Nearly a year ago, a diesel-hybrid Mercedes-Benz was involved in something a bit crazy. One journalist, one car, one destination, and one goal: to travel from North Africa to the UK on a single tank of fuel.
The journey would take the ambitious Andrew Frankel, senior contributor at Autocar, and a special E-Class through Morocco, Spain, and France, surviving various weather and traffic conditions, before arriving at his destination at Goodwood, in the United Kingdom.
27 hours later, Frankel did in fact reach his destination without needing a single stop for fuel, travelling a distance of 1968 kilometres, with a range of 160km left in his 80-litre fuel tank. His average consumption was 3.8 -litres/100km throughout the journey. Impressive, isn’t it?
The Malaysian E 300 BlueTEC Hybrid Challenge
The car that did it all for Frankel was the very same 2015 Mercedes-Benz E 300 BlueTEC Hybrid we have in Malaysia, equipped with the optional 80-litre fuel tank over the standard 60-litre ones – by default, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia has made the optional larger tank a standard feature on all its E 300 BlueTEC Hybrids here.
But as we’ll explain shortly, Frankel’s vehicle was specified quite differently to the Malaysian-spec cars we had – which ought to inevitably show differing results, right? We’ll see.
RECAP: Just in case you missed our launch coverage or need a bit of a refresher, here’s a brief recap of the car at hand. The E 300 BlueTEC Hybrid is powered by a 2.1-litre turbo-diesel engine that makes 204hp and 500Nm of torque. Making it a hybrid is the addition of a 20kW, 250Nm of torque electric motor that takes the place of the torque converter in the transmission.
The 19kW lithium-ion battery is capable of powering the vehicle’s forward motion for a claimed distance of 1km, and up to a top speed of 35km/h before the combustion engine automatically kicks in. There is a second 12V battery located in the boot of the car (main lithium-ion traction battery is in the front) that helps to power standard power-consuming devices such as the headlamps and air-conditioning.
In short, this, together with the various fuel-saving features such as the ECO start/stop function, gives you the benefit of driving away from standstill on pure electric power, while other features like a ‘sailing’ function lets you coast along highways for further distances at a time, without ‘bogging down’ the vehicle with energy regenerative measures.
KEY SPECS: 2015 Mercedes-Benz E-Class E 300 BlueTEC Hybrid
- Price: RM338,888
- Engine: 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel
- Electric Motor: 20kW, 250Nm of torque
- Traction Battery: Lithium-ion, 19kW/ 0.8kWh
- Transmission: 7G-TRONIC PLUS Seven-speed torque converter automatic
- Electric Driving Range: 1km, up to 35km/h
- Power: 204hp (total system output)
- Torque: 500Nm (total system output)
- 0-100km/h: 7.1 seconds
- Top Speed: 242km/h
- Fuel consumption: 4.1-litres/100km (claimed, NEDC test cycle)
- CO2 Emissions: 109g/km
Challenges Accepted: The perils of Malaysian specifications
Six Malaysian and six Thai journalists were fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to drive several of those very models from KL to Bangkok, on a near 1,500km trip across the border to find out for ourselves if or not the car in question was truly capable of the feat.
Starting from the Saujana Kuala Lumpur resort off the old Subang Jaya airport road, and destined for the Mercedes-Benz Metro Autohaus in Bangkok, the rules for the challenge were simple enough: two drivers per car, driving at whatever pace/ speed was most comfortable to us for the near 1,500km trip, and that was pretty much it. No silly time penalties for being late, no sealing of the air-conditioning controls; only the fuel filler lids were sealed (as pictured above).
However, there were some variables such as the nature of our climate, features of the Malaysian-spec cars, fuel grades and more. These were all going to play massive roles in our results, and here’s a few brief reasons why:
WEATHER: With a sunroof and only a fabric blind to shield from the direct sun and 35 to 40-degree Celsius temperatures outside, we would have to keep the A/C running to keep us any sort of comfortable. We doubt Frankel’s drive saw this much persistent heat for him to need the A/C. With temps set between 21 to 25 degrees for the most part of our drive, we discovered later how massively influential it can be to your consumption results.
