Plug-in hybrids in the premium and luxury segment are more popular nowadays, due to more accessible price tags as a result of tax incentives designed to spur local assembly of EEVs (energy efficient vehicles).
We take a closer look at the new arrivals in this segment, namely the Volvo S90 T8 Twin Engine AWD (Inscription trim priced at RM368,888) and Mercedes-Benz E 350 e (AMG Line trim priced at RM395,888).
Both plug-in hybrids use lithium-ion batteries that can be recharged by plugging to a charging station or wall socket.
With the E 350 e, the 6.2kWh lithium-ion battery can be fully charged from 10 percent to 100 percent in about one hour and 45 minutes with the 230V 16A 3.7kW single-phase wallbox (RM7,000) or about two-and-a-half hours with a 230V 13A 3.0kW wall socket.
With the S90 T8 Twin Engine, its 10.4kWh lithium-ion battery can be fully charged in about four hours, by plugging into the mains supply.
So, what this means is if you want to maximise your petrol savings, you just need to allocate three to four hours to fully charge the cars' lithium-ion battery.
As for travel distance in all-electric mode, the Volvo wins here with 50km compared with 33km in the Mercedes-Benz.
In terms of fuel consumption (combined cycle), the Volvo is slightly better at 2.0 litres per 100km compared with 2.1 litres per 100km on the 2.1 litres per 100km.
Of course, with everyday driving, this low fuel use is quite impossible to achieve.
Meanwhile, in terms of power and performance, the Volvo trumps the Mercedes-Benz again.
Both are 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol-powered cars with electric motors, but the Volvo's turbo and supercharged powertrain produces 407hp and 640Nm, compared with 281hp and 550Nm on the Mercedes-Benz.
The 0 – 100kph sprint figures speak for themselves: the S90 T8 Twin Engine does it in 4.8 seconds, while the E 350 e takes 6.2 seconds.
This is despite the S90 T8 Twin Engine being the heavier car with a 2,039kg kerb weight, compared with 1,925kg for the E 350 e.
That's a significant difference of 114kg.
Concerning boot space, the Volvo is the superior car again, with 500 litres versus 400 litres on the Mercedes-Benz.
This is due to Volvo putting the lithium-ion battery in the S90's tunnel, which lowers the centre of gravity for the car and improves handling, and also frees up precious cargo space.
On the E 350 e, the lithium-ion battery is stashed in the boot, resulting in a terraced boot floor and reducing usable storage space to 400 litres (compared with 540 litres on a conventional E 250).
However, fitting the lithium-ion battery along the S90’s centreline resulted in a lack of storage space in the storage compartment, under the centre arm rest between the front seats.
This is not the case with the E 350 e, where there is a deep and spacious storage compartment in the centre console, between the front seats.
Mercedes-Benz E 350 e (AMG Line) plug-in hybrid
To put the fuel saving technology on the E 350 e to the test, we decided to do a Kuala Kumpur - Ipoh drive.
Using the portable charger supplied and a house socket, we charged the E 350 e overnight.
There was only the driver in the car, and with judicious use of the hybrid driving modes on the Mercedes-Benz, we recorded petrol consumption of 5.8 litres per 100km on a 211km drive from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh, using the North–South Expressway.
Based on the car's trip meter, we drove at an average speed of 86kph and the non-stop journey took 2 hours and 26 minutes.
Like the C 350 e, the E 350 e has four operating modes namely, Charge (uses combustion engine to help recharge battery while driving), E-save (uses combustion engine when driving), E-mode (uses electric motor when driving), and Hybrid (uses combustion and electric motor when driving).
To conserve fuel, E-mode was used as much as possible, and Hybrid mode when battery charge is low.
Transmission mode was kept in Economy, and the air-conditioning was used the entire journey.
To summarise, we used less than 12 litres of petrol in getting to Ipoh, from Kuala Lumpur on a very relaxing, comfortable drive.
