Plug-in hybrids don’t often get the respect they deserve – despite making sense for a large cross-section of the driving public – but after a few days with the 2021 Mercedes-Benz A250e, it’s hard to work out why PHEVs don’t get a bit more love.
Plug-in hybrids – or PHEVs as they have come to be known colloquially – actually make quite a lot of sense for the average Australian driver. Even more so as their pure-electric range starts to extend. In the case of the A250e you see here, that range works out to be around 61km before the conventional internal combustion engine is required.
According to all the research, the average Aussie commutes somewhere between 20km and 30km each way to work on a daily basis, meaning a PHEV like the A250e can do that return run without using a drop of petrol. Makes you wonder, then, why they aren’t more highly thought of.
I’m certainly in that boat, with my commute from home to the Sydney CA office working out to 20km each way. Now, I obviously do a lot more driving when we’re testing vehicles and shooting photos or video, so I’m not the greatest case study. But, let’s assume I did that same commute five days a week, and I only went for longer drives on weekends when I had the time and inclination.
With its indicated 61–67km (depending on conditions) of electric range that we saw regularly on test, I could easily get to work and back home without asking the petrol engine to do a thing. Which I did, the two days I commuted into work and back home in the A250e. Not bad, when you consider that between Monday and Friday, you won’t use a drop of petrol. Plug the A250e in when you get home at night, and you’re charged up ready to go again in the morning. Counter that with the fact you still have a regular petrol engine for longer runs.
The pricing of pure-electric cars, still prohibitively expensive for most people, means the PHEV is a clever compromise between the future and the present. It’s nowhere near as expensive as it would be if it were pure electric in other words.
On that subject of price, the A250e hatch starts from $63,400 before on-road costs.
|2021 Mercedes-Benz A250e|
|Engine||1.3-litre i4 turbo petrol|
|Power and torque||160kW and 450Nm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||1.6L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||2.7L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up / down)||310L/1120L|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 (tested 2020)|
|Main competitors||Mini Countryman PHEV, Volvo XC40 PHEV|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$63,400|
The platform beneath is FWD with a torsion beam rear – necessary to package the battery and fuel tank efficiently. The PHEV A-Class is exactly 150kg heavier than a regular A-Class, and the 15.6kWh battery pack sits low in the chassis, keeping the centre of balance as low as possible.
The A250e pairs a 1.3-litre, turbocharged petrol engine (which generates 118kW and 250Nm) to an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. Inside that automatic housing there is a 75kW/300Nm electric motor, which takes its power from a 15.6kW battery pack mounted beneath the rear seats. A 35L fuel tank takes care of the 1.3-litre’s requirements.
Combined outputs for the A250e are 160kW and 450Nm, which is meaty enough to get the little hatch moving along quite rapidly. The 0–100km/h run is taken care of in 6.6 seconds. The key here is charging. Not so much in that you can do it, but that you must do it. Otherwise, the heavier, slightly slower and more expensive A-Class doesn’t make the sense it otherwise would.
If you do charge up overnight, though, it makes a lot of sense for plenty of people. And it makes financial sense, too, not wasting fuel on the stop/start commute in traffic to work five days per week. There’s no doubt 61km of real-world electric range is handy enough to work for a lot of buyers.
Fuel usage is where things get interesting. Mercedes-Benz claims just 1.6L/100km on the combined cycle, but that’s supposing the first 61km (or thereabouts) of that 100km is run on electric power. Meaning you use about 1.6 litres of unleaded to cover the other 40-odd kilometres up to 100km total.
Our 220km test loop run displayed 2.7L/100km average, which again is impacted by the first chunk of no-fuel driving, but it’s an impressive real-world return. Obviously, if you keep driving that live reading will go up commensurately with the distance you travel, so keep that in mind, too. Clever tech, like the ‘range cloud’ feature in the infotainment system, will show you on a map how far you can run on the available charge, and also finding charging options within that range or nearby.
Prolonged sections of downhill braking start to slowly harvest back charge, but plugging in (at work, at home or at a public charger) will be the main go-to for A250e owners. The 3.7kW of AC charging ability is standard, but for $1490 you can up that to 7.4kW. That same package also gives you DC charging up to a maximum of 24kW. At 24kW, the A250e will be fully recharged in less than 30 minutes.
|Driving range||Up to 70km|
|Charging time||25 mins to 80% on fast charge / 1hr 45min to 100%|
|Tow rating braked, unbraked||N/A|
There are some driving modes for you to familiarise yourself with, and new to the Dynamic Select portfolio are the ‘Electric’ and ‘Battery Level’ modes. They sit alongside Eco, Comfort and Sport that Mercedes-Benz owners will be accustomed to.
In Electric mode, the combustion engine will only kick into action if you flatten the accelerator pedal, and the paddle shifters can be used to adjust recuperation via the braking system. In Battery Level mode, the A250e will run as a regular car, but will save the state of charge for when you decide to deploy it.
There’s a raft of clever tech associated with the electric part of the drivetrain, too. For example, an electric compressor for the air-conditioning system means you can pre-condition the cabin temperature remotely, and without the petrol engine running. You can use the app on your smartphone, and you can even have it take place while the A250e is on charge in your garage, for instance, thus using home power to do it.
Inside the cabin, the compact nature of the PHEV layout means there isn’t a huge impact on cargo space. You get 45L less in the A250e hatch, 50L less in the sedan. Total storage is 310L for the hatch and 355L for the sedan. The front- and second-row seats are exactly like any other A-Class hatch, and there’s the quality twin 12.3-inch screen display up front for the driver. As expected, the A250e experience is premium from the driver’s seat.
The MBUX system worked faultlessly for us on test, and our smartphone connection was also reliable. Bluetooth or direct cable worked equally well, and there’s also wireless charging in a clever storage shelf half hidden by the console lid.
On the road, the A250e is spritely without feeling like a hot hatch. In usual electric fashion, it bustles off the mark rapidly and gets up to speed effortlessly, too. Driving to work in near silence during that approximately 62km threshold is only interrupted by some tyre noise on coarse surfaces.
It doesn’t feel heavy or as if balance is affected by the battery pack either. In fact, the A250e feels pretty sharp most of the time despite the extra weight on board. Turn-in is accurate and reassuring, there’s nothing strange about brake pedal feel, and the ride is composed as well. Like most Euro cars, it does lean toward firm in terms of bump absorption and ride quality, but it’s never uncomfortable.
Perhaps most impressively, the smoothness of the whole system lulls you into a position where you quickly forget there’s anything unusual going on under the skin. The eight-speed auto is superb, the electric motor obviously effectively silent, and the transition to the petrol engine starting to work is smooth and fuss-free.
If a pure-electric vehicle works for you, that’s the way of the future, but for now, for a large percentage of the buying public, a PHEV will make the most sense, not the least of all to their budget's bottom line. If you’re in that part of the population, then the A250e might just be the best PHEV on the market. It’s a practical and well-executed platform that possesses all the quality we expect from Mercedes-Benz.