Mercedes hybrid makes KL-Bangkok run

By JAY WONG | 27 May 2015

Single tank challenge – take-two!

And this time around it’ll be done in a Mercedes-Benz E 300 BlueTEC Hybrid priced at RM338,888 (OTR including GST without insurance) that’ll be driven from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, Thailand.

In the past, we haven’t been too lucky when it comes to these types of fuel runs; in fact, we had the misadventure of being disqualified at the very start of our attempt.

Disheartened, we made the best of the situation – but still, the memory remains.

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Seizing the opportunity to set things right, we went off for one of the longest ordeals we’ve ever experienced in an attempt to use the least amount of fuel possible over the course of three days.

To complicate matters, national pride was now at stake with our learned colleagues from Thailand joining in on the “fun” – just under 1,500km spread over the next three days.

No doubt we were all driving the same model, ours was the odd one out with a rear boot lid spoiler that adds some downforce and the Mecedes-Benz logo on the front grille which lights up when a door is opened.

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Other than those two items, everything was to factory specification.

To reduce the tyres’ rolling resistance, their pressure was increased to roughly 44psi.

The higher pressure did result in a firmer ride but overall comfort wasn’t compromised.

Before we began our long journey, we were allowed to manage the settings within the car and we were hell-bent on ensuring that electrical drain from the 0.8kWh lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery was minimised by non-essential equipment.

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That meant that both ambient lighting and the instrument cluster was set to the lowest brightness and the climate control temperature was set to 26 Celsius on the lowest speed, which gave us a slight trickle of air from the vents.

Under the hood lies a 2.1-litre turbodiesel married to the 7G-Tronic Plus seven-speed automatic transmission with 201bhp at 4,200rpm and a massive 500Nm of torque that’s available from 1,600 to 1,800rpm.

Additionally, the electric motor is capable of supplying up to 250Nm of torque when in Electric Vehicle
(EV) mode.

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The strategies employed throughout the three days required a feather-light foot so that revs don’t climb past 2,000rpm and utmost vigilance to ensure that we maintained a fuel economy of about 4.0 litres per 100km.

In addition, where possible, using EV mode would help to drastically reduce fuel consumption, especially when moving off from standstill and maintaining that mode for as long as possible.

However, it has to be noted that while in EV mode, the E 300 hybrid can only get up to a maximum speed of 35kph and its accelerative properties are far from that of a Mercedes F1 car.

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But maintaining EV mode would prove to be more difficult than we initially imagined, since a slight over-prod of the accelerator pedal may start up the engine, which meant that the throttle had to be feathered ever so delicately and stay in EV mode for as long as the battery allowed.

Ideally, we tried maintaining an average speed of 80kph or more that would allow the transmission to use seventh gear, but anything less than that and the transmission would drop to sixth.

As we wiled the miles away and the trees passing by like a slow flip of a book’s page, no one would have even imagined that two guys in a car would get overly excited about a down hill slope.

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The only reason was that these hills were crucial in gaining more speed, momentum and the opportunity to engage sailing mode which allows the engine to shut down and allow the electric motor to take over.

But while in sailing mode, the electric motor can act like a generator, trying to recharge the battery, which feels like engine braking, but can be cancelled by pulling on the right paddle shifter.

But in order to be effective in going up and over hills, travelling at between 100kph and 110kph to start with would help tremendously - but getting up to that speed means going over a fair number of hills to begin with.

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By using all these strategies, we were able to emerge victorious with an average fuel economy of 4.3l/100km after covering a total of 1,486km at an average speed of 64kph and a total drive time of 23 hours and 10 minutes.

And even at the end of it all, our car still had slightly more than a quarter of fuel left in the 80-litre tank, which leads us to believe that a Bangkok to Singapore road trip is possible in this hybrid.