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Mercedes-Benz A-Class, GLC, E-Class, GLE plug-in hybrid 2020 review: EQ Power test

"Mercedes-Benz has gone electric," was the key statement made by the three-pointed star brand's global boss Ola Källenius during his Frankfurt motor show media address last week. This is laden with significance for the world's oldest car manufacturer, which has more than 120 years of combustion engine experience under its belt and ambitiously aims to make its global fleet carbon neutral within the next two decades.

Backing Ola up is the pure-electric EQC SUV which will launch in Australia in the coming months, the EQV people mover revealed recently and the show-stealing Vision EQS concept car that previews the brand's all-new specific electric vehicle platform and the new flagship EV saloon that will be the first to use it in production by around 2022.

But these only represent one of three tiers in Mercedes' electric strategy, which all falls under the EQ brand umbrella, with EQ Boost and EQ Power as sub categories.

We first saw EQ Boost in the form of the 48 Volt mild-hybrid CLS, which is focused on conserving energy rather than actually providing electric drive, and essentially represents a new electrical architecture that will continue to roll out throughout the range as updates are applied.

EQ Power is the latest link in the electric chain, and applies to Mercedes' new second-generation range of plug-in hybrid models which made their public debut at the Frankfurt show. Spanning the mainstream model line-up of hatch, sedan and SUVs, and integrating with both petrol and diesel combustion drivetrains, there will be 20 different EQ Power variants available across the globe by the end of 2020.

Of these, Australia will be seeing the A 250 e in sedan and hatch, C 300 e sedan, GLC 300 e SUV and E300 e large sedan in Q1 next year, with at least an upcoming petrol version of the GLE 350 de to follow later.

We were among the first in the world to sample the A-Class, GLC, E-Class and GLE-based models around Frankfurt last week.

Engine and transmission - What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

Plug-in hybrids are nothing new to the three-pointed star brand in Australia, having previously sold versions of the current-generation C-Class, E-Class and S-Class along with the just-superseded GLE SUV. We've also seen series hybrid versions of the C, E and S-Class before them, and it's a full decade since Mercedes launched its first production hybrid in the form of the S 400 Hybrid.

The new EQ Power models represent a step forward in all areas, and promise the full electric drive experience for the majority of daily commutes with all the convenience of long-range driving and refuelling afforded by a conventional combustion drivetrain, all wrapped within a conventional Mercedes body with unhindered luxury and practicality.

Australia-bound versions of new EQ Power range revolves around two key drivetrain layouts.

The A 250 e hatch and sedan integrate a 75kW/300Nm electric motor within the familiar transversely mounted 118kW/250Nm 1.3-litre petrol turbo four cylinder engine and eight-speed dual-clutch auto transmission combination, resulting in combined system outputs of 160kW/450Nm that drive the front wheels and promise 0-100km/h acceleration in as little as a hot-hatch like 6.6 seconds before a top speed of 240km/h with the two drive sources working together. An electric-only top-speed of 140km/h is claimed.

The C 300 e and E 300 e sedans similarly integrate a 90kW/440Nm electric motor within the longitudinal 155kW/350Nm-spec 2.0-litre petrol turbo four cylinder engine and nine-speed torque converter auto transmission found on several existing models, producing a combined system total of 235kW/700Nm through the rear wheels to deliver an even more rapid 0-100km/h claim of 5.7 seconds and top speed of 250km/h for the E-Class when the system is in full swing. An electric-only V-max of 130km/h is claimed. The smaller C-Class should only be quicker, but is yet to be rated.

The GLC 300 e SUV uses the same drivetrain elements as the C and E sedans it shares its platform with, but adds 4Matic all-wheel drive and cuts the 0-100km/h claim down to 5.5 seconds and is still claimed to manage 250km/h flat out and 130km/h in electric mode.

Only the diesel GLE 350 de version of the GLE plug-in hybrid has been shown so far, but the upcoming GLE 350 e petrol version we're set to get is set to use its 100kW/440Nm electric motor paired with the same 2.0-litre turbo petrol four as the 300 models but in a higher state of tune.

