The Mercedes E 300 e comes tantalisingly close to delivering what a full electric vehicle can do. What’s missing?
STUTTGART, GERMANY — Barely a week after we reviewed the Mercedes-Benz E 350 e plug-in hybrid, you might be surprised to see this report about an E 300 e. Obviously, there’s some explaining to do here.
First things first, the E 300 isn’t a new model that complements the E 350 e. It replaces it. The E 300 e is a member of what Mercedes insiders call their “generation 3” hybrids, and has come to bury the gen-2 E 350 e, less than two years after its global debut.
The E 300 e should appear in Singapore in the second half of 2019. It’s more powerful, quicker, and it has a higher-capacity battery pack so it can travel without petrol more than 50 percent further on a single charge. It is, in other words, better than the E 350 e in every way. More importantly, as plug-in cars go, it’s superior to the BMW 530e, with a powertrain that feels more slickly integrated.
For all that, the E 300 e is just one soldier in a growing army of electrified cars from Mercedes-Benz.
CarBuyer drove it at an event where Mercedes made four different plug-in models available to drive and three battery-electric Smart models. The recently-unveiled EQC electric Sport Utility Vehicle made an appearance, and there was a even a hydrogen fuel cell hybrid electric GLC to try.
That’s nine electric or electrified vehicles in total (more if you count station wagon models), with many more on the way. “We want to offer several electrified alternatives in every segment by 2022,” says Johannes Reifenrath, the head of product strategy and planning. If any man knows what’s on the horizon, he does — Reifenrath has a team of 100 product planners who are working on what Mercedes’ cars will be like up to 21 years from now.
Getting back to the E 300 e, it’s a refinement of the same recipe that created the E 350 e (and, to a large extent, BMW’s 530e). It takes a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine with 211 horsepower and 350 Newton-metres of peak torque, and pairs it with an electric motor that draws power from a lithium-ion battery pack.
The plug-in part? You charge the battery by plugging the Mercedes into a dedicated, wall-mounted charger, or by using a charger included with the car that can run off household main electricity, a bit like a giant laptop charger. It takes five hours to charge the E 300 e, but a wallbox needs just 90 minutes to do the job.
What should be clear is that, like other plug-in hybrids, the E 300 e has two propulsion methods: electric only, or electric plus petrol.
What’s also clear is that the more you use the electric drive, the less carbon your car farts out at the tailpipes and the less you spend on fuel — the E 300 e costs just S$3.26 to recharge at today’s power tariffs.
That being so, the relevant question for anyone looking at a plug-in hybrid is, how far can you get on electricity? Mercedes says the E 300 e is good for up to 50km, which is a huge improvement over the 33km promised by the E 350 e.
That’s courtesy of a better battery; it’s no bigger or heavier than the E 350 e’s pack (and takes up the same bit of real estate in the boot), but a new generation of cells means it can hold more energy (13.5kW versus 6.4kWh).
There’s also a new, more powerful electric motor, while a nine-speed automatic replaces the old seven-speeder.
Here’s a table summing up the differences between the E 300 e and the older E 350 e:
|E 300 e (provisional data)||E 350 e (predecessor)|
|Engine output (hp at rpm)||211at 5500||211 at 5500|
|Engine torque (Nm at rpm)||350 at 1200-4000||350 at 1200-4000|
|Electric motor output (kW)||90||65|
|System output (kW/hp)||235/320||210/286|
|System torque (Nm)||700||550|
|Top speed, electric||over 130km/h||over 130km/h|
|Fuel consumption (l/100 km)||2.0||2.1|
|CO2 emissions (g/km)||45||49|
|Electric range (km)||50||33|
|Battery capacity (kWh)||13.5||6.4|
|Combined electrical consumption (kWh/100 km)||14.5||11.5|
Sure enough, the cars are palpably different to drive. The E 300 e is noticeably smoother, in terms of its acceleration and in the way the petrol engine wakes up and cuts in. It helps that the new drivetrain has a torque convertor between the motor and gearbox (the E 350 e used a friction clutch), which helps to smooth over the occasional jerk that the engine gave as it came to life in the previous model.
The way it picks up speed is a delight, too, urgent and responsive in the way that only the instant torque from an electric motor can deliver. The E 350 e is no sleepyhead, but the E 300 e feels livelier still.
Perhaps more to the point, the electric range is noticeably better. In the E 350 e, with plenty of air-conditioning going we found it a struggle to much more than 20km from the battery. In a 32km drive around Mercedes’ hometown of Stuttgart (with the air-con set nearly at full blast to try and simulate heavy usage in Singapore) we set off in a E 300 e with the battery at 92 percent, and covered 30km with electricity. Fuel consumption worked out to just 1.8L/100km.
Given that the average motorist in Singapore covers 46km a day, according to Land Transport Authority figures, the E 300 e is tantalisingly close to effectively providing what a fully electric car could deliver, only with the added power and long-distance range of the turbo petrol engine. Another 20km of electric range would do it, surely?
“Developments are ongoing and we are paying particular attention to the electric range, which will go up step by step,” says product chief Reifenrath. “We could have the majority of the daily driving that customers have around the world purely electric.”
That brings to mind one of the potential frustrations of owning a car with such cutting edge technology. With so much focus on the race for electromobility, major improvements are bound to be around the corner, especially since battery technology for cars is at a relatively early stage of development.
Still, if you worried too much about obsolescence to ever buy anything, you would still be on an Ericsson mobile phone. And perhaps what’s relevant is that E 300 e is so much better than the E 350 e precisely because it is packed with the latest technology, just as its successor will be packed with the latest technology a year years from now. That’s what the strong carmakers do.
Mercedes-Benz E 300 e
|Engine||1,991cc, inline 4, turbocharged|
|Power||211hp at 5500rpm|
|Torque||350Nm at 1200-4400rpm|
|Electric Motor||90kW / 440Nm|
|Battery Type / Capacity||Lithium ion / 13.5kWh|
|Charging Time / Type||5 hours / Charging cable|
|System Power / Torque||320hp / 700Nm|
|VES/CO2||TBA / 45g/km|
|Agent||Mercedes-Benz Centre Singapore|
|Availabile||2nd half, 2019|