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Future models - Mercedes-Benz - GLC - 350 E

Driven: Mercedes-Benz GLC350e

Charging: By 2018, Mercedes' hybrid line-up will total ten models including the latest GLC mid-sized SUV.

Benz banks on plug-in hybrids with GLC350e to lead the charge

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Mercedes-Benz logo3 Aug 2015

By TIM ROBSON

EMISSION regulations continue to weigh heavily on the global car industry, as Euro 6 standards morph into Step 2 by 2018 and onto Euro 7 by 2020.

Car-makers are divided across the board as to which fossil fuel alternative will come out on top, but for the moment at least, Mercedes-Benz is backing the plug-in hybrid horse.

The German manufacturer's plug-in fleet will total ten within two years with petrol or diesel/electric representatives across its entire line-up, including this, the GLC 350e.

The GLC is the critical C-Class based SUV that has been missing from the Australian market since 2008, thanks to the unavailability of a right-hand drive variant.

In the meantime, both Audi’s Q5 and BMW’s X3 have taken up the slack, while other competitors like the Porsche Macan and even the Range Rover Evoque are poaching territory.

Merc will launch two diesels and a petrol version in Australia in December, while the jury is still out on the fate of the 350e. “Never say never, but it’s not available at the moment,” communications manager Jerry Stamoulis told GoAuto.

Regardless, the company has a potential hit on its hands with the GLC, and Daimler board member Thomas Weber has a good insight into why it will succeed, despite the tightening regulations.

“The biggest trend around the globe is the trend to SUVs. Why? Higher sitting position, more freedom,” he told GoAuto at the launch of the GLC in Switzerland.

“One critical argument in the past was always fuel consumption, but in the meantime with new technology we can definitely overcome this. That was, by the way, the reason why there is a second plug-in for an SUV (GLC) available.”

The 350e is an amalgam of all of Mercedes-Benz’s current hybrids, with the engine from the C-Class, the battery from the S-Class and powertrain parts from the GLE large SUV.

An 8.7kW/h battery array is good for 34km of electric-only running – best in class for Mercedes-Benz, while its electric motor is good for 85kW and 340Nm.

A 2.0-litre direct-injection turbocharged four-pot petrol engine chips in with 115kW at 5,500rpm, and maximum torque of 350Nm between 1,200-4,000rpm. Put the two together, and the GLC350e is good for 235kW of power and a healthy 560Nm of torque.

The electric motor is mounted between the petrol engine and the seven-speed automatic, and runs off the transmission’s input shaft, as opposed to the crankshaft of the petrol motor. In essence, it means Mercedes can eliminate a clutch to control the electric motor and package the layout more effectively.

At 2025kg, the 350e is some 300kg heavier than the petrol-only 250, and because of the location of the battery array, it also loses 15 litres of fuel capacity (50 litres instead of 65). A higher floor also sacrifices some cargo space (395/1440 litres with seats up/down, versus 550/1600 litre).

In most other respects though, the 350e mimics its fossil fuel-powered brethren – at least physically. There are four driving modes Hybrid, full-electric E-mode , E-save for battery conservation and later use, and Charge in which the petrol motor drives the car while charging the battery.

Mercedes’ haptic pedal arrangement – basically an accelerator pedal with a noticeable detent in its travel – allows a driver to judge how much electric-only drive is available before dipping into the petrol reserves.

When you flatten the pedal, the petrol engine does the work, with a helping boost from the electric system provided it has charge.

The 350e starts in silence, and will run on electric power as long as possible, while an Intelligent Hybrid system uses radar to maximise battery recuperation by following the terrain, and a route-based operating strategy to maximise the 350e’s electric range.

At full tilt, the 350e is brisk enough, doing 0-100km/h in 5.9 seconds, and onto a top speed of 235km/h. Its fuel consumption numbers are pretty good, too, at just 2.6 litres per 100 kilometres, while emitting just 60 grams of CO2 per kilometre.

If you run the battery down, Mercedes says it’ll charge to 100 per cent from a regular household socket in just over four hours.

Our brief spin in the GLC 350e reveals a hybrid with a seamless, well-resolved transfer between petrol power and electricity.

While it is easy enough to flip through the driving modes, and the haptic pedal is intuitive, setting other parameters on the fly is a little confusing, with a lot of buttons and switches crowded onto both the steering wheel and the centre console.

Otherwise, the traits from the regular GLC are just as obvious here if a little dulled by the additional weight of the system. The low-slung battery array stabilises the car, though it is sprung more softly than expected.

The assistance of the electric motor is seamless, giving the small-capacity turbocharged petrol engine a handy boost.

The regenerative braking effect is not particularly strong, while the electric steering is pretty light at all speeds. Braking feel is normal and the driving experience varies little from the normal GLCs.

Just the cargo space suffers from the loss of capacity and there is still plenty of room in the rear seats for three people. No seven-seat option exists for the GLC – and it most likely wouldn’t fit in, given the hybrid gubbins stashed under the boot floor.

It also means that the GLC has to make do with a can of tyre goop, rather than a space-saver spare.

While it’s still unclear whether Australia will be offered the GLC hybrid, the equivalent C-Class 350e Estate is definitely coming later in the year. The two systems will vary slightly – the Estate won’t quite have the electric range of the GLC, for example – but the principle and execution will be very similar.

Mercedes-Benz’s commitment to the plug-in hybrid means it is likely that range will increase, weights will decrease and complexity and cost will be reduced as the technology advances.

Is the plug-in hybrid the last word in emissions reduction? Nobody knows for sure, but Merc’s systems are a vote of confidence and a step in the right direction.

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