Most car companies have impressive portfolios of conceptual visions and future dreams, but inevitably surrender to a more prosaic approach when it comes to actually building cars people want to buy. Sure, there are outliers, but new technology tends to creep stealthily into the mainstream.
There are few more conservative cars than the Mercedes C-Class. Ever since the segment first debuted in 1993 the range has been made up of sober saloons and functional estate cars. Back in the day it was the smallest Benz you could buy, but that's no longer the case, thanks to the plethora of new models in the company's stable. Instead, it exists as a mainstay, a best seller that appeals to everyone from families to businessmen to taxi drivers.
The E300 Hybrid is something of a departure for the class, a car that promises all things to everyone and pretty much delivers. Based on the solidly excellent fourth generation C-Class, it mates a hybrid powertrain with a four-cylinder diesel, creating a car that is fleet of foot yet also frugal, with plenty of space and styling that, although not quite head-turning, is as classically elegant as any historic Benz.
The best thing about the E300 is that it does everything with quiet brilliance, inside and out. It doesn't scream with self-importance or crude posturing, yet it contains some of the best-thought-out infotainment and safety technology in any car. Nearly 120 years after Karl Benz fired up the single-cylinder, 0.6 hp engine in the world's very first recognisable motorcar in 1886, the German engineer's name is still at the forefront of automotive innovation.