First drive: The Mercedes-Benz S-Class plug-in hybrid is a suitably serene and luxurious limo
What is it?
If you’re looking for a luxury limousine but find the likes of Bentley and Rolls-Royce are just out of your price range, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the car for you. Still ludicrously expensive, still sumptuously kitted out, just a little short of being over the top.
It has also, historically, been the standard-bearer for new technology, which is why this new EQ Power plug-in hybrid model is so intriguing. Electrified cars are the future, and as a near-silent propulsion method, seems like a no-brainer for luxury cars. While there have been hybrid S-Classes before, this one has a usefully long range before calling the petrol engine in for back-up.
So, is it just a fine teaser for a future EV limo, or a usefully economical and suitably upmarket variant in its own right?
Arguably the most important update is the larger capacity battery, which gives the electrified S a more useful EV range and should result in better overall economy.
There are also eco-friendly modes that let the driver take control of when the battery, petrol engine, or both, should power the wheels, while the on-board computers can read data from the car to suggest when the driver should lift off the throttle or brake to maximise regeneration.
Overall, this model is very similar to what you’ll find in other S-Classes in the range, with most of the updates related to the hybrid powertrain.
What’s under the bonnet?
The S 560e uses a 3.0-litre V6 petrol internal combustion engine paired with an electric motor, which have a combined output of 469bhp and 700Nm of torque, with lofty economy promises of between 104.6 and 128.4mpg, and CO2 emissions of 57g/km.
The real progress here is that while the battery capacity has increased by more than 50 per cent, the physical space it takes up is less than before. That means a longer EV-only range of 31 miles, less weight, and more space for luggage – though it’s still not fantastic.
Naturally with a plug-in hybrid, achieving those MPG goals comes down to how far you drive and how often you recharge – keep the batteries topped up and only travel short distances and they’re eminently achievable, but if you don’t, they’re not. On one 30-mile trip, about two-thirds of which was motorway, we achieved 74mpg after starting with a full battery, which is very promising indeed.
What’s it like to drive?
As with any S-Class, the driving experience is exquisite. The ride is absolutely superb and there are few cars out there that could match it for its ability to travel hundreds of miles while keeping you fresh as a daisy behind the wheel.
With electric power that’s only enhanced. Inner-city driving becomes somehow even more serene than in a regular S, as the near-silent motor whisks you along and the cosseting ride soaks up all but the most intrusive of bumps. For those regularly carrying well-paying customers, it’s surely the pick of the range.
How does it look?
Imposing and sophisticated are the two words that best describe how the S-Class looks. While its key rival, the BMW 7 Series, has grown into something of an aesthetically challenged brute, the Mercedes has retained an elegance that shouldn’t be possible from a vehicle so large.
It could be argued that its styling is rather too subdued given the price tag, but for those who wish to enjoy the finer things in life without shouting about it, the S-Class is truly an antidote to the bling brashness of some alternatives.
What’s it like inside?
Inside, as you’d expect, it’s absolutely exquisite. While Mercedes’ cabin styling can look a little chintzy on models lower down the range, here is where it truly works. The materials are all of the highest quality, and the design marries old-fashioned opulence with the latest digital technology perfectly.
In the back, which is arguably more important for this type of car, there can be few experiences like it. The individual chairs are comfortable and cosseting as standard, but upgrade to the £4,595 rear luxury lounge fitted to our test car and it’s on another level, with a reclining seat and leg rest, entertainment system and TV tuner. The only complaint is that leg room isn’t quite enough to fully enjoy the seat recliner, but we’re nitpicking.
What’s the spec like?
The S 560e L, as you might expect from a car that costs close to six figures as standard, has impressive standard kit. Our car was the AMG Line model, which is the entry level trim and starts at £97,480 for the hybrid. It featured LED headlights, luxury leather upholstery, the exquisite Burmester surround sound system, extensive safety equipment, air suspension… the list goes on.
However, our specific model was specified to a whopping £123,580. The most expensive option was the £6,890 Nappa leather upholstery package, followed by the £5,395 premium plus equipment line, which adds electric panoramic glass roof, massage functions and a 360-degree camera.
The £4,595 rear luxury lounge package is particularly welcomed by rear seat passengers and is highly recommended for chauffeurs. Other options included night vision (£2,080), an advanced driving assistance package (£1,695) and an executive equipment line (£4,600).
An electrified S-Class makes sense on a lot of levels. The smooth and serene all-electric driving is perfect for offering passengers a comfortable and relaxing journey, and even when the petrol engine does kick in, it’s so quiet you’ll barely notice. The fact it retains the typical luxurious driving experience of other S-Classes is a given.
It might be pricier than petrol and diesel models, but with the low emissions making potentially huge savings for business users, and low running costs for those who can recharge regularly, it doesn’t have to be the outlandishly expensive limo it might seem.