What’s it like to drive an electric car or hybrid for the first time? Let’s put it this way: since taking to the wheel of an alternatively powered Mercedes-Benz, the writers Susanne Kaloff and Barbara Höfler have decided to come clean.
Fewer emissions, more emotion – that’s what the Mercedes-Benz B 250 e (power consumption: from 16.6 kWh/100 km; combined CO₂ emissions: 0 g/km*) is all about. At last! An electric car that delivers on its promises, as Susanne Kaloff found out.
ost of the time I get around by bike. I love green smoothies, recycle my household waste and always switch off the lights when there’s nobody in the room. And yes, I like to wear comfy shoes as well, like Birkenstocks – but only if I’ve painted my toenails in cherry red. And that’s what the B 250 e is all about: finding the right balance between elegance and environmental credentials. After all, there’s nothing less sexy than poisoning the atmosphere, be it by making long a face or with harmful vehicle emissions. So, how suitable it was that on the day I first drove an electric car, the sun was shining as if there were no tomorrow.
From the outside, the B 250 e looks just like a normal car. But I respect it as if it were a spaceship. For some unknown reason, I’m apprehensive: maybe it’s the idea that I could screw up charging the car with the cable that’s rolled up like a garden hose in the trunk. Or perhaps it’s the fact that I have no idea what to do if I stop to recharge at one of the charge points in the city of Stuttgart. Before today’s test-drive, I read that in the all-electric B-Class “the drivetrain gets its energy from the high-voltage lithium-ion battery. This can be recharged within about two and a half hours for a minimum cost, either at home or at a public charging point.” Euww! But by the time I start the car, my interest in what a high-voltage battery actually is has waned. Instead of the clatter, hum and mutter of the engine I hear nothing. Not a whisper. Just absolute peace and quiet.
If you worry about needing to charge all the time, don’t!
Off I go, through the countryside, winding my way between canola fields, the car purring like a sleepy cat. Beside the road is a sign saying, “Environmental speed limit: 60 km/h (37 mph)”. It’s great to know that even at top speeds, at 160 km/h (100 mph), my eco-mobile has zero local emissions and accelerates seamlessly. With a fully charged battery, it has a range of about 200 kilometers. So if you worry about needing to charge all the time, don’t! I’m deeply impressed. Equally remarkable is the fact that when the battery pack is no longer good for the car, it can be used as stationary storage for alternative energies; it has what’s called a ‘second use’. The display in the cockpit allows you to track all the key information: power delivered, recuperation, range and so on. Until now, I had no idea what recuperation was – but basically it’s like a dynamo. It generates energy every time you hit the brake. The tank is full; the sky is blue; life’s great, and I’m totally in the (energy) flow.
Premium unleaded for speeding through the countryside, clean energy for urban driving. For Barbara Höfler, the C 350 e (Combined fuel consumption (petrol): 2.4 - 2.1 l/100 km; combined CO₂ emissions: 55-49 g/km*) offers the perfect combination.
This love story starts with a traffic holdup. A star-shaped map of downtown Stuttgart explodes onto the screen of the iPad-sized navigation display. Every street is either bright yellow, for congestion, or red, indicating gridlock. I imagine what it would be like if it were quiet out there. I would press this little button here and be out of the city in no time. Ah well. I’m still stuck in traffic, but at least I’m driving electric, which means zero local emissions and zero noise. I think I’m falling in love – with the hybrid C 350 e!
Until then, this had been no more than a promising flirtation with a combustion- and electrically-powered car. Depending on how I drive, the lithium-ion battery will take me as far as 31 kilometers (19 mi) in a single, silent trip. That’s enough to get me around town. It takes about one and a half hours to charge, either at a charging point or at home, via a gadget known as a wallbox. But the battery also recharges itself on the road, through energy recuperation. That takes record average fuel consumption to as little as 2.1 liters per 100 kilometers (112 mpg). The C-Class Estate pulls away silently – in electric mode. It’s not until I press harder on the accelerator that the combustion engine kicks in. At a certain pressure point, the driving pedal tells the system to transfer to alternative operations – just like the Powermeter, which basically works like an electric rev counter. The fact that there’s a separate display for each type of operation – electric or combustion – sounds complicated, and there’s an extensive manual in the glovebox. But by the time I leave the city of Stuttgart, I really don’t have any more questions – because true love needs no explanations.
Step o n the accelerator, then glide silently. I start to get ambitious.
Driving through the hinterland, I try out the button with all the different driving modes. In Sport+ mode, electric and combustion power combine to deliver 205 kW, pressing me into my seat. Hybrid mode is more relaxed and fuel-efficient: all you do is step on the accelerator and then keep your speed constant as you glide silently through the landscape. I start to get ambitious: I want the display to show that I’ve reached the record fuel consumption of just 2.1-liters – but unfortunately I need more practice.
The battery is dead! I pull out my smart phone, which has the Charge&Pay app, to find out where the nearest free charging point is. When I get there, I plug in the car and go grab a coffee. I pay via PayPal. But you could equally well connect this Mercedes to a domestic socket at home, which is where I foresee a rosy future for myself and this car.