In the new era of diesel-emissions concern, Mercedes-Benz buyers seeking the brand’s the most fuel-efficient offering must remember to plug in their car every night. The latest model to offer that feature is the 2018 GLC350e, the automaker’s second plug-in-hybrid crossover and one of many more electrified models on the way.
The GLC350e 4Matic has been available in Europe since the fall of 2016 but won’t arrive at dealers in the United States until this summer. Pricing starts at $50,985, a $7940 premium over a comparable GLC300 4Matic, but that can be tempered with a $4460 federal tax credit. The EPA hasn’t released estimates for fuel economy or range, although the German version claims up to 21 electric miles on the optimistic European cycle, or double what the mid-size GLE550e achieves in U.S. tests. Charging takes less than 2.5 hours with a Level 2 connection.
You could say the e stands for extra: a net 320 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque, up considerably from the GLC300’s 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft. But there’s extra weight, too, as the 8.7-kWh lithium-ion battery, 114-hp electric motor attached to the transmission input shaft, and various electronics required to distribute all that energy add 563 pounds, according to Mercedes, for a 4564-pound curb weight. Even so, Mercedes-Benz estimates the GLC350e is 0.2 second quicker to 60 mph, at 6.2 seconds (we measured 5.9 seconds in a GLC300 4Matic). Using just the electric motor, the GLC350e has 251 lb-ft of torque and is capable of an 87-mph top speed.
That’s possible in one of the four driving modes, which like those in BMW and Volvo plug-ins, can alter the powertrain’s mix of electric and gas-electric driving. The standard Hybrid mode does the hybrid thing we all know, while in E-Mode the GLC350e is powered solely by its electric motor. The other two modes, E-Save and Charge, keep just the gas engine running; E-Save lets the driver conserve battery power for later, and Charge replenishes the battery while driving.
Opting for the $2200 Intelligent Hybrid Navigation and Multimedia Package gives the hybrid system an honorary master’s degree. Like BMW’s eDrive, the GLC350e uses an active navigation route to inform gear selection and plan the ideal mix of gas and electric operation, such as letting the engine run longer to charge the battery before entering a town center, where electric-only driving is preferred. The system factors live traffic, hills, turns, and other map data into its hybrid decision making. Without an active route, the car will look at these same parameters for up to four miles ahead on the current road.
Mercedes also includes a “haptic accelerator pedal” that applies counter-pressure to the driver’s foot. It’s similar to Infiniti’s “eco pedal” in that it encourages gentler acceleration. In the Benz, this pedal resists downward motion to the exact point where the vehicle can maintain electric operation. Push harder, and the gas engine fires up for more power. The pedal also suggests, via two pulsing sensations, when the driver can ease off the throttle to save fuel while maintaining a current speed.
Regenerative braking varies depending on the vehicle ahead, using the GLC’s forward-looking radar to alter the engine braking. Adding the $2250 Driver Assistance package enhances this feature, as it uses longer-range radar for the adaptive cruise-control system.
But the e also stands for eliminate. This GLC gives up 5.5 cubic feet of luggage space, 4.2 gallons of fuel capacity, and two gears to the regular GLC300 4Matic with its nine-speed automatic. Plug-in hybrids are a weird, somewhat disjointed mixed breed, but for highly eco-minded drivers who are willing to embrace its complexity, the GLC350e might make an attractive choice. Everyone else will choose the GLC300—or, our preference, the sportier GLC43.