Is a diesel hybrid just a way to pass the time until the right electric vehicle comes along or is it the right answer for the question in everyone’s minds?
It seems pretty obvious that the electric car will gain ever more fans as different models come into the market. If you are a weekly reader of this paper, it must be pretty obvious I am not the world’s greatest electric car supporter.
However, it makes no sense to look the other way and pretend nobody wants them, meaning I have to start paying more attention to what is coming to the market and drive the things, so I can write about them and let you know what’s what.
But before I do that, I thought I would see how the middle ground is doing at the moment: hybrids. They are a compromise between the old internal combustion engine technology and the new zero emission future we must embrace.
Lexus is the constructor I think of when I think about hybrids, and I have driven some of them in the last few months, but I reckon Mercedes’ way makes a bit more sense. You see, Lexus matches electric motors with petrol engines, whereas Mercedes does it with diesel engines. The Germans say it is the best of both worlds: you get an electric car for small routes and urban driving, with a super efficient diesel powerplant for travelling longer distances.
Moreover, Lexus says owners of PHEV (Plug-In Electric Vehicles) don’t plug them into sockets – they just cannot be bothered -, and that is why Lexus are now self-charging hybrids only, making use of the car’s inertia, braking and ultimately the engine to charge the battery.
Audi, Volvo and Peugeot have all sold diesel hybrids at some point, but the bad press involving diesel meant it didn’t take long for them to give up on those models. Now Mercedes believes the market has had enough time to think about things and can finally rationalise the fact diesel can still be the best choice when it comes to reduced CO2 emissions.
Mercedes decided to go with its OM654 engine for the E300de, a four-cylinder, 2-litre, 194 horsepower unit that does service in many regular diesel models across the range. Mated to it, the engineers have put an electric motor producing up to 90kWh or 122 horsepower and a very significant 440Nm of torque, allowing a maximum electric speed of 135km/h. The battery capacity is 13.5kWh and 37Ah. Combined output is 306 horse power and a whopping 700Nm, channelled through a 9G-Tronic automatic gearbox especially developed with Bosch for hybrid powerplants.
Mercedes says the biggest stigma against oil-burners is city-polluting and that this car quashes those concerns with a range of up to 50km of zero emissions driving. To get the best from it, you must always charge it when you can, a job that takes five hours in a domestic socket or a little over an hour in a fast charger.
The E330de elects electric mode whenever possible and defaults into Hybrid and Comfort if you leave it be. Manage the throttle with care and you can use up the whole battery without ever bringing the diesel engine into life.
The first time I drove the E300de – the more interesting Station version – I had the battery fully charged. I knew it would be efficient, but I wasn’t ready for what I saw on the board computer after the first 150km: 4.2 litres/100km. That blew me away. I wasn’t trying to save fuel; I was just driving as always. I got home, I pugged it in and the next day, drove another 120km. This time the BC read 4.0 litres/100km. I couldn’t believe it.
Final day before giving the car back to Mercedes, I drove a little over 50km around the city. That meant an average of 2.1 litres/100km. Case closed. This car, if used in the way it was developed to be used, is probably the most eco-friendly vehicle I have ever driven and written about (if you consider everything from production to scrappage).
Don’t think that the E300de cannot play the performance card though. Put it in Sport Mode and it really goes. 0-100km can take just 5.9 and max speed is a pretty healthy 250km/h for a 2.1 tonne car (350kg more than an E220d).
The only real problem with it is the 140 litres of boot space taken up by the batteries. Still, the E300de Station still majors on practicality and offers the same quality and refinement as any other E-Class.
At €69,900 for the saloon and €72,900 for the Station, it’s also competitively priced against rivals that offer nowhere near the same eco credentials.
All in all, looking at a fully electric vehicle and the compromises it still brings with it, I have to say a car like the E300de still seems to me like the best option for those looking to lower their carbon footprint. The fact Mercedes are the only ones offering it is not great news – except for them, of course.
If you are buying a car in this slice of the market, this is really a no-brainer.
By Guilherme Marques