Mercedes-Benz offers one of the most powerful sedans in the world with its AMG-tuned S-Class models. But that might not be good enough for those desiring the coddling nature of a superlative motorcar along with the responsibilities of being a good citizen. Mercedes has heard the call and come forth with the 2011Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid.

What is it?
The Mercedes–Benz S400 Hybrid is the marque’s largest production luxury sedan available today. Favored by athletes, and rulers, Russian entrepreneurs and Oil oligarchs, the S-Class – Sonderklasse for those who sprechen zee – refers to the Special Class that the S400 resides in. A four- or five-seater, depending on configuration, it is considered a “mild hybrid.” It features a motor generating unit and lightweight lithium–ion battery pack that operates in conjunction with the brand’s 3.5-liter V-6 engine.

This hybrid version is also both the least expensive and least thirsty S-Class in the automaker’s lineup – at least until the diesel-powered S350 BlueTEC 4MATIC arrives in a couple of months.

What’s it up against?
The luxury-hybrid market is filling up. Currently, you’ll find hybrid offerings from Infiniti with their M Hybrid, BMW with their 7-series Hybrid, and Lexus with their GS and LS Hybrid models.

Porsche also shows up in the 2012 model year with its Panamera Hybrid.

Check out the parking lot of the next film debut in Hollywood and we bet you’ll find more than a few of the vehicles listed above.

Any breakthroughs?
The most important breakthrough is in class-above power from a smaller sized engine. Meaning, the S-Class Hybrid achieves V8 power with V6 fuel economy.

Add to that the normal items that make a Merc a Merc: Active Lane-Keeping Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist and an available Pre-Safe braking system with 100-percent braking in emergencies.

All these safety assists are amazing and welcomed additions to the segment. But the truth is we think M-B’s Splitview dual-image video display is the cat’s behind in entertainment features, allowing the driver to view the navigation system, while the passenger is viewing a movie.

How does it look?
Muscular and capable are two words that come to mind. Long and rich are a couple of others. Regardless of how you care to describe it, the S400 Hybrid is a car with a commanding presence.

Not as sharp looking as its S63 AMG cousin from Affalterbach, due to the lack of spoilers and low-profile wheels and tires, it’s still a vehicle that demands respect. Can you imagine that? A vehicle that commands respect? Amazing what we have come to.

The front fascia now has the addition of LED running lights in the under-bumper grille area. Also included is the body-colored roof panel, which accommodates the sun and moon roof. Other than that, the only way you could tell this is anything other than a standard S–Class is by way of the hybrid and BlueEfficiency badging seen on the deck lid and the front fenders. Oh, and perhaps on the satisfied faces of the S400’s owners who have that smug look that says they are saving money on fuel prices. It’s tough being upper crust.

And on the inside?
Standard S–class fare here, our interior was covered in black leather and brown contrast stitching and our most favored invention in the world, ventilated and dynamically bolstered seating with massage functions. The TFT screen inside the main binnacle features modifiable readouts, which can be changed to show hybrid battery status, navigation cues, audio status, and Bluetooth settings. The eight-inch in-dash monitor features a bird’s eye view, 3-D navigation display and the SplitView feature that splits the pixels so that the driver could see navigation information while the spousal unit caught up on the latest from Netflix.

Eucalyptus wood trim panels form a waist rail across the dashboard and around the interior. Extending to the center console, they provide a feeling of warmth that some automakers don’t get, what with all their carbon fiber trimmings. The rear seating area is big enough to divide into smaller rooms as families did on New York’s lower East side at the turn of the last century. The only thing really lacking is a refrigerator to go with the individual video monitors in the front seat headrests.

Remember, you can’t drive your house, but you can always sleep in your car.

But does it go?
The 3.5-liter V6 under hood is a 24-valve DOHC setup with a two-stage variable–length intake manifold. By itself, it produces 275 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. Its torque is rated at 258 lb-ft, which comes on between 2,400 and 5,000 rpm. A three–phase AC motor generating unit and lithium–ion battery pack supply 20 horsepower and 118 lb-ft of torque for a combined output of 295 horsepower and 284 lb-ft of torque. Don’t try to add a+b to equal c. We’re talking new math here.

The motivation is mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission that uses Mercedes-Benz’s direct select gear selector or the steering wheel-mounted paddle shift levers. The suspension is the Mercedes four-wheel independent set up with a four-link system, and a stabilizer bar in front with anti-lift controls, and M-B’s Airmatic air suspension system with adaptive dampers, while another multi-link setup with anti-squat and an anti-dive system takes control in the rear. All the while, a speed-sensitive power-assisted rack and pinion set up points the way up front.

Recuperative braking, M-B’s version of regenerative braking, returns energy to the battery pack on deceleration.

Curb weight for this elegant beast is 4,474 lbs. Not as heavy as some others in the S–Class lineup, the S400 achieves zero to 60mph in 7.2 seconds and tops out at 130 mph. The EPA says to look for mileage figures of 19 city/25 highway miles per gallon, but we were able to best that on a few occasions.

A rather high tip-in takes a few minutes of getting used to. But once underway, the S400 turns in a totally seamless performance where you most likely will not even feel that you are in a hybrid vehicle, save for the badging on the dash and the digital/TFT energy screen readout on the eight-inch monitor or in the middle of the speedometer. The paddles allowed us to drop-gear the hybrid around slower traffic on demand. It was a welcome addition that enabled us to sassy up a car that usually does not want that sort of attention.

We enjoyed the ability to sportify the dampers by touching a dash-mounted button, and then if the road became too harsh, settle back into Economy/Comfort mode, especially while running on constantly-under-construction roads around Boston. On through the rolling hills of Cape Cod, the S Hybrid showed great road manners while giving a sporty, firm feeling that managed to evaporate any hint of hybrid-ness. The end result of a 65-mile drive from Falmouth to Boston, through stop and go, combined with highway driving, had us at an average of 30.2 mpg.

An auto start/stop system cut the engine off while at stoplights, while the motor generating unit kept the interior cool, and the tuneage flowing. Take your foot off the brakes and the engine roars, well, purrs back to life. The vault-like door seal on this S-Class made sure that very little in the way of extraneous noise was able to penetrate the interior.

We wish all hybrids operated this well.

Why you would buy it:
Even though your blue-chip petroleum stocks are outperforming everything else on Wall Street, the gas prices at the pump are killing you.

Why you wouldn’t:
You come from a family comprised of a long line of sheiks and/or oil barons.

Leftlane’s bottom line
Hey, times are tough all over, including the segment where fuel costs are no object.

For those desiring a reasonably priced, large luxury car that shows you’ve arrived without maxing out your oil company credit card, Mercedes–Benz has you covered.

2011 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid base price, $91,000. As tested, $101,745.
Premium leather, $2,290; Contrasting stitching, $300; Heated steering wheel, $490; Splitview monitor, $710; Premium package, $3,630; Rear seat entertainment package, $2,450; Destination, $875.

About these ads