For context, the GLE 350 de's 2.0-litre diesel contributes 143kW/400Nm to its 235kW/700Nm system output. It uses the same nine-speed torque converter auto and 4Matic all-wheel drive to deliver a claimed 6.8 second 0-100km/h acceleration and 210km/h top speed with both drive sources working together. An electric-only top speed of 160km/h is claimed.

Fuel consumption - How much fuel does it consume?

With at least three distinctly different driving scenarios split across electric-only, combined petrol/electric and petrol-only, plug-in hybrids aren't as simple as conventional engines to rate from an efficiency standpoint, but here are the facts as we know them to help you relate.

In a nutshell, the second-generation Mercedes plug-ins have jumped from around 50km (NEDC) of electric-only range to around 70km, which means that most commuters will now be able to complete their daily journey without needing the combustion engine and only charging the battery overnight.

The A 250 e models carry official range ratings of up to 77km by the traditional NEDC standard, or 69km by the new real-world oriented WLTP test.

Both use a 15.6kWh battery system which correlates with claimed usage ranging between 14.7-15kWh/100km. Given less than 100 per cent of the battery system is usable and these range and efficiency claims are split across three different sets of standards, don't expect them to correlate. They're useful for guidance only.

The A 250 e battery system will accept AC or DC charging, and is claimed to recharge from 10-80 per cent with a 24kW/60A DC charger in 25 minutes.

A 7.4kW/16A Mercedes wall charger is rated to recharge from 10-100 per cent in 1h45m, and a 2.3kW/10A standard German power point is claimed to return 10-100 per cent charge in five and a half hours, or well within a working day or a night's sleep.

Spread across both petrol and electric drive sources, official fuel consumption is rated as low as 1.4L/100km.

The C 300 e carries an NEDC range rating of up to 58km, the bigger E 300 e promises 54km, and the GLC 300 e 49km. Both sedans are yet to be rated according to WLTP, but the SUV is rated at 43km.

All three use a smaller 13.5kWh battery system than the A-Class and are rated to consume as little as 13.4kWh/100km (C 300 e), 14.9kWh/100km (E 300e) and 16.5kWh/100km (GLC 300 e).

This battery system will only accept AC charging, which means a best charge time scenario of an hour and a half for a 7.4kW/16A Mercedes wall charger to recharge from 10-100 per cent.

A 2.3kW/10A standard German power point is claimed to return 10-100 per cent charge in five hours.

Spread across both petrol and electric drive elements, official fuel consumption is rated as low as 1.6L/100km (C 300 e), 1.8L/100km (E 300 e) and 2.2L/100km (GLC 300e).

The big GLE 350 d doubles the A-Class battery system to 31.2kWh, which brings its battery range back up to 106km according to NEDC, and 99km WLTP.

Usage for the bigger vehicle does spike to 25.4kWh/100km though.

DC charging is back on the table for the GLE though, which is claimed to be capable of returning 10-80 per cent charge in 20 minutes with 60kW/150A charger.

A Mercedes wall charger is rated to return 10-100 per cent charge in three and a quarter hours, and a standard German power point should manage 10-100 per cent in 11 and a half hours.

The big SUV's extra battery power also help nudge its official consumption figure across both drive sources down to 1.1L/100km.

Helping to make the most of the battery energy are five different regenerative braking modes, all accessed via the steering wheel shift paddles. An auto mode is joined by four different levels of regeneration, which in the big GLE is able to spread across all four wheels to peak at a full 1800Nm of force. That's more than twice the drivetrain's drive capability!

No figures have been given for fuel consumption when the battery systems have been drained though, but we're told the equivalent petrol models' official combined figures (A 200: 5.7L/100km, C 200: 7.0L/100km, GLC 250: 7.2L/100km, E 200: 7.1L/100km) are a good guide once you factor in carrying an extra couple of hundred kilos of electric systems.

Design - Is there anything interesting about its design?

Externally, there's nothing to distinguish the EQ models aside from a small EQ Power badge on the front guards.

Under the skin however, the near-seamless integration of plug-in systems is evidence of careful platform engineering by Mercedes. These cars were always going to be plug-in hybrids at some point.

Aside from packing the electric motor within the existing petrol engine and transmission, the A 250 e cleverly locates its battery system under the back seat and the petrol tank sits within the more compact torsion beam rear suspension to avoid interference with rear seat space and minimise storage space compromise.

