We regard the new Mercedes E-class PHEV as a kind of ambassador for the new generation of plug-in hybrids. These are plug-in cars with a much larger battery pack and all the additional benefits.
James May of what used to be Top Gear put it succinctly: “The plug-in hybrid car essentially has two powertrains and that doesn't fit in a time when we have to do more with less.”
Driving the Mercedes E 300e we feel addressed, because with its two-liter petrol engine of 204 hp and the 129 hp electric motor, the E-class indeed contains enough parts to power two cars.
And if you look at the first batch of plug-in hybrids, Captain Slow certainly has a point: that's a lot of technology to drive a car 40 kilometers on electricity. The battery pack was previously only 10 to 12 kWh in size. But now more and more plug-in hybrids with a battery of roughly 25 kWh are coming onto the market.
And such a doubling of capacity changes everything. To explain that, we will use the Mercedes E-class as an example, but the new PHEVs from BMW (5-series, X5), Volkswagen (Passat, Tiguan) and even Skoda (Superb, Kodiaq) and have just as large a battery.
A larger battery logically means more range. Mercedes boasts of an EV range of 116 kilometers for the E 300e, but that is too ambitious. We manage to complete a ride from Nijmegen to Holten completely on electricity. A distance of 94 kilometers with almost only highway kilometers (100 km/h).
With an old-school plug-in hybrid, the combustion engine would have started halfway, but in the new E-class we drive on electricity all the time. A treat, because the E-class is at its most comfortable when it drives electrically - it is quieter and smoother.
“Plugging in at a public charging point is now really worthwhile.”
And plugging in at a public charging point is now really worth it, because you get a serious number of comfortable kilometers in return. Charging at home has the added benefit of being cheaper: with current rates, driving on electricity is cheaper than driving on petrol.
Speaking of driving on petrol: the Mercedes E 300e officially consumes 0.6 l/100 km. That's 1 in 166! With the first plug-in hybrids, such numbers were unacceptable, but now things are different. This E-class can actually drive 100 kilometers with so little petrol, because you cover the first 94 kilometers electrically. The specified 0.6 liters of petrol is more than enough to cover the last six kilometers.
This kite only applies for the first hundred kilometers of each ride, which makes us curious about the second hundred kilometers, when the battery is empty and the petrol engine does all the work.
Well, with an empty battery pack we measure an average fuel consumption of 5.8 l/100 km or 1 in 17.2. That's how little gasoline it costs to drive relaxed on the highway during the day with the rest of the traffic. Now you know a lot better what to expect in terms of fuel consumption.
When the battery is 'empty', the E-class continues to function as a normal hybrid car. Which means that it recovers power when coasting and covers short distances electrically. This way, during our consumption test of 100 kilometers, it still managed to get 11 free kilometers. Free because the required power does not come from a charging station, but is collected along the way.
In the city the effect is even greater and with an empty battery we cover up to 40 percent of the kilometers on recovered energy. Then you have to make a sport of keeping the tachometer in the Power part of the meter. If you accelerate too hard, the combustion engine will interfere.
To quickly fill that large battery, the new crop of plug-in hybrids often include a fast-charging port. The E-class has such a charging system for DC for 605 euros, but that option was skipped when putting together our test car. Perhaps the Dutch importer thought that during long journeys we would not bother to start our coffee breaks by plugging in a fast charger from Fastned.
“For an extra 605 euros, the E-class has a fast charging port.”
That was a mistake, because with a charging capacity of 55 kW it is worth plugging in the charging cable that is attached to the fast charging station and waving your charging card. Fifteen minutes will make a difference, after half an hour it will be full.
Without such a CCS connector on the car, we have to rely on regular charging stations. This means that charging is still quite fast: the battery is full after two hours. You don't do that when you are passing through, but you do when you go for lunch or a meeting somewhere.
The question of whether charging is worth it has already been discussed. If you have a wallbox at home with a cord that you can plug in with a smooth arm movement, charging is of course a regular task.
But for the time being we charge at public charging points in the neighborhood and you should not underestimate our laziness. When we get home and all the charging stations are occupied, we don't always go back in the evening to try again.
Until recently we were shooting ourselves through the nose for forty electric kilometers, but that wasn't so bad. We always still had the combustion engine. But with such a new type of plug-in hybrid, the large EV range is a much more compelling argument for moving the car and taking the charging cable out of the trunk.
The software of plug-in hybrids is also getting smarter. It is normal that the battery is discharged first and then the combustion engine takes over.
With the E-class you choose how it handles the power supply: immediately consume everything, or with input from the navigation system. Because if you enter a destination in the city, the car will protect the last kilometers of the EV range with its life, so that you can travel the last stretch through civilization emission-free.
Going back to what James May said, he has a point that plug-in hybrids have a lot of complex technology. When you drive on electricity, you are carrying an idle combustion engine. Of course it gives you the certainty that you will get home when the power runs out, but you actually only need it on long journeys.
But you can make the same point for fully electric cars of this size, like one Mercedes EQE. For all short journeys you don't need that gigantic 89 kWh battery pack at all, then 25 kWh is more than enough, but you carry the other 64 kilowatt hours with you just in case.
“Because the car has two drivetrains, you do more with less.”
And knowing that raw materials for batteries are scarce, there is something to be said for making the most of every kilowatt hour of a battery. In that respect, the battery of a plug-in hybrid is used much more intensively than the battery pack of an EV. Because the car has two drivetrains, you do more with less. James May will be proud of you.
The Mercedes E 300e is part of a new generation of plug-in hybrids that, thanks to their large battery and the possibility of fast charging, will play an important role in the switch to electric driving. That transition is a time-consuming process and the new E-class is the ideal dress rehearsal before you have to go all the way.
This post was last modified on February 12, 2024 6:08 am
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