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Buying a Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a statement of values, long etched in automotive history as the choice for those that want the most luxurious and technologically advanced car money can buy.
Whether that is still true or not is certainly up for debate but with competition from the other Germans (including the likes of Porsche with its Panamera) intensifying, the S-Class still holds its own as the best selling high-end luxury vehicle in Australia.
So why then, has Mercedes-Benz introduced a four-cylinder S300 BlueTEC Hybrid? A car determined to save you fuel, and hence money, in a segment where the buyers are likely to be the oil tycoons.
With more than 50 per cent of Australian S-Class buyers opting for the iconic $285,000 S500 (4.7-litre bi-turbo V8), it’s hard to see whether the $195,000 S300 BlueTEC hybrid will help introduce a new range of buyers that may not have considered an S-Class before, or if it can manage to convince existing ones to switch from a more expensive variant, which wouldn’t make an awful lot of business sense for the company.
Politics and economics aside, on its own Mercedes-Benz S300 BlueTEC makes a lot of sense. It drives with the grace and elegance expected of an S-Class and if we forget the lower entry price and the fuel saving benefits, the diesel-hybrid's theoretical 1500-kilometre range is more than double that of the S500s, making even more sense for the time-poor.
In fact, if you were to run both cars for 20,000km, the S500 will cost you $2852 in petrol while the S300 is less than half at about $1395 (based on current fuel prices). A monetary equation that may not be of importance to a typical S-Class buyer, but is still a worthwhile comparison nonetheless.
The Mercedes-Benz S300 BlueTEC Hybrid uses the same rear-wheel drive, turbo diesel engine plus electric motor driveline setup as the E300 and marks the first time a hybrid has been offered in the S-Class range.
The 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel engine is coupled to an electric motor housed between the engine and transmission. It’s powered by a small lithium-ion battery pack situated in the boot, which only takes away 20 litres of boot capacity, dropping the cargo hold to 510L.
With 150kW (plus 20kW from the electric motor) and 500Nm (plus 250Nm from the electric motor), the S300 claims a 0-100km/h time of 7.6 seconds, making it just 0.8 of a second slower than the its closes price-rival, the $215,000 S350 diesel.
Better still, it is claimed to use just 4.5L of diesel per 100km, a 1.5L/100km improvement over the S350. The electric motor and its associated components add only around 36 kilograms, and given the smaller engine size compared to the S350, the S300 only gains 20kg overall (kerb weight: 2143kg).
To find out how it drives, we came to Melbourne and spent a day stuck in city traffic, essentially the natural habitat of an S-Class.
It’s important to realise that although the S300 will spend most of its Australian life well below Germany’s autobahn speeds, with a 0-100km/h time of under 7.6 seconds, the first four-cylinder S-Class in Australia is more than quick enough to do the job.
Under full acceleration the electric motor goes into boost mode and assists the engine, forming a power and torque combination (150+20kW and 500+250Nm) that is no laughing matter.
From the start line the S300 can use its electric motor solely to get itself going up to 20km/h and until that time, the S300 is the smoothest S-Class in the range.
Nonetheless, the transition from motor to engine can sometimes take longer than it should, and when the diesel engine does finally start, there’s no mistaking its engine noise for what it is.
Inside, the S300 is no different to the rest of the S-Class range in terms of luxury and opulence. The second row presents the most comfortable car seats you are likely to ever find yourself in (excluding the likes of BMW’s Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz’s own Maybach) and ultimately that’s more important in an S-Class than fuel consumption or power.
Which is why, for under $200,000, the S300 is a relative bargain. Playing the environmentally friendly card to your friends is helpful, but ultimately you’re getting the best that Mercedes-Benz has to offer with plenty of standard kit for a reasonable saving in more ways than one.
The list of standard features is extraordinarily long, so perhaps it’s best to point out what it misses out on when compared to the S350, which costs an extra $20,000.
It’s a small list of omissions, consisting of the LED intelligent light system, digital radio and TV tuner and perhaps one of the world’s best sound systems, the 590 watts Burmester 13-speaker (9 channel DSP amplifier) package. The light package can be optioned for $3500 while the vision and sound system is an extra $6500. Add it up and you still save a cool $10,000 for a more fuel-efficient car.
One can argue that it will suffer more than the S350 come resale, like most hybrids do, but that’s still to be determined.
Worries in regards to the hybrid drivetrain’s longevity are mostly unjustified, according to the company. Mercedes-Benz expects the battery to last at least 10 years (regardless of kilometres travelled) with a replacement cost of around $7000 in today’s money.
Overall most buyers will find it hard to favour the S300 over the S350 or the badge cred-laden S500, but Mercedes-Benz Australia’s decision to bring the car here signals the company’s intentions to get serious with hybrids (the C300 hybrid is confirmed and on its way, and the E300 already offers it). But ultimately, when the S-Class adopts a technology as significant as this, it’s basically a tick of approval for the technology to go mainstream.
For a more general review of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class see: Mercedes-Benz S-Class Review