The charge socket is located within the fuel flap, and the exhaust now exits from the centre of the floor to maximise space for the electric systems at the rear.

The C and E-Class models place their battery systems above the rear suspension subframes to minimise boot intrusion, but the GLC and GLE models go a step further with a more compact rear subframe to allow more room for the batteries.

Practicality - How practical is the space inside?

Cabin practicality for all EQ Power models is exactly the same as conventional models, with the only difference being behind the rear seats in the boot areas.

Mercedes' press material doesn't state capacity figures for the A 250 e hatch and sedan, but the difference is said to be minimal.

The compromise is greater with the C and E-Class sedans, and once again not clarified in the press material, but thankfully the battery system is mounted at the front of the boot area to avoid affecting depth or width closer to the boot opening.

The GLC 300 e and GLE 350 de's different rear subframes leave 395-1445 in the back of the GLC, which is only just below a regular version, and up to 1915 litres in the GLE with a flat floor.

One area that might surprise you is that all models carry a hefty tow rating for their size, according to German standards at least. The A 250 e is rated to tow 1600kg braked,which steps up to 1800kg for the C 300 e, 2100kg for the E300 e, 2000kg for the GLC 300 e and a full 3500kg for the GLE 350 de. Stay tuned for Australian figures closer to launch.

Price and features - Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

Only pricing for the Australian C 300 e has been confirmed at this stage, with a $79,200 list price representing a $6500 premium over a regular C 300.

This should be indicative for other EQ Power models and specifications should otherwise closely follow equivalent petrol-only models.

Ownership - What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Mercedes relatively brief but premium brand status quo two year, unlimited kilometre warranty will also apply for EQ models, with the exception of a six year warranty applying to battery systems.

Service intervals and pricing are also expected to match equivalent petrol models.

Safety - What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

All models will arrive in Australia with unchanged levels of safety features. Euro NCAP or ANCAP are yet to recognise the new variants officially, but their existing maximum safety ratings should still apply.

Driving - What's it like to drive?

Our experience with the A 250 e hatch, GLC 300 e, GLE 350 de and E 300e  was brief and controlled, with just enough time to take each vehicle on a 28km route around Frankfurt comprised of largely urban driving.

It did replicate common driving conditions though, and gave us a decent taste of just how EV the life of an EQ Power model can be.

In fact, with each model starting with full charge and with the new Electric drive mode (alongside the usual Comfort, ECO and Sport, plus Offroad for SUVs) selected, the only time we managed to awaken a combustion engine was when testing the electric top speeds on the Autobahn. Even then it needed about 90 per cent throttle before hitting the detent.

For the record, we saw 143km/h in the A 250 e and 153km/h in the GLE 350 de before needing engine assistance, so charge permitting, you should be able to avoid using petrol ever again on Australian roads.

Acceleration is limited by the relatively small kilowatt count of each electric motor, but none had any trouble keeping up with traffic during our test.

There's something very Mercedes about being able to crawl through traffic in near silence among such a luxury interior, but none are immune to the typical EV effect of amplifying wind and noise as speeds increase, though this is less of an issue in the E 300 e than either SUV or the A 250 e.

During our route, there was no reason to note the simpler torsion beam rear end of the A 250 e and the only other collective difference among the models was a sense that the brake pedal was doing numerous more jobs than simply slowing the car. This is common among hybrids and EVs and nothing you wouldn't get used to, particularly given the intangible efficiency gains it's likely yielding.

From battery preconditioning before startup, to monitoring your driving style, to integrating all driving systems to deliver best efficency right now and using predictive systems to set up for what's coming, the EQ Power cars are doing a lot more than what you can feel though the driver controls or what their simple guard badges suggest.

If you only want to own one car and seek the electric car experience without losing the option of crossing your state or continent on a whim, the EQ Power range will do just that in proper Mercedes style, performance and comfort.

It will be interesting to see how Mercedes prices the A 250 e in particular for Australia, but it's fair to say an electric option isn't likely to match the equivalent combustion-engine model for value just yet. That aside, they seem to be an almost compromise-free way to taste the future and you may never use a drop of petrol again.

$51,888 - $119,800

Based on 110 car listings in the last 6 months

Price Guide

$51,888 - $119,800

Based on 110 car listings in the last 6 months

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