Our test drive unit has the AMG Line trim, which comes with 19-inch AMG five-twin-spoke light-alloy wheels, a sporty interior with metal weave trim, and AMG sports steering wheel.
Nice stuff here also include multi-beam LED headlights, Nappa leather upholstery, a surround view camera system, front sports seats, and the panoramic sliding glass roof.
An analogue clock in the lower part of the centre dashboard lends a nice classic touch.
However, there is no touchscreen here. Instead, you have two displays each with 12.3-inch screen which merge visually to form a wide-screen cockpit.
Infotainment, navigation and communication options are controlled via a touchpad on the centre console, touch-sensitive controls on the steering wheel (which respond to finger swipes), or the COMAND controller (rotary pushbutton) or direct buttons and switches.
The Burmester surround sound system is superb, and we found an SD card reader and two USB ports integrated with the deep storage compartment in the centre console.
Running on German-produced Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 3 tyres sized 245/40 R19 (front) and 275/35 R19 (rear), the E 350 e is outstandingly quiet and refined on the road, and comfort level is high thanks to the Air Body Control air suspension with continuously adjustable damping.
Volvo S90 T8 twin engine AWD Inscription
I started missing the Volvo S90 T8 Inscription variant as soon as I swapped cars with my colleague.
Not that the Mercedes Benz E 350 e AMG Line lacked anything.
It just gave me a clearer picture of how two manufacturers take different approaches to define luxury.
I find that the Volvo uses subtlety to reveal its sense of style and design. Especially when you’re inside, the cabin greets you with its fine craftsmanship and materials; wrapped in fine black Nappa leather and open-pore Walnut wood trim.
It’s such a comfortable and elegant space that I felt my worries simply melt away which I attribute to the organic materials especially the wood trim.
The Volvo sets itself apart with its keyless technology as it adds a sense of ‘bling’ at the centre console.
You start the car by twisting the jewel-inspired knurled knob and to engage the gear, you pull on the illuminated crystal shaft and finally, there’s another knurled roller to change the drive mode.
The plush cabin is a relaxing atmosphere and at the same time, there is a sense of refinement and quality which matches its price-point at RM368,888.
And just as cool is the exterior. It’s distinctly different in its class with its long, low and sleek apperance than other continental marques.
The front fascia looks stylish with its concave, vertical-slatted grille coupled with the strikingly designed Thor’s Hammer LED headlights.
With the petrol engine powering the front wheels and the electric motor to drive the rear, you get on-demand all-wheel drive.
Driving the Volvo is simply a joy as it pulls away smoothly and effortlessly.
The ride is comfortable as the suspension absorbs all the harshness one can encounter on the road yet it is still firm and confident when you lay the power down.
It is also jam packed with safety features which are easily accessible through the large vertical touchscreen on the centre dash or the controls on the steering wheel.
The equipment includes automatic braking functionality, collision avoidance and mitigation, a 360 degree surround view camera, blind spot information with cross traffic alert and lane keeping aid among others.
The Volvo also has Pilot Assist with Steering Support (up to 130kph) - a semi-autonomous mode which maintains the car between the lane's side markings using steering assistance as well as to maintain an even speed, combined with a preselected time interval to the vehicle ahead.
This provides a more relaxed driving experience on long highway travels.
Here, the Mercedes-Benz is priced RM27,000 higher than the Volvo, and for the extra money, the German executive saloon has kit like a Burmester surround sound system (13 speakers, 9-channel DSP amplifier and 640 watts) and a class-leading Air Body Control air suspension with continuously adjustable damping for improved ride comfort and driving dynamics.
On the S90 T8 Twin Engine AWD in Inscription trim, you get a high performance audio (10 speakers, 6-channel and 330W) system which delivers very clear and enjoyable sound quality.
It is worth noting that the S90 T8 Twin Engine AWD also comes in a Inscription Plus trim level, priced at RM388,888.
The extra RM20,000 for the Inscription Plus trim gets you a Bowers & Wilkins Premium Sound (19 speakers, 12-channel and 1,400W) system and Active Chassis with 2-Corner (rear) air suspension.
