First, let me note that I’m not anti-PHEVs. I think plug-in hybrids serve a fine place in the market today. For people who only have one car, who take long-distance trips in cars fairly regularly, or who just have insane commutes (LA, Atlanta, Houston, Orlando residents, I’m probably looking at you), plug-in hybrids are a good alternative at this point (unless you have enough money for a Tesla).
But I haven’t been shy to state what few people know: pure EVs drive much more nicely than most PHEVs. If the PHEV is really designed as an electric car with a range extender — like the Chevy Volt and BMW i3 REx are — they still drive like electric cars when in EV mode. However, almost every PHEV on the market isn’t designed that way.
One of the new PHEVs in the US arrived on the market a couple of days ago — the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. In that link right there, you can find my review of the car from several months ago. In many ways, it is a great car. It’s got comfortable seating, decent space, decent tech and quality materials, and a pretty sport drive. However, it’s the car that really made me realize that PHEVs like that just don’t cut it for me.
And if the reduced drive quality isn’t enough for you, note that the electric range is just ~17 miles.
All of that said, if you’re in the market for a PHEV rather than a fully electric car or extended-range electric car, this is probably one of the hottest options on the table. Furthermore, I did get to drive a diesel Audi A3 recently (this car’s identical twin sibling) and I did experience that the A3 e-tron is worlds better than the A3 TDI. Seriously, don’t even think about getting the non-electric Audi A3 Sportback. That would be like choosing a Nokia phone from 2000 rather than a Samsung Galaxy.
While Audi just released its inaugural PHEV in the US (and has had it on the European market for several months), Mercedes (which has a few on the European market as well) is looking ready to launch one in the US. Mercedes brought the 10th generation of its E-Class to the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit.
Admittedly, the gas and diesel versions of the new E-Class will launch in the US first, but an E 350e plug-in hybrid is apparently lined up for a later launch. And that basically captures the spirit of Mercedes and Audi in general….
These are basically compliance cars. They have been designed and will be produced in order to satisfy EU and US regulations regarding fuel economy and harmful emissions. The companies are not fully behind this technology or these models, and they’ll likely offer them to very limited markets (just like the Volkswagen e-Golf, Volkswagen Golf GTE, and Mercedes B-Class Electric). Quite likely, they won’t try very hard to sell them, will put out limited and mediocre advertising that ignores their top two consumer benefits, and won’t get dealers very informed or enthusiastic about them.
Similar to the Audi A3 e-tron, the E 350e will have ~19 miles of electric range. If you still actually care to learn more about this car, here are some specs:
Its four-cylinder gasoline engine, in conjunction with an electric motor, gives it a total system output of 210 kW (286 hp) with a system torque of 550 N·m. With this set-up, the E 350 e achieves the performance of a sports car yet consumes less fuel than a small, compact-class car: some 2.1 l/100 km (112 mpg US).
The most powerful diesel variant will feature a six-cylinder engine incorporating advanced SCR exhaust technology, with an output of 190 kW (258 hp) and a peak torque of 620 N·m. Another variant to join the range will be the E 400 4MATIC whose six-cylinder gasoline engine has an output of 245 kW (333 hp) and a maximum torque of 480 N·m.
Further variants will later complete the engine range, including a new four-cylinder diesel unit developing 110 kW (150 hp). The range of gasoline engines will comprise four-cylinder versions with outputs ranging from 135 to 180 kW (183 to 245 hp) plus a six-cylinder variant developing 245 kW (333 hp).
All engines for the new E-Class are equipped with the ECO start/stop function. The gasoline engines meet the requirements of the EU 6 emissions standard, while the new OM 654 four-cylinder diesel engine is already configured with future RDE limits in mind.
All models available at market launch are equipped with the new 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic transmission as standard. It enables fast gear changes and allows low engine revs, which has a particularly beneficial effect on efficiency and noise levels.
I don’t know if I should laugh or cry at those last few lines.
Mercedes and Audi execs apparently won’t say it as directly as Sergio Marchionne and Marc Tarpenning have, but the point is: Mercedes, Audi, and almost every (if not every) large automaker doesn’t actually want to sell electric cars or stimulate an EV revolution. If they could control the future, they’d apparently build and sell enough gasoline- and diesel-powered cars to fry future humans.
I’m pretty confident we’ll see limited sales of the Audi A3 e-tron and Mercedes-Benz E 350e plug-in hybrids in the US. In the meantime, Tesla will be eating more and more of these car companies’ lunches. Just as well!