Quick Drive: 2011 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid

By Winding Road Staff

June 28, 2011

Previously in the S-Class, I have had multiple instances when cornering that felt totally perfect. The car seemed to rotate around me and plotted a perfect line through the turn, while I gave it some throttle. This was done at low speeds, but it was a remarkable sensation. In the S400 Hybrid, I tried again and again to replicate this feeling, but couldn’t. Perhaps it’s a matter of balance that is upset by the hybrid system. I’m not really sure.
Another thing I experienced in the hybrid that I hadn’t noticed in the V-8-powered versions. Regardless of whether or not I had the suspension in sport mode, the car would dive, then rock fore and aft after coming to a complete stop. It’s an unpleasant squishiness, and I grew tired of it quickly. Now, I’m curious to reevaluate the non-hybrid S to see if this is just something I missed before, or if it’s limited to the S400.
Regardless, I still enjoyed driving the hybrid, and it was especially nice to drive for long miles on the highway. I did miss the grunt of a good ol’ V-8, though.
—John Beltz Snyder, Production Editor
There is something that confuses me here. As I’m writing this, I’m looking at the specs for the S400 Hybrid, a car I don’t particularly care for, and the S550 which I like quite a lot, on Mercedes-Benz USA’s consumer website. According to said specifications, the S400 will get 19 miles per gallon in the city, and 25 on the highway. With 295 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque, it’ll hit 60 miles per hour in a ho-hum 7.2 seconds.
The S550 on the other hand, gets 15 miles per gallon around town, and 23 on the highway. It has 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque, allowing it to scamper to 60 miles per hour in a respectable 5.4 seconds.
The combined fuel economy for the S400 and S550 is 22 and 19 miles per gallon, respectively, meaning that with an identical 26.7-gallon tank, the S400 can travel 80 miles further on a tank of fuel than the S550 (587 versus 507). That’s good.
But overall there’s too much compromise here. The hybrid system adds weight and subtracts power. The S400 costs less, too, but only $2000 less versus the $93,000 V-8 car. That won’t cut it.
—Brandon Turkus, Fleet Manager
I think John and Brandon make interesting points about the S400 Hybrid relative to all other cars on the market that I can mostly agree with: the Mercedes is expensive, not particularly fuel efficient, and not as good to drive as even the next-closest-in-price S-Class, the S550.
The issue I take with their combined umbrage, however, is that there is real context for this car in the form of the BMW ActiveHybrid 7, and the Lexus LS600h. Both competitors are full-size, very luxurious sedans from significant competitors, and both make more sense than the S400.
The M-B has a very slight efficiency advantage over the Bimmer and the Lexus, and a very significant price advantage. MSRP (with destination) is just under $92K for the Benz, about $103K for the BMW, and a huge $113K for the Lexus. Both of the competitors have V-8 engines, meaning they absolutely destroy the S400, and its V-6, in terms of power.
But what are these, hyper-expensive hybrids all about, anyway? My guess would be that the answer is, largely, “image.” That means that owners want to feel like they’re making a reasonably responsible choice within the very small segment of very nice cars they’re willing to drive. On that level, where performance doesn’t really account for much currency in the decision, the S-Class seems to be a veritable bargain at $11,000 cheaper than its nearest competitor, with (arguably) the best badge credibility of the bunch.
—Seyth Miersma, Editor-In-Chief
  • This is a benchmark in terms of NVH
  • Better EPA numbers give this large sedan some green credentials
  • Far less expensive than the other (few) cars that directly compete in this bizarre market segment
  • Suspension and steering don’t communicate with the driver
  • Lacks the effortless feeling of speed found in the standard car
  • Your hypermiler friends won’t be impressed