► We ride in the new A-class hybrid
► Compacts are a crucial segment for Merc
► In showrooms by 2020
Stuttgart traffic, it’s like traffic everywhere. There’s no sound from the engine, that not too unusual in a stop-start equipped world. Pulling away, there’s not the rumble of an engine re-starting, instead the A-Class glides away using its electric motor alone.
Mercedes-Benz has a few plug-in hybrids already, but until now they’ve been limited to the larger models. Soon, after a Frankfurt show official unveiling and in showrooms by 2020, you’ll be able to have your plug-in hybrid A-Class sized. That will bring the inevitable cascade of derivations off the platform which that allows - think B-Class, CLA, GLA, GLB and, given Merc’s propensity to dream up new models, a few more in time.
Smaller is better...
Being compact is good, though it poses some packaging problems. The compact lithium-ion battery is under the rear seat, where the fuel tank would usually be, it, now smaller and relocated to the boot. You’ll lose about 70-litres of luggage space as a result, but there’s still enough room back there for most buyers. Under the bonnet, the power electronics, the cooling for all the different systems means it’s tight in there, but German engineers do love a challenge, leaving out the conventional 12v starter to make space, and using the electric motor instead.
What’s really significant is that that battery, and the 75kw (99bhp in old money) electric motor sandwiched between the now eight-speed auto and the 1.3-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine with 156bhp, allows an electric-only range of ‘over 60km’ (37 miles). Mercedes-Benz’s people are remaining tight-lipped about exactly how far, for now, but the range indictor on the MBUX screen suggests 66km, on 100% charge. That figure is despite it being the hottest day Germany’s had in a while, with the A/C working pretty hard.
Useful, believable range, too
Jochen Eck, Merc’s Senior Manager Vehicle Testing Compact Cars, says that range will be accurate, too. He’s demanded it, saying too many trip computers in hybrids are wildly optimistic, and that customers need to trust what they’re told. In electric-only it’ll drive up to 140km/h (87mph), which is brisk enough for both town traffic and the autobahn, assuming, that is, you’re not seduced by the temptations of a derestricted stretch.
Best hybrid cars
Do that and the petrol motor will join the fun above 140km/h, as it will if you push through the kick-down travel on the accelerator. Combined the electric petrol mash-up isn’t pumping out 254bhp, because, Eck simply says: 'physics'.
Even so, it’ll be in excess of 200bhp, so you’ll not be disappointed in the performance despite the fact that the PHEV is hauling around 270kg more weight - the 221lb ft of torque the electric motor adds being useful here. It’s also the simpler twist beam suspension at the rear to give space for the battery and more, but if you notice an appreciable difference then you might want to consider applying to road test cars for a living.
Centre pipe, more plugs...
There’s a centre-exiting exhaust pipe under the floor by the passenger seat for when that petrol motor is running. It’s quiet when it does so, and in EV mode, one of five familiar drive settings encompassing EV, Comfort, Sport, Individual and a hold charge one for destination EV use. If you’ve time to stop and charge you can do so overnight at home from a traditional plug in about 7 hours, 1.5-2hrs with a 7.6kW wallbox and as little as 30 minutes on a DC charge, the A-Class adding the possibility of CCS charging.
On the road
It’s all very impressive in the traffic, and autobahn, too, the A-Class gliding along serenely using that battery alone. Enough, says Eck, to allow him to do his short daily commute entirely on battery power before charging it overnight at the end of the week. 'It combines the best of two worlds in a compact car,' says the engineer, and, having sat alongside him in it, there’s little reason to doubt that.