We were in Denmark and Sweden in September to size up the Mercedes-Benz S 500 plug-in hybrid (PIH), the third of its kind after the S 400 and S 300 BlueTEC hybrids.
The S 500 PIH, available only in long wheelbase form, is billed as blending an ultra-modern hybrid drive and emission-free mobility, with unique innovations and luxurious equipment.
Before we get into the drive – a few points to note on what could well be the benchmark in plug-in hybrids. There is no V8 under the bonnet.
The luxury limousine is instead powered by a 3.0-litre V6, which puts out 333hp from 5,250-6,000rpm. Add another 113hp, courtesy of the electric motor mated to the petrol engine and you get a system output in excess of 442hp.
The combination of these two elements will take you 100km on a mere 2.8 litres of petrol.
With a fully charged battery, the S500 PIH will waft you on electrons to a distance of 33km at speeds up to 140kph, with the sound of tyres on tarmac only heard when a window is open.
Given that the owner of this car (in this country) would probably be found sitting on the rear seats of the ultra-luxurious rear, the driver’s day off can only be an opportunity to enjoy the performance of a hi-tech vehicle behind its steering wheel.
And when you’re done wafting along on electricity, pushing your foot further down activates probably the finest machine in the Plug-In Hybrid class, yet.
A muted but reassuring roar from the high-pressure injection engine boosted by twin turbos slingshots you from standstill to 100kph in 5.2 seconds, and further on to an electronically-limited top speed of 250kph.
All this while the S 500 PIH’s emissions are kept at a comforting 65g per CO2/km.
Contributing to energy recovery is the haptic accelerator pedal that can signal via a double impulse when the driver should take his foot off the accelerator for sailing and recuperating. During electric operation, it can supply the driver with feedback on the switch-on point of the combustion engine. The energy flow is shown in all operating states in the instrument cluster and in the central display, if this is selected.
Daimler AG chose the test drive for the S 500 PIH from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Malmo in Sweden mainly because these locations are dotted with electric charging points.
Adding to the eco-credentials of such charging points is the fact that power for them come from the numerous wind farms at sea and on land.
Speaking of charging, the car's charging port is located in the rear bumper below the right tail lamp. An automatic lock ensures that the cable cannot be separated from the vehicle by unauthorised persons.
The high-voltage lithium-ion battery, fitted above the rear axle of the S-Class to save space, takes from two hours to four hours to be fully charged. While power can come from either a station or household socket, Mercedes-Benz does say that the supply of electricity to the car will be made even easier in future through inductive, cableless charging.
To dispel notions that such advanced technology are unreliable, Mercedes-Benz vouches that the battery and plug-in components such as the electric motor and power electronics would work as advertised. It's willing to guarantee their performance for the first six years or 100,000km mileage. So you are covered.
When on the move in electric mode, the car just wafts along. Press gently on the accelerator and the car responds instantly while seeming to whisper “efficiency” as we silently glided among conventional “noise-makers”.
It’s so hush in the cabin that classical music fans will hear every instrument in the orchestra. Even before you get in, the car can be set up to be air-conditioned to the preset temperature. Not only is the cabin thereby cooled, seats are also ventilated to avoid scorched butts.
We eventually reached a highway that led to a tunnel under the Oresund Strait and then out onto a bridge and into Sweden.
It was then that we decided to have a bit of fun. With drive mode switched to “S”, we floored the accelerator.
We hit triple digit speeds without much fuss and the engine issued a muted growl and turned traffic to a warp-speed blur.
While focused on the frightening speed, we weren’t paying attention to the GPS and nearly missed an exit, which was taken in the nick of time followed by a quick decision to test the lateral G-forces as we entered a wide parabolic turn.
It was reassuring to see the car stuck to the road like glue. The throttle was eased off as we turned into a deserted road and traversed a picturesque scenery.
The car felt solid and certain through the gentle curves and shallow rises and didn’t feel as though we were commanding over two tonnes of lumbering machinery.
At this point, it was time to emulate the typical Malaysian flagship Mercedes owner.
This writer sat in the rear while a reporter from another publication took over the wheel.
Sitting in the back was like gently falling into a soft cocoon of heavenly decadence made of plush leather.
Recline the seat, and you will be staring through glass sunroofs. And behind each front seat were two 10-inch flat display panels operated by a remote control stored below the armrest. We sailed through the Swedish countryside as we watched broadcast television in Danish and Swedish.
Not understanding the lingo, we switched to radio and settled for classical music through a Burmester 3D surround sound system with 24 loudspeakers, 24 amplifier channels and a total system output of 1,540 watts.
And that’s not the end of everything that can be said of this car.
It comes with a whole arsenal of safety features such as the collision warning system - Collision Prevention Assist Plus with Adaptive Brake Assist and even a wrong-way warning function among other things.
These days, performance and economy are two things that can actually go together.
Add luxury and consideration for the environment and it’s a formula for a vehicle that is truly a class above the rest.
If you want this plug-in hybrid, you can order it through Mercedes-Benz Malaysia. Be prepared to fork out 109,000 euros (RM443,000) for starters on top of hefty taxes. — AHMAD MUNIR SABKI
Click Mercedes-Benz Hybrid Strategy (pdf format)