Friday, May 7, 2010

Mercedes S400 Hybrid is a classy thrill ride

This review originally was published in the April edition of the Northern & Central California Cruisin' News published out of Folsom, California -- mg

Sacramento, California -- The 2010 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid sedan is a rolling fireworks display – a techno-loaded, silky-smooth, mind-blowing thrill of a ride capable of transporting five.

I hate to get so excited over a luxury sedan, but this S400 really goes beyond that, like an Indy Car is beyond that jalopy you used to drive on the backroads of your youth.

Naturally, all this comes with a price. The S400 Hybrid’s starting fare is $87,950, but my tester was dressed up with an outrageous number of extras to push the bottom line into the upper atmosphere -- $111,030. Yeah, I was nervous parking this car in my neighborhood. Even honest folk might be tempted to run off with a vehicle where you expect to see a licensed chauffeur at the wheel.

The exterior is not terribly fancy. It has the contemporary Mercedes-Benz sedan look. Wide stance. Imposing grille. Meaty looking fenders and swept-back headlights.

Inside, it’s another thing altogether. Welcome to the mini five-star hotel room of your dreams, dripping with rich leather and wood trim. You have a cell phone hookup at your right hand. All onboard audio/video options known to mankind are at your command. Just choosing your seat preference takes some time: angles, heat, coolness, lumbar firmness and positions are all controlled electronically.

Impressive as all that was, the S400 Hybrid on the roll impressed me like nothing else. You’ve heard of floating on air? Believe it, that’s what this felt like. Bank-vault quiet and nary a wiggle at 70 miles per hour. Outside noise? Forget about it. A shotgun blast fired from the rooftop would sound like a dropped pillow from the cockpit seat.

Keep in mind that this “mild hybrid” produces a mere 295 horsepower with the 3.5-liter V-6 and an electric motor working in concert. Frankly, the car feels much more powerful than that. It toyed with interstate traffic uphill and down. Sharp turns taken at high speed produced zero sway. It zipped through a tight slalom run with ease.

Top-tier performance, comfort/convenience and safety/security features are too numerous to list here. I never thought I’d say this, but OK, there’s enough stuffed into this S400 Hybrid to justify a six-figure sticker.

And that’s one of the things I don’t like about the car: It’s totally out of my income bracket.

My other major gripe: The S400 Hybrid tester exerted too much control in my time with it. Say what? Let me explain.

Among the myriad safety features is something called Lane Keeping Assist. Without getting too technical, if you stray even a tiny bit outside your lane, this feature gives you three quick vibrations through the steering wheel. The first time this happened, I nearly jumped out of my skin. I thought the gearbox was trying to kill itself.

Happily, you can turn this off. And I did, because the vibrations seemed to trigger during somewhat normal driving patterns and even during merges onto freeways.

Similarly, the tester had side sensors that beeped warnings if I was about to make a lane change into another car in the blind spots. Problem is, the beeps sometimes went off needlessly, like when I was signaling an upcoming lane change approaching a car going 30 mph slower than myself on the freeway.

There’s no doubt in my mind that these features will save the lives of some drivers. For me, it’s just too much control.

Two last pieces of advice: Customizers digging in on the S400 Hybrid might want to think long and hard about messing with the complex electronics. Secondly, lucky buyers might want to curl up with the 540-page owner’s manual before hitting the road. A little reading will reduce your confusion later.


  1. Judging by how you've described the safety features of the S400, it seems that it really does want you to be a good driver. Well, in a safe point of view, that is. You've given a good review on the key parts of the car. Did the S400 you've driven have that 8" screen with the nav functions? I saw it in the website. If it had that, how was it?

  2. Oh Mark, you got everything right! That's the ride of my dreams! Seeing that car will be so satisfying, and driving that will make me feel like I'm on the moon! Looks- and performance-wise, this is the real deal.