Despite the fact that it debuted way back in 2005, the lovely Mercedes-Benz S-class remains at the very top of its class. And the new hybrid model happens to add a (slightly) more responsible version. Pleasantly, the S400 Hybrid is also the least expensive S-class for sale today, with a base price of $88,825 versus the S550's opening rate of $92,475. Sure, you might lose some cachet with the more traditional folks at your country club, but the overall fuel mileage gains of 3 mpg overall are pretty enticing. (The S400 is EPA rated at 19 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway, and 21 mpg combined, which matches the EPA's combined figure for the Lexus LS600hL. The S400's trip computer indicated that I averaged 23 mpg over 320 weekend miles. The base-V-8-powered S-class, the S550, on the other hand, gets significantly lower ratings of 15 city/23 highway/18 combined mpg.)
Where the S400 falls short -- not surprisingly given the two cylinders, 2.0 liters, and 107 hp deficit of its 3.5-liter V-6 as compared with the S550's 5.5-liter V-8 -- is in muscle. The electric component of the powertrain, which chips in with a 20-hp electric motor, definitely helps accelerative duties, but I found myself underwhelmed by the S400's overall oomph on more than one occasion over the weekend. Owners of big German luxury cars (and I include the Lexus LS in that group) expect power on demand from their cars, and the S400 just barely delivers at times. Indeed, Mercedes says that the S400 takes 1.8 seconds longer (7.2 seconds total) than the S550 to reach 60 mph.
That's not necessarily a deal-breaker, though. I think it's admirable that Mercedes is providing buyers of its fantastic flagship with a more politically correct and affordable option.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor