The world's first fuel-cell SUV with lithium-ion battery storage allows Mercedes to bet on two technologies in one car
Pick your power, Mercedes' 1st fuel-cell SUV The Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell drives like any modern electric vehicle, offering seamless acceleration and instantaneous torque. PHOTO: DAIMLER

Mercedes-Benz's latest hydrogen fuel-cell car is a sport utility vehicle (SUV) which also has a lithium-ion battery pack.

This strategy allows power recuperation, which vehicles running on only fuel cell - a battery which makes its own power - do not enjoy.

In 2002, Mercedes ran a fleet of 60 fuel-cell A-class cars in various cities, with six arriving in Singapore in 2004. A second-generation Merc fuel-cell model made use of the bigger B-class.

Today, the third-generation hydrogen-powered electric car is a production-ready GLC. It looks no different from the popular GLC250, but it is a rather unique SUV.

Using a domestic 230-volt electric supply, its 13.5kWh battery pack can be fully charged from 10 per cent in approximately 11/2 hours.

Its fuel cell, on the other hand, requires a steady supply of hydrogen. Two high-pressure storage tanks hold 4.4kg of pure hydrogen. Filling the tanks to full capacity takes less than three minutes - about the same time it takes to fill up an 80-litre petrol tank.

The only thing is that hydrogen refuelling stations are not exactly widely available today.

In the GLC F-Cell, an electric compressor feeds air from the outside into the fuel-cell matrix. Oxygen in the air mixes with the on-board hydrogen to make electricity via a complex chemical process.

The GLC F-Cell drives like any modern electric vehicle. It offers seamless acceleration and instantaneous torque. As the model is still in pre-production stage, no acceleration figures have been quoted and neither was there an opportunity for us to clock standing-start spurts on the busy Stuttgart streets we drove on.

Still, a 211hp motor with 365Nm of torque should be good for moving the rear-wheel-drive five-seater from zero to 100 in less than seven seconds.

Of more interest was a facility to select how you would like to power the car's motor.

In Hybrid mode, the car's control system optimises the combination of battery and fuel-cell energy consumption so that the car's claimed 478km range is achieved.

In Battery mode, the car runs exclusively on its lithium-ion battery for up to 50km. This is useful if you do not live or work near a hydrogen refuelling station.

In F-Cell mode, battery charging (recuperation) is suspended, with all power from the fuel cell going to the motor.

Lastly, the Charge mode is what you would select if you wish to maintain a level of battery charge that you are comfortable with.

The GLC F-Cell makes sense in a country like Germany, where there will be 100 hydrogen refuelling stations by the end of next year, with at least 300 more due to be commissioned in the coming years.

With its battery pack, the car provides some comfort should there be no refuelling kiosk in sight.

Like all fuel-cell cars, the hydrogen Merc's biggest attraction is its 300km range and fast refuelling time. Questions that remain include its selling price - fuel-cell cars are much costlier than battery-powered cars, which in turn are costlier than petrol equivalents - and the price of hydrogen fuel.

There are no plans to import the car to Singapore until hydrogen stations are available.