It’s hard for me to turn down the chance to drive any Mercedes-Benz S-Class for a weekend. Unfortunately, it’s hard for my bosses to do so, too, so I rarely get the chance, and happily jumped at my most recent opportunity. The S-class debuted way back in 2005, but I still adore the car’s luscious, super-comfortable cabin. Also, the Comand system’s infotainment controller is very intuitive and still strikes me as one of the best on the market, even after half a decade. Many people, including me, have criticized the S-class’s exterior styling, but it says something when a car that’s been on the shelf this long continues to attract so much onlooker attention. This car — and this brand — clearly still have plenty of cachet.
The S400 Hybrid offers exceptionally good fuel economy for a vehicle of this size (19/25 mpg EPA city/highway), and it costs $2000 less than the least expensive V-8-powered S-class, which is rated at 15/23 mpg. Over 300 wintry weekend miles, I averaged an indicated 23 mpg. Handling and steering feel are quite good, but the brakes feel unnatural (although not as bad as those in most Toyota hybrids), and acceleration, particularly off the line, is a bit sluggish for a car of this class. Luxury sedan customers who are also interested in decent mileage would be foolish to ignore the six-cylinder BMW 740Li, which costs a whopping $15,000 or so less than this Benz, earns competitive EPA numbers (17/25 mpg), and is significantly quicker. I personally still prefer spending time in the elegant Mercedes flagship sedan.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
It’s a nice S-class. The hybridization is fairly benign, other than the grabby brake pedal. Unlike Rusty Blackwell, I’m not that impressed by the fuel economy figures of 19/25 city/highway. If they were more like 25/30, that would be something worth writing home about.
Mercedes-Benz’s 0-60 time is 7.2 seconds, which is of course not sport sedan territory but sufficiently powerful. The S400 Hybrid has all of the luxury and comfort and security and safety features that people love about the S-class in general, so if it makes someone feel better about driving an S-class to have a hybrid badge on it, I’m not going to argue with them.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
I agree with Rusty about the unnatural braking. Despite having spent a lot of time behind the wheel of Toyota’s hybrids (my own ’04 Prius and my mother’s ’06 RX400h), I still couldn’t quite get a feel to where the regenerative brakes would fully catch. Driving in traffic was a tad awkward because of it. The S400 is a big car, and powered by only a V-6 – even supplemented by the electric motor – it felt much too sluggish for a vehicle of its stature; I expect more oomph from an S-Class. Once going, it’s, well, an S-Class: solid, planted, plush, yet still responsive.
The thing about this car is that I see this more as a way for Mercedes to create an “entry level” S-Class, but without actually going that route.
Donny Nordlicht, Assitant Web Producer
At the risk of piling on, I also noticed the brake issue. As my colleagues have duly noted, this spongy, “air-in-the-lines” feeling is common among hybrids with regenerative braking, but most hybrids are not massive 4500-pound sedans. For this inconvenience, you get a razor-thin, 1-mpg advantage in fuel economy over a BMW 740Li.
That’s the hybrid. The S-class, on the other hand, remains as lovely as ever. Same magical ability to smooth the harshest roads, same fantastic massaging seats with bolsters that inflate with air to keep you in place during turns. As cliché as it sounds, the S-class simply makes you feel wealthy. Let the nouveau riche gallivant around in their crossovers and SUVs, I’d happily be toted around somewhat undercover in a dark grey S-class.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
My colleagues have already addressed my few minor complaints with the S400. Although non-linear brake pedal feel isn’t really a deal breaker on what is otherwise an impeccable luxury sedan, those offended by these typical hybrid quirks will soon have another way to eke additional fuel economy from the hefty S-Class.
The 2012 S350 Bluetec, slated to launch this fall, pairs Mercedes-Benz’s 3.5-liter turbo-diesel with a seven-speed automatic. Finalized numbers are still forthcoming, but officials have suggested the diesel-powered model will achieve roughly 20/30 mpg (city/highway), provide nearly 455 pound-feet of torque, and cost roughly the same as the S400. Better yet, it will also come standard with the superb 4Matic all-wheel-drive system (a feature unavailable with the hybrid).
Will a diesel-powered S-Class fly with the jet set, particularly those who desire the green cachet of a hybrid emblem? That remains to be seen.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
2011 Mercedes-Benz S400 hybrid
Base price (with destination): $91,875
Price as tested: $99,295
3.5-liter 24-valve V-6 hybrid engine
7-speed automatic transmission
Airmatic air suspension system with adaptive damping
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS; cross-drilled front rotors
Electronic stability control
Tire pressure monitoring system
Comand with 40GB hard drive and GPS navigation
15-speaker Harman/kardon Logic7 surround sound
HD digital radio with Sirius satellite radio
In-dash 6-disc DVD/CD changer
SD card reader
8-inch center display
Power tilt/telescoping steering column
Heated and ventilated front seats
Power rear sunshade
Active bi-xenon headlamps
Cornering lights & LED daytime running lights
Dual-zone automatic climate control
Interior ambient lighting
Options on this vehicle:
Premium Package — $3630
Drive-dynamic multi-contour front seats with massage
Rear view camera
Cashmere/savanna premium leather — $2290
Splitview — $710
Heated steering wheel — $490
Contrast stitching for premium leather — $300
Key options not on vehicle:
Sport package plus one — $6650
20-inch AMG wheels
Sport body styling
Rear seat package — $3040
4-zone climate control
Heated and ventilated rear seats
Driver assistance package — $2900
Blind spot assist
Lane keeping assist
Rear seat entertainment package — $2450
19 / 25 / 21 mpg
Size: 3.5L V-6 hybrid
Electric and gasoline combined:
Horsepower: 295 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 284 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
Curb weight: 4474 lb
Wheels/tires: 18 x 8.5-inch aluminum wheels
255/45R18 Continental Winter Contact tires