2009 Mercedes S 400 Hybrid: Lap of gas -electric luxury – Wheels.ca

21 Apr 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on 2009 Mercedes S 400 Hybrid: Lap of gas -electric luxury – Wheels.ca
Mercedes S 400

2009 Mercedes S 400 Hybrid: Lap of gas -electric luxury

STUTTGART–Why would Mercedes-Benz bother developing a hybrid version of its S-class luxury sedan when its diesel engines work so brilliantly in those same cars?

From a technical perspective, there really is no reason.

The 3.0 L so-called BlueEfficiency turbodiesel has similar performance and gets better fuel economy with only marginally more carbon dioxide emissions than the forthcoming S 400 Hybrid.

But from a marketing perspective, Martin Hermsen, in charge of high-voltage energy management (I#039;m sure it loses something in the translation) for Mercedes-Benz, says the company wants to offer the most efficient entry in every segment. He says the S 400 offers better fuel economy than the full hybrid from the Far East, which he chose not to name but clearly can only mean Lexus, the only other hybrid in the luxury class.

Presumably, the marketing angle is also reflected in the fact that Mercedes-Benz Canada does not bring in any diesels in the S-class range. The company must feel that North Americans are not yet ready to embrace oil-burners in the top classes.

So if you want better efficiency and a gasoline engine, a hybrid is the only way to go.

The S 400 operating principle is much closer to that used by the Honda Civic Hybrid than the Lexus LS. A 3.5-litre gasoline engine is adapted to run on the Atkinson cycle – radically altered valve timing reduces emissions and improves economy substantially, at the cost of low-end torque.

An electric motor inserted between the engine and seven-speed automatic transmission (where the flywheel would normally go) fills in that bottom-end torque valley, for acceleration very close to what the regular S 350 gasoline version provides – 0-to-100 km/h in 7.2 seconds versus 7.3 – but with much better fuel consumption (7.9 L/100 km versus 10.0 in the European combined cycle – 35.8 m.p.g. vs. 28.2 m.p.g.) and lower CO2 emissions (186 grams/km versus 234).

This latter measure has not yet achieved much visibility in North America, but thanks to legislation and consumer awareness it has become a big deal in Europe.

Combined, the two power sources generate a maximum of 299 hp and 385 Newton-metres (about 285 lb.-ft.) of torque.

This so-called mild hybrid concept generates all or nearly all the benefits of a full hybrid: stop/start capability at idle, which is by far the most significant advantage hybrids have in fuel consumption and emissions generation; brake energy recapture; and whatever status advantages this brings of being the greenest guy at the country club.

But it does so with far less complexity and cost, and carries a much lower weight penalty – the S 400 is only about 75 kg heavier than a corresponding conventional S-class model – and with no reduction at all in passenger or cargo space.

Part of the credit here goes to a lithium-ion battery pack – Mercedes says it is the first in a series production car – which is small enough to fit in the engine compartment where the normal battery would go. Further credit goes to the fact that the integrated flywheel motor eliminates the need for both a starter and alternator.

A two-hour drive through the Black Forest south and west from Stuttgart is hardly enough to draw definitive conclusions about the S 400 Hybrid. But initial reaction is that the car feels almost exactly like a normal car, which surely is a big part of Mercedes#039;s objective here.

A Hybrid badge on the trunk lid and another on the centre stack of the interior are about it for visual clues.

You can dial up various dashboard displays to monitor how the various systems are functioning.

But if you choose not to, you might never know. Except, of course, for the fact that starting the car is much smoother than with an add-on starter: no rocking motion of the engine to get it to spring into life.

And that at idle, things get even quieter inside, as the engine shuts itself off, only to restart when your right foot hits the pedal.

Performance is very good for a 3.5 L V6 stuffed into a massive (long wheelbase, in our test car#039;s case) luxury sedan. I did try an S 500 with the 5.4 L conventional V8 back-to-back with the Hybrid, and it is naturally quicker, but not remarkably so.

Braking is aided by the energy recapture function of the hybrid module. Indeed, in light braking, the wheel discs are not involved at all –and they come into play only during fairly serious retardation.

Mercedes S 400

Some observers felt this made the brakes feel a bit soft, but neither myself nor my finely tuned co-driver had any concerns. Perhaps our colleagues were looking for something that just wasn#039;t there.

The S 400 Hybrid will be available along with the rest of the 2009 S-class range later this summer. Pricing has not been announced.

The S 400 will be available in rear-drive only; most of the rest of our S-class range comes with standard four-wheel drive.

Elsewhere, the 2009 S-class range receives a mild facelift, with a new grille and headlights incorporating LED technology (Audi didn#039;t enjoy its lead in this for long).

A new ambient interior lighting package offers three different settings to match your mood.

A new Splitview screen allows the driver to see one display – perhaps the SatNav – while the passenger sees something else, perhaps a movie on the DVD player. This is done by some trick screen technology, based on the angle you view it from.

There is some doubt whether North American legislation will allow this feature in our cars.

All of Mercedes#039;s nanny system components – lane departure warning, brake assist, drowsiness alert, etc. some of which were introduced on the new E-class – are present and accounted for.

They are joined by a new Active Body Control system incorporating crosswind compensation, and by a torque vectoring braking system that generates greater pressure on the inside rear wheel to counter the effect of the dreaded understeer or pushing, which can be a problem under hard braking.

The 2009 S-class intends to retain its lead in the world#039;s luxury sedan market, and with the Hybrid, gain some greenie credentials to boot.

Travel was provided to freelance auto writer Jim Kenzie by the automaker. jim@jimkenzie.com

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