Don’t be fooled by the dual exhaust tips on the new Mercedes-Benz A-Class hybrids. They are purely cosmetic, as the tailpipes of these models aren’t anywhere near their tails.
Instead, the exhaust exits beneath the cabin floor. Such a layout is legal in most parts of the world, including Australia and Europe, says a Mercedes-Benz engineer who worked on the plug-in A-Class project.
The shortened exhaust makes space for a sizeable lithium-ion battery beneath the rear seat, so there’s little loss of luggage space. The pack stores almost 16kWh, enough for 60km of purely electric driving, according to Europe’s new, more realistic standard.
Unusually for a small plug-in hybrid, the battery will accept DC fast charging for a quick top-up. Once the electricity is drained, there’s a 35L fuel tank to supply the 1.3-litre engine.
Mercedes-Benz will produce sedan and hatch versions of its new A250 e, expanding the brand’s EQ Power-branded range of high-voltage plug-in hybrids.
In four and five-door forms, the A250 e is headed for Australia as part of a multi-pronged plug-in push planned by Mercedes for 2020.
They are due in the first quarter, in company with other electrified models, the C300 e and E300 e sedans.
In about May, these will be joined by the GLC300 e, a plug-in hybrid version of the brand’s popular SUV.
The Stuttgart production line also turns out diesel-electric plug-in hybrids but Mercedes-Benz Australia will not import them.
The company has never before had plug-in hybrid tech in its most compact models, so the A-Class examples were stars of a meet-the-models event near Frankfurt.
As with Porsche and Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz fits its hybrids’ electric motors between engine and gearbox. The pair can work together to propel the car, or the former can be shut down and disconnected for electric-only drive.
In electric mode, the A250 e works pretty well. The motor’s power output isn’t high but torque is strong, so it jumps off the line snappily.
The motor is quiet and teams sweetly with the eight-speed auto, the transmission it shares with non-hybrid A-Class versions.
On an unrestricted German autobahn, the plug-ins would run easily up to their 140km/h electric-power speed limit while on the busy streets of central Frankfurt, acceleration was brisk. The software that predicts remaining electric range was very accurate, too.
In electric mode the accelerator pedal resists pressure when approaching maximum e-speed. Push through this barrier and the petrol engine starts, providing maximum power and reminding the driver that the 1.3-litre four-cylinder isn’t one of Mercedes-Benz’s best (it’s the same engine as in the A200).
As with less costly A-Class counterparts, the A250 e delivers all its power to the front wheels — with engine and motor working together, the front tyres struggle to put all the power to ground. Another problem is an oversensitive brake pedal, a trait of hybrids and EVs alike.
Mercedes-Benz Australia is aiming to bring in the A250 e hatch at about $60,000. With its better than average electric-only range and performance, it’s an appealing if not flawless small plug-in hybrid.
The same could be said of the GLC300 e — but, given Australia’s ongoing love affair with SUVs, this new-wave Benz plug-in hybrid is most likely to succeed.
It has a smaller capacity battery than the A250 e, so its electric driving range is restricted to only 40km-odd.
From behind the wheel it feels heavy and unwieldy to drive but performance is impressive, whether in electric-only or hybrid mode.
The all-wheel drive GLC300 e never scrabbles for grip and its 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is smooth and sweet-sounding.
The latest Mercedes plug-ins are in no imminent danger of becoming redundant as the company develops battery electric vehicles.
“Plug-in hybrids are more than just a bridging technology for us,” says GLC chief engineer Michael Kelz.
MERCEDES-BENZ A250 e
PRICE $60,000 (est)
SAFETY 5 stars
ENGINE 1.3-litre 4-cyl turbo, electric motor, 160kW/450Nm combined
0-100KM/H 6.6 secs
Originally published as Merc rearranges the plumbing on A-Class