If you're looking at an upper-spec Mercedes A-Class, you have to consider this A 250e plug-in version, thinks Jonathan Crouch.
The forthcoming and ever-more stringent European emission regulations are going to cost manufacturers not well advanced in electrification an awful lot of money in punitive fines. Mercedes though, now has plenty of electric tech on offer to drive down its group CO2 reading. Its EQ Power brand covers almost every kind of electrification, from mild hybrids and full-EVs in the company's larger models to the space-efficient plug-in hybrid powertrain that fits into this maker's more compact cars. It's that latter PHEV tech we're looking at here, specifically as applied to the Stuttgart manufacturer's smallest model, the A-Class.
The model in question, the A 250e, shares the same plug-in powertrain as the GLA, the B-Class and the CLA, a set-up that right now just happens to set the segment standard. But can it here justify a significant price premium over conventional petrol and diesel A-Class variants? Let's take a look.
The job's been done properly here. Rather than electrify one of its older engines, as Volkswagen has with its rival Golf GTE, Mercedes has here developed a much more bespoke unit, a 1,332cc petrol powerplant that manages to put out as much as 218hp. That figure combines the 160hp of this model's 1.33-litre powerplant with a 75kW electric motor linked to a 15.6kWh lithium-ion battery. These power sources collectively generate a pretty potent system pulling power figure of 450Nm. So, not surprisingly, performance is sprightly, 62mph dispatched in just 6.6s en route to 146mph. You have to have front wheel drive and an 8-speed 8G-DCT dual clutch auto transmission. Of most interest to a potential PHEV buyer though, will be this model's projected WLTP all-electric driving range - up to 44 miles (compare that to the 36 mile claim of a rival Golf GTE). Obviously, you won't get anywhere near that figure if you regularly approach the quoted all-electric top speed of 87mph.
An 'Electric' drive programme keeps the car in battery drive unless the accelerator pedal's kickdown function is used. In the 'Electric' programme, the energy recovery level can also be selected via paddles behind the steering wheel. The paddles on the steering wheel enable the selection of five different recuperation levels ('DAUTO', 'D+', 'D', 'D-' and 'D--'). The usual additional 'Comfort', 'Sport' and 'Individual' mode settings are also available. According to the given requirements, the driver is thus able to give priority to electric driving, place the emphasis on driving dynamics or give preference to combustion mode in order to save electric range, for example.
Design and Build
This A 250e's PHEV set-up is all very cleverly packaged. An innovative exhaust system layout explains the need for a relatively minimal reduction in boot capacity compared with a conventionally-engined A-Class model. The exhaust ends in a centrally positioned outlet under the vehicle floor, with the rear silencer housed in the transmission tunnel. Integrating the fuel tank into the axle installation space creates additional room beneath the rear seats for the high-voltage battery. Otherwise, it's much as it would be in any other A-Class and there's the choice of either hatch or Saloon body shapes. Visual differentiators as to this variant's plug-in status are limited to subtle badging. And inside, the cabin is unchanged, save for extra 'Electric' and 'Battery Level' menus in the MBUX infotainment system.
As with any A-Class, in standard spec, you get a couple of 7.0-inch infotainment screens - one in front of the driver for the instruments and a centre-dash one for the infotainment functions. Pay extra and you can have both these displays uprated to 10.3-inches in size. And in the back? Well a six-footer might still struggle a little to sit behind another adult of similar height but overall, there's significantly more room for knees and legs than you might expect. If that's not enough, then you can choose this same powertrain in Mercedes' B-Class compact 5-seat MPV. We mentioned boot space earlier: at 310-litres, it's 60-litres down on the 370-litre figure of the standard hatch. For the Saloon, the capacity figure is 345-litres.
Market and Model
Mercedes has priced this A 250e plug-in at about the same level as the top A-Class diesel, the 190hp A 220d, so you're looking at needing around £33,000. That's for the hatch version; you'll need around £600 more for the alternative Saloon body style. For trim, you'll need to choose one of the 'AMG Line' variants. There's 'AMG Line', 'AMG Line Executive', 'AMG Line Premium' and 'AMG Line Premium Plus'. Standard kit across the range includes LED headlights, heated front seats and Thermatronic two-zone air conditioning. Infotainment's taken care of by a couple of 7-inch screens that feature the MBUX multimedia system with its 'Mercedes me' connectivity and the 'Hey Mercedes' voice-activated virtual assistant.
'AMG Line' trim includes 18-inch AMG 5-twin-spoke alloy wheels, privacy glass, an AMG body styling kit, ARTICO/DINAMICA sports seats with red contrast stitching and carbon interior trim. Disappointingly, you have to stretch to pricier 'AMG Line Executive' spec to get basics like front and rear parking sensors and smartphone integration, a trim level that also includes wireless charging and a 10.25-inch central media display.
Cost of Ownership
The 15.6kWh battery can be charged with AC or DC current via a socket located in the right-hand side wall of the vehicle. This A 250e can be charged at a 7.4kW wallbox with alternating current (AC) within 1 hour 45 min from 10-100%. Keep everything charged up and Mercedes reckons that 90% of regular commuting journeys can be completed without using the petrol engine. One important comfort feature is the pre-entry climate control prior to starting a journey, which reduces energy usage and can also be activated conveniently by smartphone. The quoted WLTP combined cycle fuel figure is 256.8mpg and WLTP CO2 emissions are rated up to 25g/km. That means a 6% BiK tax rating; compare that to 28 or 30% for a conventional diesel or petrol-powered A-Class.
The MBUX infotainment system assists the driver in finding charging stations. Just start a search simply by saying "Hey Mercedes, find charging stations nearby". Via the 'Mercedes me Charge' system, drivers of this plug-in hybrid model can optionally obtain access to one of the world's largest charging networks, with over 300 different operators in Europe alone (municipalities, car parks, motorways, shopping centres, etc.). Thanks to navigation, Mercedes-Benz customers can find these stations easily and can gain convenient access to the charging stations via the Mercedes me Charge card, the Mercedes me App or directly from the car. No separate contracts are necessary for this: apart from simple authentication, customers benefit from an integrated payment function with simple billing after they have registered their payment method once. Each charging process is booked automatically. The individual charging processes are clearly listed in a monthly invoice.
The engineering here is compelling: if you were shopping further up the A-Class range, it's certainly difficult to see why you'd buy an A 220d diesel variant for the same sort of money as is being asked here. It's just a pity that Mercedes doesn't feel able to offer this technology with its lower, more affordable trim levels. Still, you pay for plug-in sophistication and it won't escape the attention of the growing number of buyers in this segment that an A 250e will go nearly 20% further on an electric charge than a rival Volkswagen Golf GTE.
As usual with Plug-ins, there's lots to like about the PHEV formula if you can afford the asking price for it; superb refinement, clean emissions that lead to super-low BiK taxation and the appealing prospect of largely fuel-free commuting mileage. Ultimately, it's all about whether you can justify the up-front cost. But we still think this A 250e could make more sense than a conventional model once you add up whole-life costs on a finance deal. And in return for that outlay, you'll get a premium package in return.