For 80 years, Mercedes-Benz has been producing exquisite driving machines. Their first foray into the future—the S400 Hybrid—is a looker, but does it bring the fun?
Author Mike Guy
I’M A HORSEPOWER FIEND. I like an engine that growls, a V-8, a V-12—you name it, as long as it’s fast. I’m attracted to the evil contours of the Murcielago and the impossibly fast-looking missile that is the Mercedes-Benz SLS. As such, I’ve always regarded the responsible hybrid the same way a jock would his clarinet-playing little brother. He’s a dork, but you love him. (Of course, I don’t own a car, and I played the French horn in high school.)
So when I drove the 2011 Mercedes S400 Hybrid from Miami to Delray Beach, I was torn. The Benz is a masterful machine—smooth and powerful, with precise steering, a world-class interior, top-notch Bose sound system and (let’s face it) devil-may-care fuel mileage. It would seem somehow shameful to cut the engine in half and toss in a battery that weighs as much as a motorcycle.
But hybrids are the right thing to do. Lower emissions mean a more livable planet. Luckily, the S400 makes it easy. It’s the world’s first mass-produced vehicle with a lithium-ion battery, which is half as heavy and carries twice as much charge as the nickel-metal hydride battery you’ll find in the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Toyota Prius.
I merge into traffic, and other luxury sedans crowd the road around me, but when I goose the throttle, the hybrid lunges forward, pinning me into the leather seat. I signal a turn and scream onto a sharp off-ramp. The S400 doesn’t flinch. Suddenly that horsepower fiend in me wakes up. When I get to the Seagate Hotel in Delray, I check the fuel mileage on the dashboard computer: 31 miles per gallon. In a Mercedes! I hand the keys to valet, who says, “Mercedes makes a hybrid?” “Yeah,” I respond. “But you’d never know it.”
Executive editor MIKE GUY sees a bright future in lithium.