FEATURE CORPORATE HYBRID BATTLE #2015
Mercedes-Benz and Lexus battle for a slice of the company car budget with their mild-hybrids. WORDS & PHOTOS: Jonathan Musk.
THANKS TO: Giles Teggin. Never have hybrids been as desirable as they are today and no more so than in the battle for the “the corporate” customer. We take two of the best for a drive and see which one comes top of the class.
Let’s start with the styling. For one thing, both are fantastic looking cars. Each wins its own admirers, although the edgy Lexus has our vote compared to the more rounded Mercedes. It is at the back end the Mercedes loses out, as the Lexus’ neat sill-line rises up to form the curvature of the tail lamps. At the front end, LED headlamps are standard for the Mercedes, while the Lexus makes do with HIDs. Our #Mercedes-Benz
had the optional ‘Intelligent’ headlamp package, which added cornering lamps and adaptive highbeam for £545. In practice, both LED and HID are perfectly adequate and more than blinding enough to illuminate any road.
Continuing on the options theme, the Mercedes was fully equipped with various different options. These include the, ‘Premium Plus Package,’ which provides keyless entry, seat memory, Burmester sound system, panoramic glass roof and a few other gubbins. It’s a comprehensive package that demands £2,795 but seemed reasonable value for money, all things considered. Contrary to the good value witnessed with the previous option, the, ‘Driving Assistance Package,’ added blind spot assistance lights, Distronic plus (Mercedes’ distance guided cruise control), lane-keep assist and Pre-Safe for a mighty £1,495. It seemed stingy for the money. AirMATIC air suspension was the next option that delivers varied suspension stifness depending on the road surface, speed and driving mode. The C300 also benefitted from a heads-up display and an automatic air purifying system complete with a set of interchangable fragrances; which took up the entire glove box. The Lexus, on the other hand, simply had pearl white paint added to the otherwise standard ‘Premier’ trim level. There are few options available to the Lexus, whereas the Mercedes offers a mind boggling array of choice. Interestingly, this meant our two cars were very well matched with regard to their premium interiors and gadgets, despite the Lexus not having all the options of the Mercedes. However, this did make the Mercedes almost £8,000 more expensive. Resultantly, the Lexus is certainly the more affordable choice, although it should be noted that a base spec #Mercedes-Benz-C300-BlueTEC-Hybrid-W205
offers a decent level of equipment for its £38,120 on-the-road asking price.
When offered the choice of which to drive, the Lexus’ keys are those grabbed first from the coffee table. It is the more rewarding to drive and better performing on the road. Ride is composed and sporty, without being uncomfortable or harsh. It is a real ‘can do’ car. It is able to cruise around city streets as serenely as a Prius, but should you wish to push it, the car is capable of adding a smile by rewarding the driver. It is surprisingly good at this, especially given our contrasted experience with the Lexus NX 300h (AutoVolt issue 5), which has the same powertrain. In the NX, you’re left wanting more. Its excessive height and weight compromise the entire package, particularly from a driver’s perspective, suffering body roll in corners and being generally underpowered. Sports mode didn’t make it much more tolerable either. The #Lexus-IS-300h-III
, on the other hand, is superb and every flaw the NX exhibited disappeared. The lighter and lower body of the IS allows the powertrain to perform as it should. Average fuel economy was an easy 46mpg despite the alluring temptation to switch into Sport mode. Flicking the gearstick to Sport mode suddenly makes the engine noticeably louder and summons an enjoyable induction roar, giving the impression of being in something rather special despite being a mere 2.5-litre four-cylinder. It moves briskly enough too and feels much faster than the 8.3 seconds the official 0-62mph time suggests. Similarly, the eCVT transmission is very good. When acceleration is desired in most CVT equipped cars, engine speed is increased to peak power and held at that level until the rest of the car catches up; all accompanied by a mess of noise and a lack of spirit. It is as though the wheels aren’t connected to the engine and, in a way, they aren’t. With this in mind, Lexus has fortunately managed some clever tricks with the eCVT, which can mimic a six-speed gearbox and magically changes the energy gauge into a rev counter when Sport mode is selected. It isn’t quite the same as a real manual gearbox, understandably, but it is fun to drive and provides controlled engine braking – something that’s missing from the car in normal mode.
