Analysing a plug-in hybrid vehicle is tricky. As a halfway point between EV and internal combustion, they offer multiple solutions to motoring. Full EV, two motors working in tandem to enable a long range, or an all-out performance mode where economy is the least important factor.
I do sit and wonder how a customer would use such a car. Do they see merit in a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) because their daily commute is within the claimed EV-only range? Or are they won over by dreamy fuel efficiency, such as our 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC300e’s 2.6L/100km claimed combined figure?
Either way, you have to adjust your testing methodology. Do things differently, as the potential owners of these vehicles plan to. Before we start our journey, let’s sort out the formalities first.
The Mercedes-Benz GLC300e is priced from $86,300. It only wears a $4800 premium over the regular internal-combustion GLC300, which makes this plug-in hybrid an absolute bargain.
That’s before you realise the electrified GLC300e has air suspension as standard – something that costs $3800 on the regular GLC300. Factoring that in, the gap closes to just $1000.
|2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC300e PHEV|
|Petrol engine||2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque (petrol engine)||155kW @ 5500rpm, 350Nm @ 1200–4000rpm|
|Transmission||Nine-speed torque-converter automatic|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||2.6L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||5.5L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up / down)||395L/1495L|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 (tested 2015)|
|Warranty||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar Engineered|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$97,300|
Before claiming daylight robbery, either Mercedes-Benz is gouging on the petrol car due to the popularity of SUVs at present, or it's taking a hit on the plug-in hybrid to propagate them throughout the marketplace.
Whatever the story, the GLC300e appears to be sensational buying for the money considering its high-tech running gear.
The GLC300e is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 155kW/350Nm, and an electric motor located in the nine-speed transmission itself that makes 90kW/440Nm.
Combined outputs are a hefty 235kW and 700Nm. Mercedes-Benz claims a combined fuel figure of 2.6L/100km; a contentious point we’ll come to later on.
Eco-friendly yet quick off the mark. Duality of character is an exciting part of plug-in hybrid territory – the dash from 0–100km/h takes just 5.7 seconds.
Our test car had a few boxes ticked on the options card, which lifted our test car’s price to $97,300 before on-roads.
So, let’s get driving. I kicked off my journey from the CarAdvice office late in the evening with a near full tank of fuel and zero charge in its battery pack. My commute home is around 40km, which consists of approximately 5km of metro driving either side of a 30km freeway leg.
By the time I exited the freeway, the GLC300e had generated enough charge in its battery pack to demonstrate a slice of EV motoring. I managed to cruise the remaining 5km home predominantly in EV mode. The combustion engine kicked in once on a steep incline.
This was surprising, as the car didn’t appear to have many opportunities to procure power from its moving parts. Compared to others I’ve experienced, such as Volvo’s set-up, the Benz’s energy-harvesting ability is a cut above.
On this leg it returned a fuel consumption figure of 9.5L/100km. That gives you an indication of what a 2.1-tonne GLC300e will return at a constant speed on the freeway with a touch of EV motoring on the back end.
Once home, it was plugged into a regular 240V wall socket via the provided charging cable in preparation for the next day’s attempt at some hypermiling. While it was parked up, I hopped in the cabin to explore what was on offer.
Our test car was fitted with $2900 worth of genuine leather trim, in lieu of the artificial Artico trim that Mercedes-Benz offers as standard. The faux stuff found in MB products is actually quite good, so think twice before making that decision.
Also as standard, Mercedes-Benz has included its latest MBUX infotainment system, which despite being seriously complex, does have a lot of merit. The system’s hard points include a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster alongside a 10.25-inch central display.
You need to take the time to properly familiarise yourself with the sheer array of features and technology on board, as well as learn the lingo to best work its voice-control system.
Don’t try to learn it on the go. First, pour yourself a good, strong cup of tea – then study the theory located in the manual in detail. Once armed with knowledge, try some practical tests the next time you’re out and about. If you bother to do this, you’ll not only love it, but get more from the MBUX experience.
As with the high-tech nature of this car, there are plenty of USB and charging ports scattered about. In the front centre console area, behind some genuine wood trim, which is also standard, lies a wireless charging pad and a single fast-charging USB-C port. The first-row armrest houses another two fast-charging USB-C ports, too.
As for other internal additions, a seat comfort package for $1300 and vision package for $5200 are the only two other extras.
While the seat comfort package is slightly expensive for what it brings (electric adjustment of seats and steering column with memory, plus front seat heating), the vision package, despite being ironically priced at four times more, strikes me as fair buying.
Alongside an opening panoramic sunroof and detailed head-up display, choosing this option also introduces the brilliant 13-speaker Burmester sound system. As a lover of music, I was taken aback by how well it reproduced albums from a wide variety of genres.
I stream tunes through subscription service Tidal, which differs from others by offering high quality, and in some cases, certified master-quality audio. A stereo of this quality revels in being fed the good stuff, so humour it, if you will.
With regard to the basics, first-row room is spacious and visibility all round is as expected given the plug-in hybrid variant is only offered with the more traditional SUV body type and not the fastback coupe body available on other GLCs.
Out in the second row, space is also generous. Three kids or two larger, more stocky adults will find it a serene place to be. The seats themselves are shapely, which makes them more comfortable than the usual flat bench found in many other premium SUVs.
The second row welcomed a large convertible child seat with open arms. Using said seat is a back-saving affair thanks to the SUV hallmark of a high hip point. As for technology, there are two rear air vents and a pair of, you guessed it, USB-C charging ports.
Boot capacity has been reduced with this electrified version down from 550L to 395L. A disadvantage, sure, but even with the smaller space offered, shopping, groceries and a compact stroller all still fit in nicely. A larger pram with detachable bassinet will gobble up a significant portion of the space, however, but still allow room for a pair of small overnight bags.
