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What would it be like if there was a plug-in hybrid with zero emissions all throughout driving? Perfectly plausible, as the Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell is testing.

I drove it. It is just as real as any car out there and does not stand out with any exposure tricks that would reduce its drag coefficient. Nope. Actually, if Mercedes-Benz would have failed, it would not be the same as the GLC, as it makes the difference is underneath its body: the world's first ever fuel cell plug in hybrid drivetrain. Of course, fuel cells have been used for propulsion and the most iconic model series of the child are the Honda Clarity and the Toyota Mirai, currently on sale. Apart from them though, the GLC F-Cell also comes with the possibility of charging the accumulator when directly connected to a power socket, not only with hydrogen. Are you confused now? It's perfectly natural, that's why let us explain how the system operates.

test drive Mercedes GLC F-Cell 2

Under the engine lid, there is a package of 400 fuel cells, with a parallel layout, as books on a shelf, capable of producing 1.0 volt each. Thus the whole system produces a 70-kW current with a voltage of 400 V. Approximately 7.4 kW are used to charge the 13.5 kWh Li-ion battery (with 9.3 kWh are usable in practice) located in the boat, as the rest of it is used to directly supply the electric motor. The battery can therefore be supplied by a socket, with 7.4 kW maximum, in about 1.5 hours, thus saving the hydrogen from the tanks. And even simpler than that, there is an electric motor engaging the rear wheels, which may or may not be used at the same time. 50 km and 478 km more with the 4.4 kg of hydrogen stored in the two tanks: one located beneath the rear seats (40 mm higher than in the GLC) and the other one longitudinally positioned, where the camshaft used to be.

test drive Mercedes GLC F-Cell 1

The Germans' great breakthrough is 30% more compact than the previous version, which allowed them to "squash" into a GLC and the entire package weighs just 100kg more than a plug-in hybrid drivetrain with a gas engine and similar performance. Operation is slightly impacted by the reduction of the boot volume and the lifting of the loading lip, due to the presence of the battery underneath the floor.

The driving experience is … serene: noise-free, flick-free from the drivetrain, roll-free, the child caused by the road bumps. We started off with the battery full (range 45 km, total range 520 km) and started to explore the driving menus: there are three driving modes (Comfort, Eco and Sport) and four operation modes (Hybrid, F Cell, Battery and Charge), I can choose Comfort or Eco. I selected the combo that provides me with the perfect balance between dynamics and efficiency: Comfort and Hybrid. Regardless of being driven using the energy stored in the battery or using the hydrogen in the tank, the noise inside the cabin is extremely low. Practically, the feeling is similar to that of an all-electric automobile. The fuel-cell system sends no shock when it comes to the electric motor. Pay attention though: seamless is nowhere near slow because the 365 Nm are instantly felt when pushing the throttle pedal. Actually, the traction is constant and the peep of the fuel cell is similar to that of the starship enterprise, it is difficult to hear inside ,

  • Zero emissions
  • Fast accelerations and rallies
  • High real combined range
  • Comfortable suspension


  • High inertia
  • Limited hydrogen-charge stations network

19 km from the start, with urban sectors and national roads, the consumtion displayed was 0.3 kg / 100 km of hydrogen, plus 15.8 kWh / 100 km of the socket-charged power. I thus managed to raise the range of 520 km. Displayed by 4.4 km, with the AC on which certifies the figures communicated by the car maker. On bends and upon braking, you can feel the extra weight, but the rear self-leveling air suspension reduces and ensures relaxed driving.

I then reset the dashboard computer, selected the sport mode and drove a bit more pushy and, 47 k later, the consumption was 1.0 kg / 100 km of hydrogen, plus 8.4 kWh / 100 km that had been charged from the power outlet. Conclusion: the fuel cell was active for a longer time, in order to supply the necessary power. The price of a kg of hydrogen in Germany is about 13 euro, so, if you charge your battery, free of charge, from the public stations, the cost per 100 km is 4 euros if you should choose the Comfort – Hybrid combo and of 13 euro / 100 km for sporty driving, in the sport mode. It must be considered as zero emissions.

Initially, the model is only available in Germany, not for purchase, but for long-term rent. The package proposed by Mercedes-Benz alo includes maintenance and possible repairs (quite unlikely, since the system has been tested along three decades of development, covering a distance of 18 million kilometers). The main issue that affects the technology seems to be the paint of a solid hydrogen-charging stations network. In Germany, there are those stations in the main cities, but by the end of 2019, their total number will grow to 100 charging stations.


A one-of-a-kind drivetrain: you can drive to a distance of 450 km. Regardless of what you choose, though, you will not give a single gram of CO2, NOx, nor particles, but water vapors the most.

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