Richard Aucock | November 2014
Mercedes-Benz now offers three hybrid versions of the all-conquering new S-Class; the best car in the world offers the best choice of eco-friendly electric-assist models.
The S 400 Hybrid and S 500 Plug-In Hybrid are expensive range-toppers that offer multi-cylinder luxury – but the S 300 BlueTEC Hybrid is likely to be the volume model, thanks to a £72,000 list price. It also has a twist; unlike the other two hybrids, it is diesel-powered. What’s more, that diesel is a four-cylinder motor, not a six-cylinder.
You’d never know. It looks just as rich as the regular S-Class – if anything, the addition of ‘HYBRID’ to the bootlid adds extra kudos over the oh-so familiar S 350 BlueTEC V6 diesel. It’s no different inside, either: Mercedes-Benz does offer power flow displays like the Toyota Prius, but they’re easily avoided. Instead, monitor power flow discreetly using the tweaked dials ahead of the driver.
The difference comes when you move away. Not when you start it up, note: here, because the systems boot up under electric power, it’s better than a regular S-Class, because there’s no engine rumble at all. You can pull away in silence too. But as soon as you demand more, the engine starts up. With a clatter…
The initial impression of the entry-level hybrid S-Class is thus of a surprising four-cylinder diesel clatter – the sort of noise an A-Class normally makes. Luckily, this is the engine operating at its worst (diesels are noisier when cold) and it does quieten down with time and speed.
When cruising, there’s virtually no difference between this and any other S-Class, such is the incredible silence offered by the S-Class. And diminutive it may be, but the engine in combination with 27hp electric motor does largely work well. Step-off torque is swift and the linearity of acceleration adds elegance to the drive.
The seven-speed automatic gearbox is getting on a bit, so can feel surprised by the driver’s demands at times, but again the electric boost helps smooth things out. What’s most impressive is how the engine doesn’t feel lacking in muscle: OK, other S-Class are faster, but this rarely feels bogged down or overwhelmed – and as it’s progress rather than ultimate performance that’s important in a limo, few should find real-world complaint about the balance of power.
The rest of it is am impeccable and world-class as any other S-Class. The ride is exceptional, with two levels of body control depending on how much elegance you want. Handling is confident, steering is sharp and the overall depth of engineer that floods the driver leaves you in no doubt this qualifies as one of the best cars in the world.
Chauffeurs will be best advised to warm their S-Class up before collecting clients. This way, the unrepresentative clatter when cold will fade and probably, from the rear, not be noticeable at all.
Generally, even in tow, the S-Class is an exceptionally quiet car. Wind rustle does not exist, road roar and bump thump is negligible and if you let the electric motor do the work, even this four-cylinder S-Class will wow. Those paying the bills won’t feel short-changed. (They may even feel more special, thanks to the engine-off refinement Mercedes can’t offer.
In chauffeur mode, neither will the driver. The electric torque is easygoing and it’s only pressing on with a laden S-Class will more creativity be required. Let the V6 diesel drivers do their own thing.
Really though, it’s the same S-Class we know and love. A luxury car so far ahead of its rivals in every way – looks, interior, driving dynamics – it’s rankly ridiculous. How Audi, BMW and Jaguar have let Mercedes-Benz get so far ahead of them needs answering, for nothing else is in the same league. Yes, even when the S-Class has an A-Class engine…
Besides, when you’re far back in the back, you won’t feel anything different, and you certainly won’t hear any change in everyday use. It’s the same truly exquisite layout shared by all S-Class. World’s best car interior? It’s firmly on the shortlist.
Don’t make a snap judgment here. If it’s cold, it will rattle, and put you off. Even when warm, it will sound more C-Class than S-Class if you drive it enthusiastically.
But it’s not a sports car. It’s a limo. One that can do 60-plus mpg (as we proved in practice). And if you drive it like a limo, compromises are minimal, the electric torque is welcome and, generally, it should surprise. It proves the S-Class has a future even in the future world of low emissions cars. And this is a very good thing.
Rivals: Mercedes-Benz S 300 Bluetec Hybrid
- Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid
- BMW ActiveHybrid 7
- Audi A8 Hybrid
- Range Rover Hybrid
- Tesla Model S
BMW has a 7 Series rival, but it’s not very good. Audi has a hybrid A8, but that’s not very good either. The brilliant Range Rover is a genuine S-Class rival, and it has a hybrid, but it won’t deliver chauffeur-friendly economy. The Tesla Model S is generally stupendous but how many chauffeurs can afford to stand around for a working day every 300 miles? Which leaves the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid: 91mpg and seats for four. Shame about the lack of S-Class space for four – can you imagine one of these taking Lord Sugar to the airport? 61mpg S-Class, you’re in a class of one.
Specification: Mercedes-Benz S 300 Bluetec Hybrid
Engine: 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel plus electric motor
Gearbox: Seven-speed automatic
Price from: £72,600
Power: 204hp (227hp with electric motor)
Torque: 369lb ft
0-62mph: 7.6 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
MPG: 61.4 combined