Merc indulges in diesel with its latest GLE/GLC plug-in hybrids
In a genuine case of ‘if Merc doesn’t know better, nobody will’, writes Iain Robertson, its latest hybrid development relies on diesel as its core resource, while making easy meat of the plug-in aspects to drive down operational costs.
It is immensely gratifying to note that Merc is not ditching diesel as so many other carmakers are. The governmental (not just ours) kneejerk reaction to cancer-causing emissions and particulates of diesel fuel take zero account of the fact that petrol, in many cases, is worse. Those car companies that continue to invest in diesel technology are not chucking their funds down the nearest sluice. In fact, they are proving that the latest generation diesel engines are not merely significantly cleaner than ever before but they continue to provide a more affordable fossil fuel, thanks to greater fuel economy.
Mercedes-Benz has age (one of the oldest car companies in the world) and experience on its side. Few of its rivals can claim the enormous wealth of technology that it possesses and so seldom clarions. Therefore, while it is doing its utmost to debunk the diesel myths, while playing the game on the EV front, it is also underscoring the values of hybrid and plug-in hybrid technology. Admittedly, in a world of fast diminishing natural resources, all positive actions taken towards reducing our reliance on what remains are absolutely vital. However, Merc’s stance is an admirable one. It appreciates that, once the broader manufacturing costs of each electric vehicle, allied to the location and type of electricity it consumes, are taken into account, EVs are not such good news on the emissions front, despite the lower financial cost per mile.
Boasting headlining figures such as 282mpg, 100mph top speed in EV mode, over 60 miles EV range and CO2 emissions as low as 29g/km, Mercedes-Benz could be stated as having cracked the hybrid conundrum. Equipped with a 31.2kWh lithium-ion battery pack, it provides an immensely satisfying EV-prioritised driving experience, by which the owner will seldom dip into the contents of the fuel tank during the average commuting week. When necessary, the diesel engine kicks into play to extend the car’s range, in the process eradicating the biggest bugbear of any EV, range anxiety.
While getting caught-up in the ‘diesel antipathy’ argument may lead you into believing that this story is strictly about DERV, it is not so and perhaps it is worth highlighting that the hybrid technology is not just the preserve of Merc’s 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine, as a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol is also available. The performance figures of the pair (petrol in brackets) are almost identical: 320bhp (320bhp), 516lbs ft of torque (516lbs ft; albeit with marginally different driving and dynamic characteristics), 0-60mph in 6.5s (5.4s), top speed 130mph (142mph) and CO2 emissions 29g/km (57g/km). The petrol version offers an EV range of around 25 miles but it also features a smaller (13.5kWh) battery pack. The hybrid system is supported by an on-board charger, which means that full recharge time from a depleted state, using a domestic wall-box, can be carried out in a mere 1.5 hours; doing the same using a three-pin home plug will take up to five hours.
Should extra charging be required while on a trip, the Merc intelligent, speech recognition system reacts to: “Hey Mercedes, find charging stations nearby!”. Okay. It is geared towards a North American market but it makes car instructions more fun and is very tolerant of different accents, its Artificial Intelligence aspects even providing adaptive learning (do not ask; it just works). The sat-nav mapping adapts accordingly and will direct the driver to the nearest available charging post. Naturally, payment can be carried out using a ‘Mercedes me’ charge card, the accompanying app, or directly from the car, such are the levels of connectivity that Merc provides with its latest models. It is safe, secure and easy to operate.
Plug-in hybrids offer the consumer the best of both worlds: in town they run in all-electric mode, while on longer journeys they benefit from the extended range of the combustion engine (up to 112mpg is the WLTP figure for the petrol variant). They make the vehicle more efficient overall, because they prioritise energy recovery during braking but also allow the internal combustion engine to run in more favourable operating ranges, i.e. no noise, or pollution in built-up areas, allied to greater efficiency on the open road. The intelligent, route-based operational strategy of the sat-nav system activates the electric driving mode, where it is most appropriate for the route, by considering navigation data, topography, speed limits and the traffic conditions for the entire programmed route.
Plug-in hybrids are also an important milestone on the way to emissions-free driving. Merc is developing its plug-in hybrids further systematically, under the EQ Power label. EQ Power is also Merc’s guarantee of first-rate dynamism, which encompasses minor and major controls, plus the behaviour of the vehicle. EQ Power+ is the name of the performance hybrid technology that Mercedes‑AMG will incorporate in the future, having been developed through its Formula 1 activities. The first members of the EQ Power family with front-wheel drive, celebrated their premieres recently, with both A and B-Class models providing mainstays of the plug-in initiative that Merc is pursuing.
Conclusion: Keep your eyes on Merc, because it is carmaker that is armed with market-leading knowledge and intentions. It is a company that seldom makes errors in its forward planning and its former hangover association with the Chrysler Corporation is now (thankfully) long finished. Orders are being taken now for delivery in early-2020.