This generation of C-Class, the W205, is on its way out, but the C300de still deserves some attention.
Will the Mercedes-Benz W205 be a memorable generation of C-Class? Well, there was nothing groundbreaking when it was revealed in 2014, and it’s been made better over time, especially with the recent facelift.
But I think that only certain versions will be of particular interest for those looking to pick one up second hand, in a few years’ time. Sure, the AMG C43 and AMG C63 models will be more collectable than others, yet I say the very interesting plug-in hybrids will stay relevant, as more and more cities in Europe are closing their doors not just to diesel cars, but fuel-burning cars in general.
Which is why the fact that Mercedes went ahead and created a diesel plug-in hybrid of the C-Class makes this particular version quite interesting. Firstly, diesels are now being demonized in Europe, and more and more manufacturers are just dropping the diesel engine from some of their models altogether.
And marrying electrification to the diesel engine is not the easiest of tasks to accomplish well. Sure, there have been some plug-in hybrid diesels from a few Euro manufacturers (Peugeot and Volvo spring to mind), they are quite rare because it’s quite difficult to make the system work seamlessly and well.
So has Mercedes-Benz gone to the trouble of making a diesel PHEV system for nothing, or is it a worthy powertrain to consider for a C-Class you buy today in Europe. Well, having driven many diesel C-Class variants over the years, it approached this car without too much excitement, expecting it to be so focused on efficiency that it’s not also fun at the same time, yet it pleasantly surprised me with the way it drove (and just how much enjoyment I derived from driving it).
Mercedes hasn’t drastically altered the look of the W205 through its mid-lifecycle facelift introduced in 2018. All it’s changed is the inside design of the front and rear light clusters, as well as the bumper designs and some minor details - basically, if you don’t know what the changes are, you might not know which model you’re looking at.
With that being said, there is plenty to like about the C-Class’ design. No, it doesn’t look quite as good as the larger E-Class (whose facelift brought its look in line with that of the all-new S-Class), but it still looks pretty good - it’s certainly not the best looking car in its class, which is something Mercedes is probably looking to address with the all-new model that’s just around the corner.
My tester also had an AMG Pack, which added sportier front and rear bumpers (sadly with those horrible fake exhausts) and some nice AMG rims (originally 18-inch rims but which have been swapped for 17-inch AMG wheels with winter tires). It also came with the top-of-the range Multibeam LED headlights, which certainly help it look its best.
Oh, and in case you were wondering how you can tell the diesel-electric version apart from others, well, it’s not the easiest of tasks. The only thing that gives this away as the PHEV diesel is the 300de badge on the back, as well as the charge port located on the right side of the rear bumper and EQ Power badges on the front fenders (the last two can also be found on the C300e model).
Being a Mercedes-Benz, you’d expect any C-Class to just be a bit more cosseting than rivals in the class, and you would be absolutely right. Even if rivals like its archenemy, the BMW 3 Series, have seriously upped the comfort in their most recent versions, the C-Class (which is at the end of its lifecycle now) is still a smoother riding car, and that’s before you spec the optional air suspension that none of its rivals offer.
And my tester didn’t have air suspension. Even so, it was remarkably smooth even over really bad roads. The sports seats that my AMG Line tester came with were also a highlight - sure, they’re sporty and they hold you in place well, but I didn’t find them any less comfortable than the standard seats that the C-Class comes with - in fact, I think they are even more comfortable than the base seats and they provide way more lateral support too.
The driver has no problem finding a good driving position - the steering wheel adjusts for both reach and rake and the seat has such a wide range of motion that people of all sizes should fit with no problems. In the rear, I managed to fit behind my driving position and since I’m 183 cm or about 6-foot tall, this isn’t really possible in some smaller sedans.
In being turned into a PHEV, the C300de loses a bit of trunk space - about 155 liters - so it drops from 455 liter to 300 liters. Still not tiny, but there is a big hump in the floor so you cannot slide items to the back.
Technology & Connectivity
With the facelift, Mercedes-Benz gave the W205 C-Class an optional 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster. It’s the same screen as you’d find in pretty much all other newer Mercedes models, only here, as in the case of the facelifted GLC, it is integrated in the space where you will find conventional dials on lesser models.
The screen is controlled via two small touch-sensitive panels located on the horizontal steering wheel spokes and it works just like it does in all the most recent models. However, when it comes to the infotainment, it’s a totally different story, so it’s a good thing it has both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support.
While Mercedes did manage to integrate its new operating system and control method, called MBUX, into some of its older cars after their mid-lifecycle refresh, in the case of the C-Class, it did not bother. The infotainment is the same the C-Class had before its 2018 facelift and while there’s nothing specific to criticize about it, it dates the cabin and it makes the car feel like it’s lagging a bit behind its more modern competitors.
Since it is a PHEV, it does get specific screens that show battery state, consumption and rate your driving. It also has several selectable modes for the hybrid system, including an all-important charge mode that lets you put juice back into the battery in preparation for zero emissions city driving.
