Feeling guilty about the fuel consumption of your Mercedes-Benz S-class, but unwilling to give up the luxury touches and craftsmanship that you've become accustomed to? The 2010 Mercedes-Benz S400 BlueHybrid could be just what you need.
The BlueHybrid isn't a diesel hybrid. Though the name sounds like the car is a Bluetec hybrid, the engine is a familiar 3.5-liter V-6 that burns gasoline, not diesel, but the hybrid car's engine uses the Atkinson cycle instead of the familiar Otto cycle. The starter and alternator are replaced with an electric motor that fits between the flexplate and torque converter, a transformer is added, the air conditioning pump is replaced with an electric unit, and finally the steering is electrohydraulic. Providing power for all these electronic gadgets is a lithium-ion battery. These are about all the major changes needed to turn an S-class into a mild-hybrid vehicle. ; To be clear, the S400 is not a competitor to the Lexus LS600hL. The Mercedes can't move under electric power alone, but there is absolutely no change in interior or trunk volume. Thankfully the mechanical package slots easily into a basic S-class, and nobody would ever know your car was a hybrid if it weren't for the badging. The S400 BlueHybrid is more like the Chevrolet Malibu hybrid, but also far more sophisticated. Another benefit to the relatively small package is a modest gain in weight. Hybrid S-classes only weigh 75 kilograms (165 lb) more than a comparable non-hybrid model, which is about the weight of a passenger and not something you would notice in a car this heavy. ; We had a chance to sample an S400 in Germany today, and the driving experience was great. The brakes feel a little different since the actual disc brakes don't engage immediately (the electric motor goes through a regenerative braking process first, then the discs start to grab and work in concert with the electric motor), but it doesn't take too long to get used to the somewhat squishy pedal. ; While accelerating from a stop, the hybrid system adds about 20 hp, but that power tapers off as the gasoline engine starts making more torque. There isn't a ton of boost, but this system is designed to run more accessories from electric power that is generated by braking and to allow the gas engine to be shut down during stop-and-go driving situations. ; Surprisingly, the V-6 engine didn't feel weak in a long-wheelbase S-class with four adults on board. Mercedes lists a 0-to-62-mph time of 7.2 seconds, and that estimate seems about right. After all, if you're looking for a scorching S-class, you'd be better off shopping the AMG stable. ; If you're wealthy and looking to save a little bit of gas and cut down on your greenhouse gas emissions without sacrificing luxury, this S400 BlueHybrid could be the ticket. Fuel consumption should be about 7.9 liters per 100 km on the European cycle (about 30 mpg), and the car goes on sale in the United States in September 2009. Pricing hasn't been announced yet, but we're expecting the S400 to be close to the price of an S550, which currently starts at $90,225.