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First drive: Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

First drive: Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell
A glimpse of the future in an updated Mercedes GLC F-Cell.

   



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Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

While everyone else has been concentrating on electric power, Mercedes has continued to develop its hydrogen fuel cell technology. Fitted to the updated GLC, the F-Cell system provides a tantalising glimpse of what might be yet to come.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell
Pricing: GLC starts at 39,420
Engine: hydrogen fuel cell with plug-in hybrid module
Transmission: single-speed reduction gear, rear-wheel drive
Body style: five-door, five-seat SUV
CO2 emissions: 0g/km (Band 0 - 0 per annum)
Total range: 297 miles (on NEDC test)
Power: 211hp
Torque: 365Nm

What's this?

We're driving the future, or at least a possible version of the future. Or at least a possible adjunct to a possible version of the future. You see, while the likes of Volkswagen have been getting all hot and bothered about battery electric cars, Mercedes has been quietly getting on with keeping its hydrogen fuel cell research going, and the results are... interesting.

This, the GLC F-Cell, combines a hydrogen fuel cell mounted in the front of the car with a plug-in-hybrid powertrain, essentially lifted wholesale from the upcoming petrol and diesel plug-in hybrid GLC models, and it makes for a fascinating combination.

The fuel cell makes its own electricity on the move by combining hydrogen with oxygen from the air outside the car and it is now compact enough to slot into the GLC's engine bay where a petrol or diesel engine would normally sit. In fact, it even uses the same engine mounting points so that this GLC can be built on the same production line as a more conventional version.

Under the back seat (which has been raised up a little) and in what was the transmission tunnel are hydrogen gas tanks, which hold around 4.4kg of hydrogen.

Power goes only to the rear, where you'll find a 155kW electric motor (211hp equivalent, with 365Nm of torque) making this, technically, a front-engined-rear-engined-rear-wheel-drive-only-SUV. Ahem.

Mercedes says that this car is packed with innovation, not least that its fuel cell needs 90 per cent less platinum (used as a catalyst in the hydrogen-oxygen combination process) than before, which is good for both price and for needing to dig up fewer precious metals.

The plug-in hybrid module uses a 13kWh battery (which sits under a slightly raised-up panel in the boot) and when it's fully charged (takes about an hour from a charging post) it adds 30 miles of range to proceedings. Mercedes touts this as a convenience factor, given that hydrogen fuelling stations are still very thin on the ground. Put the battery and the fuel cell together and Mercedes says that you can go for 297 miles on a full tank and a full charge.

That's helped by such things as a haptic throttle pedal system (which scans the road ahead on the satnav and pulses to tell you to lift off to achieve maximum brake energy recuperation) and adjustable brake energy recuperation. You can choose from how much braking you want the motor to do with repurposed gearshift paddles, but there's a really clever wrinkle. The system is tied into the traffic sign recognition camera, so say you approach a 40mph speed limit while doing 50mph. The regenerative braking system will give you maximum retardation until you slow to 40mph, and then allow the car to freewheel for better efficiency. It also uses the cruise control radar to scan ahead for slow traffic, and again adjusts the braking settings.

How does it drive?

The F-Cell's best aspect is its refinement. Not only is the combined hydrogen and battery powertrain almost totally silent in operation, Mercedes has also brought the acoustic windscreen and other sound-deadening features over from the all-battery EQC electric car, and the result is a cabin that's basically silent at all times. Even driving on concrete-surfaced Autobahns failed to elicit more than a murmur of tyre noise, and wind rustle is equally well suppressed.

Combine that with the easy, smooth power of the electric motor and you have a supremely relaxing car to drive. Plus, this being a fuel cell car, once you do run out of range, you won't need to sit, harnessed to a charging post, for hours on end. As long as you can find a hydrogen fuelling station, you can be topped up and on your way again in less than five minutes.

We've become used to electric cars (Tesla, Jaguar I-Pace and Audi e-tron to name just three) with explosive, instant acceleration and the F-Cell just isn't like that. With 365Nm of torque on offer, and only one electric motor, it's pretty sedate. It's fine, and it flows easily with fast motorway traffic, but it's not thrilling.

Mercedes doesn't quote a kerb weight for the car, but it must be well on the wrong side of two tonnes and, although you can feel that all of that weight is mounted down low, you do feel the car slowly dragging itself into understeer through a long corner.

Then there's the range. NEDC estimates of range are always over-optimistic, and the 297-mile range shrinks to more like 180 miles, or less, when you're actually using the car. Not terrible, given the quick refuelling times, but battery electric rivals can do better.

Finally, there's the simple fact that you can't buy one in the UK yet. There is only a tiny number of hydrogen fuelling stations in the UK - three in London, and a few more scattered across the rest of the country. That may well change in the coming years, but it won't be overnight and in the meantime the F-Cell may well be overtaken by electric rivals, not least Mercedes' own EQC.

Verdict

On the one hand, the GLC F-Cell is brilliantly impressive, and truly futuristic. It basically uses star fuel to create electricity and turns that into forward motion, doing so with some of the best refinement we've ever experienced. Sadly, it lacks the enervating performance of its battery electric rivals, it's heavy, complicated and would be hugely expensive even if you could buy one in the UK. Which you can't.

We asked Mercedes why it's keeping on with hydrogen tech, when it's also gearing up to launch a full range of all-battery EQ models. The answer? Partly because hydrogen is a better solution for big, hefty, commercial vehicles, and partly because you just never know - hydrogen could yet turn out to be the next big thing.

Either way, it's a fascinating car, if still something of a flawed overall proposition.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Passenger Space

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

3 3 3 3 3 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain


Neil Briscoe - 7 Jun 2019



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2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell. Image by Mercedes-Benz.








 

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