After playing with the cabin, and reading the manual in some detail late into the night, I hit the hay pondering the following day’s journey.
The next morning, I prepared for the task ahead. With a total of two adults and one young child on board, I set up the car best for an EV-only commute, and planned a route that would combine a variety of roads, traffic levels and speed zones to realistically monitor the rate of battery depletion.
Claimed EV range is 43km, and my expectation was set around achieving 80 per cent of the claim. Off we went.
After an initial 15km in usual outer Sydney suburban traffic, I noticed that the battery was depleting faster than expected. I’d used over 50 per cent of the battery pack already. The amount of gridlock wasn’t severe; in fact, lighter than it usually would’ve been. Cars were flowing, and only the same old set of lights that always cycle too fast were causing bigger lines of traffic.
At around 23km, my drive route saw me ping onto faster free-flowing roads. It’s here where the GLC300e clawed back some efficiency by firing up its internal combustion engine after 36km of pure-electric commuting.
The only unrefined part of the trip was the odd jerk felt when crossing over from energy-recuperating coasting to the application of brakes via the pedal. Energy harvesting was set to its most severe whenever this occurred.
Other than that, and the usual rapid-deceleration quirks that come with PHEVs, the rest was status quo. It exceeded expectations, too, achieving 85 per cent of the official EV-only claimed range of 43km.
|2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC300e PHEV|
|Motor count (how many motors)||One petrol engine in front, one electric motor in transmission|
|Combined power / torque||235kW / 700Nm|
|Battery size / type||13.5kWh / Lithium-ion|
|EV driving range||43km|
|Tow rating braked, unbraked||2000kg / 750kg|
This role-play we partook in was akin to reality. It was representative of what a future owner would encounter, and try to tackle, in an SUV like this.
My next stop was the suburb of Berrima in the Southern Highlands district of New South Wales. The venue I’d set as the turn-around point does have Tesla wall boxes available for patrons. To get there, however, I’d first have to travel 115km mainly using the internal combustion engine.
The roads this way are mixed, consisting of freeway, faster-paced rural B-roads, and some awfully patchy, slower goat tracks. An ideal selection to dabble with the GLC300e’s air suspension system. As mentioned, it comes as standard with this variant. As is usually the case with air-type struts, the ride quality is excellent. Harshness and road undulations are well smoothed out.
Not quite the ultimate magic carpet, but certainly enough to consider upgrading either from a regular-sprung GLC300, or at least optioning up one with the same kit. There is underlying firmness that becomes apparent after popping off the steeper ledges of more dramatic potholes, but this quality feels purposely tuned into the set-up.
If the GLC300e retained the same waftiness as its secondary ride exhibits – that is, ride quality over surface changes that are small but in high frequency – then it would feel nervous.
Its primary ride, then – the ride quality over noticeable larger blemishes the eye can easily perceive – is excellent. It retains this firmness without corrupting things elsewhere.
As for general handling, there's no hiding its 2.1-tonne mass. So long as you don't throw it around, nor expect swift, repetitive directional changes, you'll find no concerns. If you do decide to disobey what I just said, it'll plow outward to the corner with most momentum being washed away by vicious understeer.
The steering feels quick, as is the fashion with the latest Mercedes-Benzes, but direct and far from vague. Like the suspension, Mercedes has managed to make it alive without being irritating. There’s not much worse than a hyperactive SUV on such days when you’ve had enough.
By now, we’d arrived at my destination; a place familiar to me as I frequent it often. However, the strangest thing occurred. I’ve casually chuckled to myself on nearly all previous attendances due to the sheer lack of attention the pair of Tesla wall boxes receive. To my surprise, there was a queue this time. No less than three Model 3s waiting to cop a free top-up.
Given this mob was relying on charge to get home, it didn’t feel right to attempt to weasel a spot in the queue with some good conversation and befriending. I instead parked up, made them aware of my desire to use the services, and requested that they please notify me when my number is called.
Of course, they did no such thing. I gathered from the looks on their faces that I may have been perceived as some internal-combustion heathen. As a result, I only managed to shove 15–20 minutes' worth of juice down the throat of the GLC300e before heading off. As a side note, Tesla charging units use Type 2 charging cables, which means it remains a plug-and-play affair with a Mercedes-Benz, no adapter needed.
As a result, I thought I’d embark on some more hypermiling just to see what a quick top-up would earn you. I managed to get from the suburb of Berrima to the bottom of the Old Hume Highway in Mittagong purely on electric propulsion.
An exact measurement saw the car receive an 11km top-up in less than half an hour. If you’re frequenting the CBD, using this SUV as a tool of trade in areas where chargers are becoming prevalent, then you’d likely be able to keep it topped up wafting between appointments silently.
After the return leg, fuel consumption had dropped to 5.5L/100km. The clever trip computer includes any EV driving you were doing into its total fuel consumption figure, in case you were wondering.
If I’d charged the car even for another 20 to 30 minutes during intermission, that figure would’ve fallen even further. The claim of 2.6L/100km would be hard to reach, but getting close would not be a one-off miracle.
All of that jazz for $1000? At half the overall cost, it would be an easy decision. At nearly $100K, however, you’d be mad not to – on the basis that you have a dedicated spot for it.
Relying on public infrastructure as your go-to charging solution may become tiresome – derived from your circumstances meaning street parking is the norm. That’s not the end of the story, though, as your place of employment may offer a solution to this problem.
Anyway, if your situation is conducive to homing a GLC300e over the regular petrol or diesel alternative you were also considering, then lucky you. This is a great, almost free opportunity to enjoy the benefits of EV motoring. It’s worth deep consideration on your part.