On the Volvo, this electronically controlled dampener system (Four-C) automatically keeps the rear at the correct level, irrespective of load and adapts to the road and driving conditions.
Standard kit on the Volvo is all-wheel-drive (AWD) which sends power to all four wheels, when more traction is needed (such as on sandy, muddy or wet surfaces).
Also worth noting is the Mercedes-Benz has a panoramic sliding sunroof, while the Volvo doesn't have a sunroof.
In terms of after-sales, Mercedes-Benz offers a 4-years (with unlimited mileage) warranty on the E 350 e, while Volvo provides a 5-years or 120,000km (whichever is first) warranty on the S90 T8 Twin Engine AWD.
Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with either the Mercedes-Benz and the Volvo as both offer exceptional value at this price point.
It will all come down to your own individual taste in aesthetics and how much weight the badge carries as a luxury sedan.
However, for us, the winner here is clearly the Volvo S90 T8 Inscription.
On paper alone, the Volvo has all the right numbers when it comes to power, price and equipment.
Beyond that however, Volvo is a relatively new kid in the luxury block and they simply nailed it with the S90.
It’s no easy feat to go up against the three-pointed star which has a long history of building great luxury sedans such as the E Class.
There is however, no denying how serious Volvo is bringing the game to the German marque.
Its sense of luxury and design is refreshing and Volvo’s plug-in hybrid powertrain is not only unique and innovative but gives you more power without compromising luggage space.
The Semi Autonomous Drive feature in the S90 is simply amazing; on a night drive along the North–South Expressway, we kept our right foot off the accelerator and brake pedals; set the cruise control speed to 100kph, and just let the car slow, brake (based on the speed and actions of the vehicle in front) and accelerate itself - our right foot certainly got a lot of rest.
Driving the Volvo S90 is simply a joy. On top of it, the amount of safety features included in the S90 is outstanding.
The luxury market just got a lot more competitive with Volvo.
Mercedes-Benz E 350 e (AMG Line) plug-in hybrid
Engine: 1,991cc four in-line, petrol, turbocharger
System output (with electric motor): 281hp and 550Nm
Transmission: 9G-Tronic 9-speed automatic
Fuel consumption (combined cycle): 2.1 litres per 100km
Features: Airbags, Active Brake Assist, Pre-Safe system, air suspension, interior motion sensor, tyre pressure monitoring system, Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus, panoramic sliding sunroof, Active Parking Assist with Parktronic, Surround View Camera system
Price: RM395,888 on-the-road without insurance (inclusive of GST);
Warranty: 4-years, with unlimited mileage
Photo Gallery: Mercedes-Benz E 350 e (AMG Line)
Volvo S90 T8 Twin Engine AWD (Inscription) plug-in hybrid
Engine: 1,969cc 4-cylinder turbo and supercharged
System output (with electric motor): 407hp and 640Nm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Fuel consumption (combined cycle): 2.0 litres per 100km
Features:Airbags; Engine Start-Stop; Hill Start Assist (HSA); Hill Descent Control (HDC); Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC); City Safety - Collision Avoidance with Intersection Support; Pedestrian, Cyclist and Large Animal Detection; Front and Rear Collision Warning and Mitigation Support; Run-off Road Mitigation; Pilot Assist with Steering Support (up to 130kph) - Semi-autonomous Drive; Lane Keeping Aid (LKA); Blind Spot Information System (BLIS); Cross Traffic Alert (CTA); Electronic Stability Control (ESC); Indirect Tyre Pressure Monitoring
System (iTPMS); Run-off Road Protection with Road Edge Detection; Integrated 2-stage Booster Cushions Outer Rear Seats; Keyless Entry and Drive; Park Assist Pilot, Parallel and Perpendicular; 360-degree Surround View Camera
Price: RM368,888 on-the-road without insurance (inclusive of GST);
Warranty: 5-years or 120,000km (whichever is first)
Photo Gallery: Volvo S90 T8 Twin Engine AWD (Inscription)