AERODYNAMICS: The spec of car that Andrew Frankel completed his 1,968km journey in looks as you see above – a bog standard E 300 BlueTEC Hybrid with smaller 17-inch wheels, and a base exterior kit. We had a full-spec AMG exterior package, larger 18-inch wheels, and a sunroof – great for premium style and comfort, not so great for fuel efficiency challenges.
EURO 2M: Plainly, the Euro 6 grade of diesel used in the UK makes a vast difference in performance against our Euro 2M. Apart from the harmful gasses caused by things like the higher sulphur content in our Euro 2M, Euro 6 simply burns cleaner, and most importantly, improves fuel efficiency and engine performance.
TRAFFIC & NAVI: This was another issue: yes, we were on straight highways for the most part, and there was a massive benefit gained from being able to drive on familiar Malaysian roads on the first 500km or so. Then of course, began the Thai adventure, which started out with a difficult border crossing, and ended in the perils of Bangkok’s simply mad traffic.
To help us navigate the route, we relied on the E-Class’ on-board navigation (COMAND Online). You’ll note that some of the competing cars may have longer distances clocked, but that's largely because some of us were on the rare occasion taken on a slightly longer way around by the sat nav, or plainly took a wrong turn somewhere.
So, can it be done?
Well, if you’re asking this in the context of everyday driving in Malaysia, then the answer is a resounding and firm “no.” Having experienced what you’d have to endure to get anywhere close to 2,000km from a single tank, we can safely say that the combination of Malaysian traffic, treacherous road conditions and poor standard of driving will completely neuter any chances you might have of achieving this.
Our positive results were a sum of long highways, careful throttle usage, and being considerate of the air-conditioning. There were instances of running into urban traffic and its stop/go situations, but far fewer than what we’d normally run into on a daily basis in the Klang Valley, for example.
So, while we may have been able to best Mercedes-Benz’s claim of 4.1-litres/100km (our top-drawer efforts resulted in 4.0-litres/100km over a 470km stretch), we can’t say that the results are easily replicable in urban Klang Valley, for example. But you can get very, very close, and that’s massively impressive any way you look at it – especially for a luxury-minded sedan.
Largely influencing the end results would be the various driving styles taken by each car/ driver. While some of us actually ‘hypermiled’ it in the spirit of competition, others (basically the Thais) were more invested in snapping the best photos and escorting the film crew about. As you can imagine, the Malaysian lot were reliably the most unnecessarily competitive bunch – us included, of course.
But it wasn’t like that all of the time, for us at least. My co-driver, Anthony, and I fell into a bit of a hybrid approach. With one lacking sleep and the other good health on the first day, we kept the A/C on at 21-degrees Celsius throughout the first day, and cared little for what gears or revs we were on. We picked ourselves up a little more on day two, and only really gunned for glory on the final day (3), even shutting off the A/C for a good 80% of the day’s driving, in an impromptu game of car sauna.
The other two Malaysian cars (six drivers, three cars in total for us) took unique approaches as well.
Car no.3 took what was probably the most consistent approach: never too aggressive, never too light-footed, while car no.4, the eventual champions, came away with an overall consumption figure of 4.3-litres/100km with their full-on hypermilling.
Their attempt was by far the most ridiculous, too: sweating it out under the 35-degree+ heat, constantly crawling off the line as gently as humanly possible, being extremely delicate with the throttle, and keeping their gazes fixed on the live consumption readings. In this country, it’s a matter of time before you get beaten for driving in that way, but having crossed the border, it gave us a chance to discover how truly patient the Thais are on the road – we never heard a single beep of a horn. Not once!
Day 1 of the Hybrid Approach: The real-world test
As mentioned, the first day of our ‘hybrid’ approach saw us go somewhat gentle on the throttle, whilst maintaining an average top speed that barely exceeded the local speed limit. Our bad shape that morning saw us maintain the A/C’s temperature at 21-degrees Celsius. We overtook cars as we approached them, but maintained the intent of keeping our revs under 2,000rpm – which you can do rather easily with the E-Class’ 7G-Tronic transmission. This was also a tip provided by MBM’s drivers.
Regardless, we managed 4.9-litres/100km over the 535km travelled, as we crossed the border into Thailand, and made our first stop in Hat Yai, Thailand.
