Mercedes-Benz’s first hybrid SUV goes on sale this fall. We drive it at the New York Auto Show.
We took a half-hour drive in Manhattan’s traffic-choked streets in the new Mercedes-Benz ML450 Hybrid, which goes on sale this fall in the and Canada. Our tour guide was Volker Scheinhuette, a Mercedes-Benz engineer who has been living in the Detroit area for the past three years working on the Mercedes/GM/Chrysler/BMW two-mode-hybrid joint project in Troy, Michigan.
To be built in Alabama, the ML450 Hybrid shares the same two-mode hybrid system already available in the GMC Sierra & Yukon, Chevy Silverado and Tahoe, and Cadillac Escalade Hybrids (all built on the same GMT900 platform). The Mercedes system differs in that it has a silent start-up, a more compact transmission, and a smaller electric motor.
Easing away from the Javits Center on Eleventh Avenue, the ML450 is indeed very quiet, as it’s running solely on the electric motor, at least until about 12 mph, when the 3.5-liter V-6 kicks in unobtrusively. You see what’s happening in the powertrain via a graphic interface in the navigation screen; once the picture of the engine goes from gray to white, you know that the gasoline engine is in operation. There’s also a gauge in the center cluster that indicates the charging mode.
We burst out onto the West Side Highway, and the ML450 felt pretty much like a standard M-class. Unlike some hybrids, including a Cadillac Escalade two-mode hybrid that we drove recently, the ML450 has a natural-feeling brake pedal, with little to no sponginess and predictable response. Steering feel seems normal. Acceleration is very brisk, and the interplay between the gasoline engine and the electric motor is virtually undetectable. In short, this hybrid SUV drives pretty much like its non-hybrid sibling.
There’s a button on the center console labeled “E/S” that allows you to toggle between Eco and Sport modes. In Eco, the ML450 Hybrid is using the 2-mode CVT (continuously variable transmission), and the powertrain achieves 3 percent better fuel economy than in Sport mode. In Sport, the powertrain is using a conventional eight-speed automatic with fixed gear ratios. We tried both settings, although our drive route was so clogged with traffic, it was difficult to discern any meaningful differences.
The ML450 Hybrid has not yet been priced, but one would assume that will cost more than the $48,600 ML320 BlueTec diesel and of course the $44,600 ML350.
In terms of performance, the ML450 Hybrid provides a total of 340 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque from its powertrain, enough for a reported 0-to-60-mph time of 7.8 seconds. This compares with 8.0 seconds for the stock V-6 model and 5.7 seconds for the V-8 M-class, according to Mercedes-Benz.
In terms of fuel economy, the ML450 Hybrid should get about 30% better overall than the ML350 and some 47% better combined than the ML550. The improvement over the V-8 ML550 is especially good in the city, where it’s 63% higher.
It will be interesting to see the sales results between the ML320 BlueTec diesel and the ML450 Hybrid once both models are on sale here.