The Mercedes is a very fine machine too. However, the driving experience left us feeling a little cold. Although it was smooth and comfortable overall, the diesel engine kicked in more often than would have been liked and the gearbox seemed a little dim-witted on more than one occasion. For example when trying to pull fifth gear up a hill at 30mph with the engine doing less than 1,000 revs; it was hardly smooth or economic progress. Changing the driving mode did help rid the car of many foibles, although often at the expense of economy. Setting the car into the adjustable, ‘Individual+’ mode allowed suspension, steering and engine options to be manually configured, which greatly helped.
For some, the relaxing air-suspension (an £895 option on our car) will be better suited than a stiffened sports machine, which the Lexus is more like. It is the powertrain that lacks smoothness and really lets the Mercedes down though. Let’s get one thing clear; it isn’t bad at all. It is just when put alongside the Lexus, the Mercedes portrays an unfortunate tendency to change gear with a lurch by contrast to the Lexus’ smooth operation. Most of this effect is simply due to the Mercedes having a conventional sevenspeed automatic transmission, whereas the Lexus benefits from its eCVT. The C300’s diesel engine is itself quite gruff, particularly when cool and as mentioned, is kicked into life more often than is necessary. This means economy is not quite as good as one would have hoped.
managed 46mpg (on petrol); the #Mercedes-Benz-C300-BlueTEC-Hybrid #W205
managed a fairly disappointing 48mpg (on diesel). This is in spite of its tried and tested 2.1-litre turbodiesel with an electric motor, and the promise of 78.5mpg combined economy. The Lexus missed its economy mark too, 60.1 mpg combined, but was still the more fuel efficient of the two. This helps show the key difference between the powertrains: The Mercedes’ diesel-electric constantly wants to run the engine, whereas the Lexus’ petrol-electric system reverts to electric-only power as often as possible.
The Mercedes offers better performance and faster acceleration on paper but side by side there seemed little to differentiate the two cars. And, the sensation of Lexus’ accelerative force through mimicked gear changes is much more fun. To drive, the Lexus is the clear winner. However, important consideration should be made with respect to the rest of the car. After all, business miles are done from within the cabin and driving energetically is inappropriate most of the time.
This brings us to the interior. Simply put, the Lexus feels dated and getting in is an uninspired experience. The madcap dashboard design is difficult to understand and it certainly appears as though function has given way to form. There are many areas of the design that make you wish it were slightly different. For example, in front of the multimedia screen is a flat area that tilts toward the screen and would have made a handy stowage area for the odd pen or mint. Instead, it is a useless part that if used will direct items onto the screen instead of holding them away from it. This poor design mentality repeats in other areas of the cabin, to its detriment.
Cabin temperature controls are particularly useless and are more like an electronic synthesiser than a usable or worthwhile innovation over a standard push button. It is an intriguing experience to slide one’s finger over the controls initially but this quickly irritates since achieving the desired temperature is hard work. Similarly, interior lighting would not be out of place in an 80’s sci-fi movie, as the entire light spectrum has been used to illuminate various instruments, display lights and so on. This may appeal to some, but it makes for a very busy dashboard at night. The Lexus computer menu feels dated too and odd design decisions have been made that make it clunky to operate with the bizarre joystick. The designers appear to have tried hard to reinvent the ‘wheel’ for the sake of being different, rather than aiming to make the best ‘wheel’ they could. Instead of typical [and sensible] left, right, up and down controls, the joystick is more akin to something from an arcade machine than a decent controller of an in-car computer. It isn’t very tactile and it has a vagueness that when used on the move, makes it all too easy to skip past the intended menu item. To do a simple task, this necessitates looking at the screen far more often than is safe or reasonable.
In stark contrast, the Mercedes is fantastic. Beautifully meticulous design flourishes can be found everywhere and the attention to detail is exquisite. Stepping in not only for the first time, but every time, gives a sense of occasion only matched by cars far more expensive. It has the same eminence as the top-of-the-range S-Class. The quality, fit and finish is all superb. Our review car’s optional red leather (£795) and matt black wood trim (£195) are, perhaps, an acquired taste but there is no denying the interior’s overall class.
Burmester surround sound (part of the Premium Plus Package) offers both beautiful aluminium speaker covers and an incredibly rich sound system that can certainly put an end to any misgivings you might have had about the diesel engine’s clatter.
The centrally mounted screen is controlled by either the wonderfully weighted control wheel or the touch pad, mounted atop. It wouldn’t be out of place on a high-end #Bang-&-Olufsen
stereo and the metal wheel feels solid and helps make assertive movements to control the computer. The menu is not always the most logical though and it does take a while to get to grips with. But, once understood, it makes sense and is easy to navigate.
Our car also had a heads-up display installed, but this didn’t come cheap at £825 and in reality adds nothing to the driving experience since the main instrument cluster display offers a tonne of clearly presented information.
These two cars manage to be polar opposites while remaining remarkably comparable. The #Lexus
has a better powertrain, while the Mercedes has a more refined interior. When push comes to shove, the Lexus is the more enjoyable and cheaper option, from the perspective of someone who will make use of all the settings and enjoy the combined performance and economy. That said, the Mercedes is the car you jump into and enjoy for completely different reasons; because it has a fantastic interior space. On a sunny country road and with a fresh head, the Lexus is the car to go for. Conversely, at the end of a long day when the prospect of sitting in slow moving traffic is all there is to look forward to, the Mercedes is unbeatable. The choice between these two cars will largely be an emotional one, boiling down to personal taste and circumstance. Price is important too, but the base price for both the ‘Premier’ trimmed Lexus and AMG Line Mercedes only has just short of £100 separating them. It is a case of swings and roundabouts.
However, delve a little deeper into the mind-set of a company car buyer and another aspect presents itself. Due to only emitting a trickle of CO2 (99 g/km), even with its large 18” alloys our #AMG
Line version had, the Mercedes has a lower BIK rate than the Lexus, which emits 109 g/km CO2. Being a hybrid, the Mercedes is not subject to the 3% BIK (benefit-in-kind) tax supplement as other diesel saloons either, although this is being scrapped in 2017.
For the 2015/16 tax year the BIK rates for the two cars fall into the 15% and 16% brackets respectively. So, the Mercedes will be a little cheaper per month but this is largely offset by it being a diesel, which commands more money per litre at the fuel pump.
Overall, there is much to like and dislike about both cars. If economy is the primary concern, then the Lexus is the better option despite official figures claiming stating the contrary. However, should you find yourself sat in traffic on a boring commute, you might just wish you’d opted for the more oppulent #Mercedes
Engine - 2.5 4-cyl Petrol
Power (EV) - 178 bhp (141 bhp)
Torque (EV) - 221 Nm (300Nm)
Max Speed - 125 mph
0-62mph - 8.3 sec
Transmission - Electric CVT
Economy avg. - 60.1 mpg
CO2 Emissions - 109 g/km
Weight (kerb) - 1,620 kg
Length - 4,850 mm
Width - 1,840 mm
Height - 1,455 mm
Price - £38,495 OTR
(as tested) - £39,105
Engine - 2.2 4-cyl Diesel
Power (EV) - 204 hp (n/a)
Torque (EV) - 500 Nm (n/a)
Max Speed - 152 mph
0-62mph - 6.4 sec
Transmission - 7-speed Auto
Economy avg. - 78.5 mpg
CO2 Emissions - 99 g/km
Weight (kerb) - 1,715 kg
Length - 4,686 mm
Width - 1,810 mm
Height - 1,442 mm
Price - £38,120 OTR
(as tested) - £46,015
MILD HYBRID The Lexus’ petrol-electric is both refined and economical, whereas the Mercedes’ diesel-electric is a rough and disappointingly uneconomical as it is too keen to rely on fuel.
INTERIOR DETAIL Astonishing value for money as the C-Class #Mercedes-Benz-W205
oozes style and class that defy its price tag. Controls are a joy to use and the fit & finish is superb.
INTERIOR DETAIL #Lexus-IS-III
interior is overly fussy and there are buttons everywhere. Sadly, the computer feels a little past its best too, although it operates well.
PRACTICALITY Both cars offer comparative space inside, but the Lexus is less cramped up-front.
HYBRID STYLE Both Merc and Lexus are great looking cars inside and out.