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2010 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Hybrid Review

This review was written when the 2010 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Hybrid was new.

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan, one of the world’s most luxurious cars since the 1950’s, is now available in a gas-electric hybrid model. The most fuel-efficient super luxury sedan on the market this year, it doesn’t offer the extraordinary power ultra-premium sedan buyers expect, but it does feature a sumptuous cabin, and a long list of safety features.

The all-new Mercedes Benz S400 Hybrid has a different set of priorities than any other super luxury sedan. While most six-figure four-doors could beat many sports cars in a drag race, the S-Class Hybrid offers power levels mere mortals can comprehend. Its V6 engine and electric motor combined give it 295 horsepower -- nothing to be ashamed of, but still nearly 100 fewer than the least-powerful gasoline-powered S-Class.   

Even the Lexus LS600h, the only other hybrid-powered super luxury sedan for sale in the U.S. this year, takes a completely different approach. It links a powerful V8 to an electric motor for V12-like power -- and actually out-accelerates its gas-powered cousin.

The S-Class Hybrid, instead, is a supremely comfortable luxury cruiser without high-performance pretensions. It offers the best fuel economy in its class, with refined road manners and a level of luxury many ultra-premium sedans can’t match. 

Inside, you’ll find old-world ambiance. Quilted leather and burl walnut dominate a supremely quiet cabin, with barely an ounce of plastic to be found. Advanced technologies include an outstanding 15-speaker harmon/kardon sound system, and the first dual-view navigation screen for sale in the United States -- it can show a movie on DVD to the front seat passenger while showing a navigation screen to the driver. Its optional Drive Dynamic seats, which actually change shape to cradle passengers in response to the car’s movements, may be the most comfortable available outside of hand-built coachmade cars like the Rolls Royce Phantom.

The S-Class Hybrid debuts some extraordinary new safety systems, such as Mercedes’ new, heavily-advertised Attention Assist driver drowsiness monitor, which attempts to detect and alert a tiring driver. A technology tour-de-force, the S400 is also the first car sold in the U.S. to use an advanced Lithium-ion battery. Smaller and lighter than conventional Nickel-Metal Hydride batteries, Lithium cells charge faster and hold more power for their weight. The battery’s small size means that Mercedes engineers were able to locate the cell under the hood, instead of behind the cabin, where the batteries of most hybrid cars are found. That makes the S400 the only hybrid currently for sale with a full-size trunk.

It is also, remarkably, the least-expensive version of Mercedes’ flagship sedan. The point-of-entry for those who have always dreamed of owning the top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz is actually the technologically-advanced hybrid model. The less-efficient S550 runs a few thousand dollars more, while high-performance editions like the S65 AMG, reviewed separately, can command more than twice the price of this car.

The car has a few flaws. Reviewers continue to be frustrated with Mercedes’ complex COMAND system, which makes adjusting everything from the radio station to the firmness of the seats a complicated process involving a series of menus on the navigation screen. A few also say that the car’s steering feels numb and overboosted.

Other Cars to Consider

Ultra-luxury buyers might also consider the Lexus LS600h. Lexus’ super-luxury hybrid outperforms the S-Class easily, but can’t match its fuel economy. Buyers also might want to wait, since BMW has said it plans to release a hybrid-powered 7-Series sedan for the 2011 model year. Jaguar will release an all-new XJ sedan early in the 2011 model year, with a hybrid edition to follow by the end of 2010. But those looking for a supremely luxurious car that makes an environmentally-conscious statement while coddling occupants might find the new S400 Hybrid to be the best solution currently available -- and the only one with the cachet of a Mercedes-Benz.

Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid: The Details

The 2010 S400 hybrid is offered in a single trim level, but it's extraordinarily well-equipped, with several luxury features not available on gasoline-powered editions.

  • "A nearly 2 1/2 -ton luxury tank, replete with all of the comforts and conveniences of the modern, high-end car, that has seats for five people and a trunk big enough to carry all of their stuff, that gets a combined 22.5 miles per gallon." -- Washington Post
  • "The Benz and the Lexus behave so differently that you realize this isn't a battle of which car is the better sedan, it's a clash between two philosophies.” -- Automobile Magazine
  • “Remember that this S400 represents a very light dose of hybridness.” -- Motor Trend
Review Last Updated: 4/13/10

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