Day 2 of the Hybrid Approach: Half-and-half
On the second day, my co-driver and I felt a whole lot better after a relatively good night’s sleep. As a bonus, however, I did manage to magically conjure up an eye infection.
We decided to try a little bit harder to challenge the Malaysian hypermilers, this time maintaining the air-conditioning between a warmer 24- and 25-degrees Celsius, and being a lot more mindful of our throttle inputs than the previous day.
It wasn’t long before my co-driver and I intuitively discovered a groove for the milking the most efficiency out of the car: keeping it between the 80 to 95km/h mark, maintaining seventh gear as much as possible, and making sure revs stayed under 1,500rpm. We also began to focus on maximising the car’s own clever fuel-saving tech, using the E 300’s sailing function a lot more: while coasting and regenerating energy, flick the ‘up’ paddle shift once to stop the car from regenerating energy and allow it to ‘sail’ further.
Anticipating traffic lights better was quickly added to our to-do list, once we figured out the pattern of road signs which led up to a potential red light.
And the end of day two, we had covered nearly 500km, for a total of around 1,032km driven so far. We also managed to lower our overall fuel consumption average from 4.9-litres/100km to 4.7-litres/100km – all with a little bit more patience and understanding of the powertrain and vehicle’s characteristics. The day’s consumption average alone was 4.5-litres/100km.
Day 3 of the Hybrid Approach: All-out hypermiling
Recovered from an eye-infection that suddenly developed on day 1, and a mild cold that came on day 2, yours truly said to his co-driver on the third day, “Today, we go hard, or we go home.” And since our flight back was only booked for a day after, “going home” wasn’t an option.
The drastic measures we took included a discipline to creep off the line entirely in electric mode for as long as we could hold it (deserving the awkward stares we got from other road users), feathering the throttle barefoot, switching off the air-conditioning entirely for a good majority of the drive despite the 35- to 40-degree heat, and constantly putting the transmission in neutral whenever we could: with the benefit of the car’s engine start-stop function, we would literally roll on this way for hundreds of metres at a time before slipping back into a gear and restarting the engine.
It was utter madness; we were pulling out all the stops. But we had to know what a hypermiler could achieve if they tried really, really hard.
After 470km or so of torturing ourselves in a car with its windows shut, A/C off and under the sort of heat we were under (yes, we were that sweaty afterwards), we came away with a decent surprise for ourselves, especially after dealing with Bangkok’s rush-hour traffic at the very end of our journey.
Getting into the Metro Autohaus dealership with an average of 4.0-litres/100km as day’s result, we were completely ecstatic to have delivered the best average over a single day for the entire group – the next closest was 4.2-litres/100km (car no.4), achieved by the winning team that also scored their best daily score over the three-day journey. The third Malaysian car (car no.3) managed a more realistic 4.5-litres/100km.
Over the entire three-day journey, we could only manage an average of 4.5-litres/100km, which was good for second place in the competition. We did however have an estimated range of 446km left on the multi-info display, with a clear quarter tank of diesel remaining.
So there you have it: after nearly 23 hours of driving, covering a total distance of 1477km from KL to Bangkok, we achieved an average fuel consumption of 4.5-litres/100km from our mixed driving styles, with 446km, or, a quarter tank of diesel left in the car. You could add the numbers up to say a total of 1,923km was theoretically possible. Damn, were we impressed.
In hindsight, despite the differences between the Malaysian-spec, AMG-outfitted, E 300 BlueTEC Hybrid and the base model Frankel drove from Africa to the UK, our cars performed amazingly well to achieve the sort of results it did.
And yes, we know Isuzu’s D-Max has just done one better, going from Bangkok to Singapore on a single 76-litre tank of diesel, but we’re quite certain we were all better off revelling in the comfort and luxury of a proper top-spec Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Here are the overall results of our faithful Car No.2, and the winning Car. No.4:
Overall Car No.2 (our car):
- 4.5-litres/100km average
- 1477km distance travelled
- 446km range remaining (quarter tank)
- 22:28 hours driving time
Overall Car No.4:
- 4.3-litres/100km average
- 1486km distance travelled
- 23:11 hours driving time