This is the Mercedes S300 BlueTec Hybrid, one of two hybrid versions of the new S-class. The other, the S400 Hybrid, mates a petrol-fed 3.5-litre V6 to an electric motor for V8-chasing performance, but this S300 is more innovative (and relevant to the UK) as it’s powered by a small four-cylinder diesel engine.
Read on for CAR’s first drive review of the new Mercedes S300 BlueTec Hybrid.
So with a four-cylinder engine it’ll be the cheapest Mercedes S-class you can buy, right?
Nope. The S300 BlueTec Hybrid only comes in long-wheelbase guise, and at £72,260 it’s £1320 than the six-cylinder S350 CDI LWB. For that extra cash you get two fewer cylinders – and that lops away 844cc – and despite the S300’s 20kW electric motor aiding the 201bhp 2.1-litre four-cylinder engine, it can’t match the 254bhp of the S350’s 3.0-litre diesel V6.
Of course, that e-motor also adds 184lb ft of extra torque, but the non-hybrid S350 still reaches 62mph eight-tenths quicker than the S300 Hybrid (6.8sec vs 7.6) and has a higher top speed as well. Yet the S300 counters with official figures of 61.4mpg and 120g/km CO2 against the S350’s 50.4mpg and 148g/km. You won’t match those figures in reality, but during our test the S300 Hybrid always averaged over 40mpg.
Can you tell it’s a little four-cylinder diesel under the bonnet?
Sometimes. Press the starter button when there’s enough charge in the lithium-ion batteries and you’ll glide in silent EV mode out of your driveway, along your road and get up a decent head of speed before the engine fires into life, by which point there’s some ambient wind and tyre and road noise to dampen its effect. But if the batteries are depleted and the engine starts from cold at a standstill (or with a door or window open) then it’s a loud little runt – or at least seems so because the S-class is so refined and quiet than any sudden introduction of noise feels intrusive.
It doesn’t have the ultimate grunt of the S350 CDI either, the diesel engine and e-motor combining to give more of a polite nudge in the back than the six-cylinder’s kick. A display in the digital dials reveals when the motor is providing boost, but a fellow banker in an S350 CDI (or a upstart teller in his Golf GTI) would leave you behind in a drag race.
Yet beyond that you rarely think about what’s powering this S-class. What’ll impress your (back seat) passengers is the silence when the S-class first wafts away from a gala awards ceremony in electric mode, the superb integration between the diesel engine, seven-speed gearbox and e-motor, and the serene ride, overall refinement (it’s nigh-on as quiet as a Rolls-Royce Phantom) and ambience (this is a Mercedes interior that feels genuinely special).
What are the downsides then?
The electric module is incorporated into the gearbox and fits under the bonnet, but the batteries go into the boot, and that means a big plastic shroud eats into luggage space.
It’s no Jaguar XJ or Porsche Panamera behind the wheel either. Granted that’s never been part of the S-class’s remit (and the extra 60kg the S300 Hybrid carries over the S350 is inconsequential in a two-tonne limo) but the steering is light and lifeless, and there’s a tad too much bodyroll.
That, and although the interior is spectacular, our test car was loaded with £30k of options (including everything from £1740 Nappa leather upholstery to heated front and rear armrests). How different would it feel without so many optional extras lavished upon it?
How often do owner’s thrash their limos? Almost never, which is why the luxury-focused S-class is always a hit, and the latest iteration has put a genuine step between it and rivals from Audi and BMW. And although the hybrid powertrain might be a boardroom boast for some owners, its EV mode ups the impression of refinement while the smaller engine genuinely improves fuel consumption.