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Mercedes plugs in with a vengeance

Electrifying: Mercedes-Benz plug-in hybrid E350e will be one of four petrol-electric vehicles from the German car-maker in Australia this year.

First three of six plug-in hybrid Mercedes-Benz vehicles set to land this month


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14 Jul 2016

MERCEDES-BENZ has announced a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) launch blitz in Australia, with four petrol-electric models confirmed today and at least two more in the pipeline for arrival in the next 18 months.

In one fell swoop, the company this month will launch PHEV variants in three of its model lines – C-Class, GLE-Class and S-Class – with prices ranging from $75,300 plus on-road costs for the C350e sedan to $319,715 for the S500e limousine.

Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific has also confirmed that the all-new 10th-generation E-Class that begins arriving in showrooms in basic petrol and diesel variants this month will also get a PHEV version – the E350e – from late this year.

As well, at least two more electrified vehicles will join that line-up over the next 18 months, bringing the local Mercedes PHEV score to six out of the 10 promised by head office in Europe.

The German luxury brand is banking on the new in-house technology to deliver a much more satisfying ownership experience and greater sales volumes than the previous lacklustre mild hybrid models.

The new vehicles offer all-electric running for about 30km, as well as battery charging on a regular home socket in around three hours or as little as 90 minutes on a special high-voltage wall box charger that Mercedes-Benz will offer soon via a supplier for about $2000 plus installation.

Announcing the new PHEV range, Mercedes-Benz Cars Australia/Pacific CEO and managing director Horst von Sanden said his company was in the fortunate position of being able to offer customers the technology in three options – a medium sedan, large SUV and luxury saloon.

“But we won’t stop there,” he said. “Plug-in hybrid vehicles are an important part of our future business in Australia and we will also launch the new E350e plug-in hybrid to continue our growth in alternative powertrain offerings.”

All of the new PHEV Benzes share much of their technology, although it has been scaled according to the size and weight of the vehicle.

The system offers four hybrid driving modes – Hybrid, E-Mode, E-Save and Charge – to vary the delivery of electric power to the drivetrain or maximise recharging of the battery pack while on the move.

The Charge mode unlikely to be used much, as it incurs a fuel economy penalty.

The Charge and E-Save modes are mainly designed for European cities such as Paris, Milan and London, where drivers need to conserve battery power to enter downtown areas.

In reality, most Australian drivers will just leave it in the default Hybrid mode and let the vehicle make the decisions.

The dash has digital readings for battery charge and petrol tank levels in percentage terms, as well as digital signs for various petrol and electric running modes – pure electric, hybrid or petrol only.

Charging is via a plug hidden behind a flap in the rear bumper.

Cunning software can even link the satellite navigation system to the PHEV control computer to automatically calculate the most efficient route and driving modes to maximise all-electric running.

For example, if the driver punches in his home as the destination, the system will attempt to use up all the battery power by arrival at the house, knowing that a recharging station awaits at the home garage.

In urban traffic, regular acceleration is handled by battery power, but planting the foot brings in the petrol engine for extra oomph. The engine kicks in seamlessly, although the near-silent running of EV mode is broken with the rumble of internal combustion.

For the first time, functions such as the air-conditioning and heating are driven electrically, enabling clever advantages such as pre-heating or cooling the car on cold mornings or hot afternoons, just by unlocking it up to five minutes ahead of departure or by setting a timer that can handle three pre-set times.

These functions are made viable by a DC-to-DC converter that allows the car’s regular 12-volt system to dip into the high-voltage hybrid power system.

In the case of the S500e, the battery holds 8.7kWh of electricity – 10 times that of the previous mild hybrid S-Class.

The biggest seller among the new PHEVs is expected to be the most affordable, the C350e, which will be available in both sedan and wagon formats, with the Estate version commanding a $2500 premium over the $75,300 sedan.

The $75K pricing of the C350e makes it just a few hundred dollars more expensive than the outdated C300 Hybrid, but also the second most costly C-Class model, topped only by the Mercedes-AMG C63 S at $154,510.

The C350e’s biggest competitor will likely be its own diesel stablemate, the mid-range $70,400 C250d that itself is a model of efficiency – especially on long trips where it outshines any PHEV – and sturdy performance.

The C350e powertrain marries a 155kW/350Nm four-cylinder petrol engine with a 60kW/205Nm electric motor that slots into the driveline in place of the automatic transmission’s torque converter.

Overall power is rated at 205kW, while peak torque is said to be 600Nm, delivering 0-100km/h acceleration of 5.9 seconds and combined fuel consumption of a mere 2.4 litres per 100km – well inside the best C-Class diesel performance of 4.6L/100km by the 1.6-litre C200.

The C350e’s 6.38kWh lithium-ion battery – protruding a few centimetres into the boot floor, causing a step up – is said to deliver about 30km of pure-electric running. It can hit 130km/h in EV mode, although the battery is quickly depleted at those speeds.

The plug-in hybrid GLE and S-Class variants both employ a 245kW/480Nm V6 petrol engine with an 85kW electric motor for an overall power output of 325kW and maximum torque of 650Nm. This is only 10kW down on the output of the V8-powered S500.

At $319,715, the S500e is $8305 dearer than its V8 counterpart, so it will all boil down to how much the customer wants to cut CO2 emissions.

The $124,900 GLE500e is said to be capable of sprinting from 0-100km/h in 5.3 seconds, while the slightly lighter and more aerodynamic S500e can do it in 5.2 seconds.

The S500e returns better fuel economy at 2.8L/100km, while the GLE500e consumes 3.3L/100km on the official fuel test.

While the plug-in C-Class variants use a modified seven-speed automatic transmission, the GLE500e and S500e employ the latest nine-speeder (as will the E350e when it comes).

The C350e and S500e both put the power to the ground via the rear wheels, while the petrol-electric GLE uses Benz’s 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.

When it comes, the E350e will employ a 2.0-litre petrol engine and electric motor with combined power of 205kW and torque at 600Nm.

Its 6.2kWh battery pack will carry it about 32km, depending on driving conditions. Pricing will be announced closer to launch, but we are guessing it will not be too far away from BMW’s version, the 5-Series ActiveHybrid 5, at $121,700.

Mercedes-Benz Cars Aust/Pac communications director David McCarthy said he expected the C350e sedan and wagon to sell in “100s a year”, while the S500e will be in “double figures”. The GLE500e will be somewhere in between.

Mercedes-Benz Plug-In Hybrid pricing:
C350e sedan (a)$75,300
C350e Estate (a)$77,800
GLE500e (a)$124,900
S500e (a)$319,715
*Excludes on-road costs

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