2014 MERCEDES S-CLASS HYBRID REVIEW
What’s Hot: Impressive tractability, cosseting ride, impeccable presentation.
What’s Not: Engine is a little coarse, not as efficient as listed claims.
X-FACTOR: A four-cylinder S-Class might be heresy to some, but it works, and it works well.
Vehicle Style: Upper large luxury sedan.
Engine/trans: 195kW/500Nm 2.2 diesel-electric hybrid | 7sp auto
Fuel Economy listed: 4.5 l/100km | tested: 6.4 l/100km
The S-Class range has a new member in its family, and it’s a milestone vehicle for Mercedes Australia.
Not only is it the first four-cylinder S-Class to be sold in this country - a meaty 2.2 litre turbo-diesel mated to an electric hybrid drive - but the new S 300 BlueTEC Hybrid is also the first hybrid S-Class to be offered here.
It also happens to be the most affordable of the Benz flagship range.
With a sticker-price of $195,000 before on-road costs, it's exactly $20,000 cheaper than the S 350 BlueTEC short wheelbase.
So, what does a base-model, hybrid S-Class feel like?
This may be the entrypoint to the S-Class range, but you’re not shortchanged for quality nor for fit and finish in the S 300.
The gadget count is a little lower than models like the S 500 or the flagship S 600 - which also now joins the S-Class range - but there are still plenty of toys to play with.
Toys like a 31.2cm LCD infotainment display controlled by the latest evolution of Benz’s COMAND system, a high-res LCD instrument panel, sat-nav with 3D map rendering, internet connectivity and a built-in wireless hotspot.
That’s in addition to the expected luxuries of dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, heated and ventilated power front seats, power bootlid, keyless entry and supple leather upholstery.
And it’s all packaged neatly together with a beautifully flowing design and elegant interior feel. This is a very satisfying space in which to spend some time.
Comfort is, as you’d expect, exceptional. The front seats are as comfortable as your favourite armchair, and adjustable enough to easily accommodate nearly every body type.
The back seats are almost as good. Though the S 300 BlueTEC Hybrid is available only in short wheelbase form, there’s ample leg, head, shoulder and knee room in the back, and air-vents, cupholders and reading lights aplenty.
An enormous two-panel glass sunroof is also standard, and lets sunlight flood the cabin. A power retractable fabric shade provides respite from the sun when it’s shining a little too brightly.
The car we drove was also equipped with the optional power rear-seat package, which greatly improves rear-passenger comfort.
However, the absence of temperature controls for backseaters is an oversight in a car costing $195k.
With many S-Class owners preferring to ride in the back rather than up front, they may be a little miffed that they don’t have any control over their ambient comfort - unless they shell out $2600 for the Thermotronic Rear climate control pack, of course.
Though there is an extra battery-pack behind the rear seat (thanks to the hybrid system), boot space is only reduced by 20 litres for a total of 510 litres.
Rear seats do not split-fold, but it's barely a handicap - the S 300 has plenty of room for four large suitcases in its boot.
ON THE ROAD
Though only a four-cylinder, the S 300’s 2.2 litre turbodiesel four is not lacking the grunt needed to pull its two-tonne mass around.
With the aid of a 20kW electric-drive motor sandwiched between the engine and seven-speed automatic gearbox, the S 300 produces 150kW and a stout 500Nm, and it never feels strained.
But this engine is coarser than we expected, and nowhere near as smooth as the diesel V6.
There’s plenty of sound-deadening material between you and the powerplant, but there is noticeable vibration at idle.
The auto start-stop function makes that vibration more obvious, though it does bring some respite when stopped at the lights.
It’s also difficult to coax the S 300 into driving on just electric power alone.
There’s no means of locking in a zero-emissions drive mode, and, unless you’re extremely sensitive with the throttle, it’s difficult to keep accelerating above 25km/h without rousing the diesel engine.
At highway speed the S-Class will ‘coast’ on electric power when on level ground or a slight decline, but the 110-volt battery doesn’t have enough energy to keep it in EV mode for long.
As far as hybrids go, the S 300’s system will save you a little fuel - but not a lot, especially if much of your driving is longer highway kilometres. Hybrids work best as city cars.
Our real-world average consumption of 6.4 l/100km is a decent result for a car of the S-Class’ size, but short of the claimed average of 4.5 l/100km.
We'll take one for a lengthier spin with a more balanced mix of highway roads and tight city traffic to get an accurate 'real world' picture of the strengths of the hybrid system, and the kind of fuel consumption you might expect.
Certainly, whatever driving you do, the S 300's cosseting limousine ride will keep reminding you that you are travelling 'first class'.
It might be rolling on run-flat tyres, but this S-Class simply glides over the harshest of bumps and lumpiest of roads.
It is effortless to pilot at the wheel. While the S Class is a large car, it is surprisingly nimble and serenely and securely damped when cornering or dealing with hollows and highway undulations at speed.
ANCAP rating: The S-Class has yet to be tested by ANCAP.
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist - they’re all there on the S-Class and have been for years, given it pioneered the use of some of those features.
Eight airbags protect the occupants, and include dual front airbags, full-length curtain ‘bags and side airbags for both front and rear passengers.
The list of standard active safety aids is also impressive. Blind spot monitoring, active cruise control with steering assist, lane departure warning and Benz’s Pre-Safe collision detection system are standard-issue on the S 300.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Traditional rivals like the Audi A8, Lexus LS and BMW 7 Series all compete with the new S-Class, but only the Lexus and BMW are available as hybrids.
The Lexus LS600h is also not only the most expensive option, but the oldest.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
We were a little surprised by the noticeable coarseness of the S 300’s diesel engine. For those expecting the serene driving experience that has made the S-Class nameplate so famous, it may be a turn-off, despite the efficiency gains of the hybrid system.
Then again, the $20k price differential between the S 300 and the S 350 is an awful lot of change - enough to add some choice gadgets to the spec list.
For the same money, would we rather a silky-smooth S 350 with no fancy gear, or a slightly less-refined S 300 with twenty grand’s worth of choice extras?
Tough call, as both refinement AND cutting edge luxo-tech are essential parts of the S-Class experience.
Uber-limos, in fact, don't come much better than the S Class. The S 300 hybrid comes with a couple of compromises, but the lower cost of entry balances the ledger somewhat.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- S 300 BlueTEC Hybrid - $195,000
- S 350 BlueTEC - $215,000
- S 350 BlueTEC L - $222,500
- S 400 L - $230,000
- S 500 - $285,000
- S 500 L - $310,000
- S 63 AMG - $385,000
- S 63 AMG L - $397,500
- S 600 L - $415,000