- Max Speed
The Mercedes A-Class? They’re EVERYWHERE.
In October Britain’s best-selling car wasn’t the Ford Fiesta or Focus, like it normally is. It wasn’t the Vauxhall Corsa, Volkswagen Golf or Polo either. It was…the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. Which – even though 2020 has been a decidedly odd year for the car industry for one big, infectious reason – is really quite remarkable.
What’s special about this A-Class, then? Looks just like all the others.
Look closely and you’ll spot a second filler flap. The one on the left-hand side is for petrol to power the 1.3-litre four-cylinder engine borrowed from the A180 and A200. The other one is for electricity – in the A250e the internal combustion engine is supported by a 15.6kWh lithium-ion battery and 75kW e-motor.
Yup, it’s a plug-in hybrid.
Ah. So how far can it go on a charge?
Like virtually all PHEVs the A250e’s modus operandi is to use up all its battery power before calling on the engine. It defaults to Electric mode when you switch it on, but you can choose to save some charge for later or let the car manage the two power sources as it sees fit.
PHEVs tend to claim 30-35 miles of electric range and actually deliver 25-30 miles. The A-Class plug-in claims 44 miles and will do an honest 35 miles without calling upon its internal combustion engine. That’s very good. And even with a totally depleted battery the engine will shut down when you take your foot off the gas, saving yet more fuel.
A full charge takes less than two hours on a 7kW wallbox, which at the time of writing Mercedes will throw-in for free when you buy an A250e. So, assuming you have a driveway, you really have no excuse not to keep it charged.
… I don’t have a driveway.
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Oh. Well then think your purchase through very carefully. Of course the beauty of a PHEV is you can drive around without ever charging it. Some people do just that to take advantage of favourable BiK and VED rates. But buying one of these things solely because it’s cheaper to tax, and with no intention of ever plugging it in, is just plain wasteful and morally backwards.
Above all you’ll want to keep the A250e charged so you won’t have to listen to the reedy 1.3-litre petrol engine. With charge, performance in Electric mode is decent even for smart getaways at busy junctions and high-speed motorway cruising (the top speed in Electric mode is 87mph). But call upon the engine when battery power is low or you need all 215bhp offered up by the engine and e-motor working in tandem, and the aura of quiet calm is shattered.
The transition between electric- and petrol-power is mostly smooth, with no nasty jolts unless you catch the system unawares. What really irks is that thrashy noise at mid-high revs – but keep the revs low, which you can and will most of the time, and it’s less of a problem.
Wait. Did you say 215bhp? It’s a hot hatch!
No, it really isn’t. But it is quite quick, with Mercedes claiming 0-62mph in 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 146mph.
Both the e-motor and petrol engine power the front wheels – no all-electric rear axle for AWD here – through the eight-speed twin-clutch automatic gearbox. It’s better than Merc’s old seven-speeder but can be a bit dim-witted. Left to its own devices it tends to hang on to gears for too long (sometimes you have to manually select eighth on the motorway) and doesn’t respond very keenly to the wheel-mounted paddles in manual mode.
In Electric mode the paddles have another function – adjusting the amount of regen (how much the car slows when you lift off the accelerator). Like the Audi A6 PHEV we tried the other week, the A250e has a system that adjusts the amount of regen you get when you lift off depending on your surroundings, by looking at the relative speed of cars up ahead, upcoming bends and junctions and so-on. So when you lift off the gas you don’t quite know what it’s going to do.
To its credit, Merc’s system feels better integrated than Audi’s. It mostly behaves itself and does what you’d expect of it. But it's still a bit unpredictable. Thankfully you can turn it off – pull a paddle to choose between coasting, some regen or A LOT of regen when you lift off the gas. Pull and hold a paddle to go back to Auto.
The system is active in the hybrid modes too, Comfort and Sport. Here it cannot be turned off. At least if there’s an option for that I couldn’t find it – the MBUX infotainment looks good as ever, with crisp graphics and icons, but remains a bit tricky to navigate.
Is it comfy?
The driving position is good and the driver’s seat comfy enough, but the ride is odd. The A250e is softer than other A-Classes - its ‘Comfort’ suspension feels lollopy over bigger undulations but a bit abrupt over the small sharp stuff. All told it’s not an uncomfortable car (especially on the motorway, where it settles into a decent cruise) and handles unremarkably.
It’s not fun – non-AMG A-Classes have always struggled in that regard – but the steering is fine. The brakes are very hybrid-y, though – grabby, with springy pedal feel. You won’t want to hustle it – the A250e is quite a lot heavier than the normal A-Class and thus prefers to live life at a slower pace. But be smooth and it’ll reward you at the pumps.
Should I buy one?
The A250e is an expensive A-Class, with the AMG Line Premium car we tested coming in at almost £36,000. But that won’t bother company car drivers, who will no doubt account for the majority of registrations. Far as PHEVs go it’s an efficient one, with impressive electric-only range and quick charging. BUT the petrol motor isn’t very refined, braking is unpredictable and while reasonably comfortable, it’s not much fun to drive. Definitely at its best in Electric mode.
You’ve got options when it comes to premium plug-in hatchbacks. No 1 Series yet, but the new Golf GTE has just gone on sale and Audi is doing a plug-in A3 using the same tech. We’ve not tested either of them yet, so watch this space.