The E300 BlueTEC Hybrid is a practical step towards reaching the firm's stated aim of emission-free driving. We drove the pre-facelift model (pictured) to get a sense of MB's latest technology.

The German luxury brand's diesel hybrid system is very interesting as it is relatively compact, managing to contain itself to the engine bay and not the boot! Most hybrids feature a large battery pack that is either mounted behind or under the rear seats, or is in the space you'd expect to find the spare wheel, which obviously compromises boot space. Not so in the Merc. MB has managed to place the electric motor in the gearbox casing, with the Lithium-Ion battery pack not far from there also. This deserves a round of applause.

E300 BlueTEC power is delivered to the rear wheels via a combination of a four-cylinder, 2.2-litre diesel engine (2,143cc) and an electric motor. Mercedes-Benz quotes engine performance figures of 204hp and 500nm of torque. The electric motor delivers a further 27hp and 250nm of torque. With hybrids, you don't simply add the two sets of performance figures of the engine and motor together to get the car's overall power figure, but rather take a bit off the total due to what's best called, hybrid black magic!

Top speed is 242km/h and 0-100km/h takes just 7.8 seconds through the specially designed, seven-speed 'G-tronic Plus' automatic gearbox. The automatic gearbox uses a wet clutch and not a torque converter, as you might think. The wet clutch enables the engine to be disengaged fully, allowing the electric motor to power the car on its own. Eco Stop/Start is standard.

The E300 BlueTEC Hybrid clearly has respectable performance, but the big saving comes with fuel consumption. MB quotes consumption at 4.3 litres on the combined cycle; in fact, that figure is the same for the urban and extra-urban cycles! Emissions are very low for the five-seat saloon at just 111g/km of CO2 when fitted with 17-inch alloys - this means annual road tax is just €200! Standard kit includes leather seats (heated up front), multi-function leather steering wheel and USB and Bluetooth connectivity, to name a few.

On the road the car is set up for comfort and this is fine, but the soft suspension is quite noticeable when cornering or driving with gusto as the car pitches and turn-in can be a little snappy. E300 BlueTEC Hybrid is a weighty machine at 1,845kg. In no way is the handling alarming, but it is quirky. The regenerative brakes can bite quite hard too, especially when you are almost stationary. Like the car's cornering, the left pedal takes a bit of getting used to.
At worst, the slight jolt experienced when stopping might wake a sleeping front seat passenger.

The hybrid power unit can run the E Class Merc on its own at speeds of up to 160km/h when charged - when the car is not under too much load. MB calls this function 'Sailing'. The driver has no buttons to press to select EV mode and there are relatively few fuel-saving gimmicks, displays or gauges.

Prices start at €56,325: our test car cost €57,930 thanks to the addition of Iridium Silver Metallic paint at €1,605.

Driving the E300 BlueTEC Hybrid, and most Mercs, you'll be content to sit back and simply go with the flow.

Michael Sheridan