Regulations of CO2 emissions have convinced or cajoled Mercedes-Benz into offering plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) across its vast fleet, from A-Class to S-Class with SUVs and vans in between.
PHEVs occupy one stream of Mercedes’s wider ‘electrified’ strategy, sitting above cheaper 48V mild hybrid systems and below full electric cars such as the EQC, and the imminent family of luxury EVs on a dedicated platform headlined by the production EQS limo.
Perhaps the most interesting of the PHEVs is also the smallest. The 2020 Mercedes-Benz A250e hatch and sedan are more technologically impressive than the older-design PHEV versions of C-Class, E-Class and GLC, since they have a bigger battery and can handle DC rapid-charging.
The rationale for PHEVs is simple. Market research suggests 90 per cent of most people’s commutes are less than 50km. Since lithium-ion batteries remain prohibitively expensive, why not offer a car with a smaller and cheaper pack, a reduced EV range, and a petrol engine generator for backup on longer drives, when it’s at its most efficient and de-stressed?
Moreover, while Mercedes admits to creating 20 per cent more CO2 in producing the PHEV systems than an internal combustion-only car, it claims that charging from the mains with the current (European) energy mix cuts emissions by 40 per cent, making it a net gain even in a less-than-ideal scenario.
The A250e pairs a 118kW/250Nm 1.3-litre turbo petrol engine with an eight-speed dual-clutch auto, containing a 75kW/300Nm electric motor fed by a suitcase-sized 15.6kWh battery pack mounted under the back seats. Worked around this is a 35L petrol tank near the torsion beam.
The combined output of this front-wheel-drive system is 160kW/450Nm, giving you a 0–100km/h sprint time of 6.6 seconds. By comparison, the lighter and grippier A250 4Matic petrol with all-wheel drive offers 165kW/350Nm, and does the dash in 6.2s. Quite quick.
If you don’t plan on regularly charging and using your PHEV as a full-electric it makes no sense, but provided you meet this criteria you can expect to drive nearly 70km on a charge. That's 50 per cent greater than many PHEVs we've seen, and 7km more than the Hyundai Ioniq PHEV.
You can top up the battery to 80 per cent on a DC charger in 25 minutes, or one hour and 45 minutes on a 7.4kW two-phase AC wallbox. You can also charge on the run using brake-energy recuperation.
On your average commute it drives like a zippy EV with instant torque delivery and a whirring hum, and can operate this way without engine assistance up to 140km/h. But you can also drive on petrol power to save battery reserves for later, or operate the systems concurrently for extra punch. You can ramp up the five-mode brake-energy regeneration system via shifter paddles.
Even if you never charge your PHEV (which is just a silly approach, but one you often see in countries with tax breaks for such vehicles), you can expect fuel economy about the same as an A250 (6.6L/100km), since the brake regeneration system allows the car to drive like a mild hybrid, offsetting the circa-200kg weight impost imposed by the electric architecture.
The electric motor also starts the vehicle from take-off, so the stop/start system becomes far smoother and less clunky.
Dynamically, you lose the A250’s 4Matic AWD system and the multi-link rear suspension, plus take on extra mass. So it’s no corner-carver. However, for urban commuting its ride quality on those cars we tested was acceptable, and body control manageable.
There’s other energy-focused software built into the car, such as ‘eco’ map routes that take you on the most fuel-efficient route based on topography, traffic conditions et cetera. The car can also ‘glide’ down hills with only auxiliaries running, and recuperate spent energy while slowing down to match the speed of the car ahead.
Our test car was fitted with all the driver-assistance features, including active cruise control tethered to speed zones based on map and camera data, and lane assist with steering correction (Level 2 autonomy).
The cabin remains benchmark for the class, at least in terms of technology if not tactility.
The driver’s digital instruments and the centre display are two halves of a single glass piece, running the MBUX infotainment system controlled by touch, a trackpad, shortcut buttons on the wheel and transmission tunnel, and conversational (mic directional) voice control that can go as far as opening a sunroof and heating your seats.
That said, if you say the word ‘Mercedes’ while driving, it’ll engage and ask for further instructions like an unwelcome party guest.
The placement of the battery means you don’t lose much in the way of back seat or boot capacity over the combustion versions.
In terms of ownership, Daimler’s PHEV battery warranty is six years (full EVs get eight) and 100,000km (EVs get 160,000km). Any battery degradation greater than 30 per cent is deemed warrantable.
However, it also insists you could only lose this much storage if you had bad habits, like DC-charging it daily, running it to empty, or living in extreme climates.
Whether the A250e PHEV makes sense depends on your user case. When it hits Australia by March 2020, it’s expected to cost about $60,000 plus on-roads, or $10,000 more than a base A250 model, $5000 more than the better-selling 4Matic version, and $15K more than a top-of-the-range Ioniq PHEV.
You might be swayed, however, by the idea that for daily commutes you’ll never need to fuel up again, and can head on a long drive to the middle of nowhere whenever you want without worrying about it like you might in a full EV.
Like any luxury good, you won’t be able to objectively justify it financially, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an appealing daily driver that brings cutting-edge cabin technology and a middle-ground form of electrification to the table in an attractive package.