Strengths and weaknesses:
- indisputable quality
- advanced technology that works
- no AWD option
It took until the 2010 model year, but Germany’s automakers have finally admitted that resistance is futile.
Resistance to the mounting wave of popular support for hybrid vehicles, that is.
All the German manufacturers – BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Volkswagen – invested huge amounts into diesel technology and came up with engines that are cleaner, more powerful and more fuel-efficient.
That’s great in Europe, where motorists have long preferred diesels, even in the bad old days when they smoked, clattered and stank. But in North America, hybrid has come to symbolize green technology, and whether or not that image is deserved, it has become too ingrained to fight – kind of like telling believers in the new environmental religion that climate change is not completely a man-mad phenomenon.
So as clean-burning and efficient as their new diesels are, the Germans have given in to the new green hybrid movement.
The first hybrid vehicle from Daimler Benz is now on sale here in Canada as a model in the luxurious S-Class line-up. But it’s not a full hybrid that can run on either gasoline or electric power, but a “mild” hybrid that uses a 20-hp electric motor simply as a kick in the pants when extra boost is needed.
M-B claims the S400 delivers V8 performance with V6 economy. With its electric boost and 3.5-litre, DOHC V6 (the only V6 in the entire S-Class line-up), the S400 can sprint from 0-100 km/h in 7.2 seconds compared to 5.9 seconds for the S450 with its 4.6-litre V8.
Unlike most nickel-hydride hybrid batteries that take up half the available trunk space, the S400’s lithium-ion battery is no bigger than your car’s normal battery and is tucked away under the S400’s hood in the back right corner, hidden by a plastic cover.
The S400’s V6 is the smallest S-Class engine but produces 295 hp at 6,000 rpm and 284 lb.-ft. of torque in a broad range between 2,400 and 5,000 rpm. Unlike a lot of hybrid systems, which are mated to continuously variable transmissions, the S400’s is coupled to a smooth-as-silk seven-speed automatic.
The S400 comes in rear-wheel drive only and also is the least expensive S-Class vehicle with a base MSRP of $105,900. Other models range from $108,000 for the V8-powered S450 4Matic to $234,000 for the S65 AMG with its 603 hp, 6.0-litre bi-turbo V12.
Every S-Class model is packed with technology and the S400 is no exception. There’s way too much to list here, but some of my favourites include:
• Adaptive Highbeam Assist that automatically dims your headlamps for oncoming traffic;
• The continuously variable doorhold system that keeps a door open not at pre-set stops but wherever you want it. Great in tight parking lots;
• Heated and cooled front seats (just remember which switch is which in winter weather – brrrr!) that also will massage your back in four settings ranging from slow and gentle to fast and vigorous;
• A harman/kardon Logic7 surround sound system that makes even songs you don’t like sound great;
• Electronic closure for all doors means you never have to slam them shut.
And all of this in a cabin that is just pure joy, with its 12-way power driver’s seat, burled walnut trim and soft leather surfaces.
The S400 is also a joy to drive – smooth, quiet and responsive – at least on dry surfaces.
But because the S400 is available only with RWD you might want to consider the AWD S450 instead. No, it doesn’t have a hybrid powertrain but being green won’t give you a lot of comfort if you’re off the road and buried up to your hubs in the white stuff.