What’s it like?
Mercedes has finally realised the potential of the A-class's sandwich floor construction.
By using the flat floor of its popular entry-level model to store lithium ion batteries, it has created a convincingly complete plug-in electric car, boasting all the great traits – neat five-seat packaging included – of all its various siblings.
However, this zero-emissions E-cell is only going to be offered to customers in selected parts of mainland Europe from next April.
What’s it like?
Driving the E-cell is remarkably straightforward. The electric motor, mounted low down at the front of the car, in the space usually occupied by its petrol or diesel engine, boasts 94bhp and 214lb ft of torque, which is available the moment you touch the accelerator.
There's no waiting for the motor to hit its sweet spot, just strong forward progress from step-off. A single-speed gearbox also means there’s no need to swap ratios.
Mercedes quotes 0-37mph in 5.5sec – a figure that reflects the compact hatch’s impressive low-end acceleration and nippy nature at city speeds. As the pace rises, however, the weight of the electric drive system makes its presence felt.
The liquid-cooled, lithium ion battery pack is produced by Tesla in California. It has a capacity of 36kWh and provides a range of over 120 miles on one charge.
Because the batteries are mounted low and around the centre point, the handling is not greatly affected. Charging is via a socket mounted in the fuel filler recess, taking eight hours on a conventional 240-volt system and three hours at 400 volts.
It’s a fairly straightforward system, without the multiple energy recuperation programs of rivals such as the VW Golf blue-e-motion.
What it lacks in features, it more than makes up for in refinement. There’s a distant whir of the electric motor under load, but otherwise it is remarkably silent at a steady cruise.
Although the new A-class – due in 2012 – will switch to a more conventional platform, Mercedes says the sandwich structure will live on in a new range of alternative fuel models.
This includes a series production range extender using a new three-cylinder, direct-injection petrol engine destined for the next Smart Fortwo.
Should I buy one?
The A-class E-cell is a promising start, but Mercedes has yet to disclose how much the car will cost. It will be interesting to see how it stacks up against rivals such as the Nissan Leaf
Mercedes A-Class E-Cell
Price: na; Top speed: 93mph; 0-62mph: 14.0sec; Economy: 120 miles on one charge; CO2: 0g/km at tailpipe; Kerb weight: na; Engine type: Electric motor, 36kWh lithium ion battery pack; Power: 94bhp; Torque: 214lb ft; Gearbox: single-speed