smaller scale. You can even get E-Class- and S-Class-esque features including quilted Mocha leather seats, a Burmester surround-sound audio rig and a scent dispenser in the glove box.
This Benz has instant-on heating (and cooling) because both are powered electrically rather than mechanically. The engine doesn't have to run or warm up first. And you can dial up either remotely via your phone.
The plugin port is very discreetly located behind a pop-out panel blended into the lower rear bumper. Other high-end hybrids — including the BMW hybrids — have their plugin ports located more noticeably on the side of the car.
Depending on the location of your electrical outlet, one or the other will be more convenient. The rear bumper location is arguably the better location because you can pull into any parking spot where there is a charging station — no worries about having to line up the right or left side of the car with the outlet.
The Bottom Line
There may not be such a thing as a three-scoop sundae made with real cream and sugar that doesn't make you fat, but here's a hybrid that's faster and more fun than the non-hybrid version.
That it's also economical is almost incidental.
Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" is available here. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.