Performance & Handling
The Mercedes C-Class W205 is not the latest word in sharp handling, unless we’re talking about the very different AMG versions. Outright sportiness was clearly not the priority when setting up the C-Class, and even in my slightly stiffer AMG Line tester, comfort was the main concern.
It rolls into corners, and it pitches and dives when accelerating or braking hard. However, thanks to the remarkably precise and direct steering, you always feel like you’re in control and I think this is one of those cars where the fact that it’s soft and it moves around a bit just adds to the fun.
I found it remarkably controllable, and was even able to drift it around corners with remarkable ease. It was a bit too easy, but this car’s crazy torque figure (part of which is delivered at the very slightest press of the throttle) really allows you to control the car’s movement with the right pedal.
In fact, I think this C300de is a far easier car to drive quickly around a twisty road than a comparable BMW. In the latter, you have to be more on your toes, while the C-Class just gives you a bit of leeway - it feels less prone to biting you with snap oversteer and thus you gain confidence to push it harder - I had a blast driving it on a twisty mountain road, as you’ll see in the video review posted above and I honestly didn’t really feel the extra weight of the battery pack.
But I’ve driven this generation of C-Class before, so none of that came as a surprise. What surprised me was how the 700 Nm (516 pound-feet) of torque made the car feel. I have driven cars with more torque than that, but they were also considerably bigger and heavier - the C300de is under 2 tons and aside from the torque, it also has 306 horsepower.
That is a lot of oomph for a small car like this, and from behind the wheel it really feels plenty quick, probably quicker than you need on a day to day basis. The C300de is clearly not just aimed at those who want an economical hybrid - it is a car that, surprisingly, appeals to the keen driver who does also care about fuel bills.
According to Mercedes, it sprints to 100 km/h (62 mph) from nought in 5.6 seconds. Top speed is 250 km/h (155 mph) and it gets up to that speed way quicker than you may expect. From behind the wheel, thanks to that colossal torque figure, it feels even quicker when sprinting, although since it’s only rear-wheel drive, if the road surface is not dry, you will spin the rear tires very easily (and there’s no 4Matic all-wheel drive available for the 300de - you can only spec that on the 300e PHEV).
When the W205 was tested back in 2014, it was awarded the full five stars by EuroNCAP. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tested the 2020 model and it was given the Top Safety Pick+ rating, the highest distinction that can be awarded to a passenger car.
It not only has a very stiff shell, plenty of standard airbags and the usual traction and stability nannies, but it also came with adaptive cruise control that can bring the car to a complete stop and then continue with just a button press from the driver, autonomous emergency braking, pedestrian detection or traffic sign recognition.
It is worth noting that the IIHS found the base halogen headlights still fitted to the C-Class as not great. You have to upgrade to one of the two full LED options to really enjoy great nighttime visibility; my tester had the top of the range Multibeam setup with automatic high beam and it worked impeccably.
Efficiency, Range & Charging
For the C300de, Mercedes more than doubled the capacity of the on-board battery. It’s now a 13.5 kWh pack (previous C-Class PHEVs had just a 6.4 kWh battery) and you can charge it at up to 7.4 kW, which will bring it up from 10 to 100 percent in 1.5 hours, according to the manufacturer.
The lithium-ion battery pack has a usable capacity of just over 10 kWh and Mercedes says it should take you about 57 km (35 miles) on one charge. During my drive, I only had the car fully charged once, and the charge lasted for just over 40 km (25 miles) of driving through the city (while I wasn’t driving it with efficiency in mind).
It’s not among the longest range PHEVs on the market, but it does have decent usable real world electric range, so for the right commute, this C300de could be a great choice. It may also work as a company car, since being a PHEV, it incurs very low taxes in places like the European union and you get a lot of car (and performance) with this vehicle.
Pricing & Verdict
Look, the C-Class W205 is on it way out, so even if the C300de is a tempting buy for people looking for a small, premium, electrified sedan (if this version is available in your market), it’s kind of hard to recommend. It feels a bit dated inside, particularly due to the aging infotainment and some of the older looking buttons, switches and panels; there are several rivals that just feel more modern and contemporary inside.
However, the C300de is a very unique proposition. It is a plug-in hybrid diesel, a rare and complicated beast, and it does a good job of melding the advantages of both the diesel engine and an electric motor into one remarkably cohesive package. It’s smooth, effortlessly fast and fun to drive for an enthusiast, plus it’s really quite efficient if you keep its battery topped up.
Honestly, I can say this is a recommendable car, but given that it’s on its way out (and it feels a bit outdated compared to its newer rivals), you should really do your best to haggle with the Mercedes dealer to bring the price down. Maybe right now isn’t even the time to buy one - you might want to wait a few more months until the all-new C-Class is revealed and just pick a C300de that’s already in stock at a discount.
My tester cost about €65,000, of which some €20,000 were optional extras. Since it feels a bit old compared to rivals, I’m not sure I personally would pay the full asking price for one right now, although as previously stated, I think you will be able to pick one up brand new for cheaper once the next-gen C-Class debuts.