March 12, 2015 @ 03:46 PM

If you're lucky you might not use a drop of fuel in this S-Class

Plug-in Hybrid technology makes the S 500 powerful and powerfully clean, and it is possible to drive it a whole lifetime without using a single drop of fuel

Plug-in Hybrid technology makes the S 500 powerful and powerfully clean, and it is possible to drive it a whole lifetime without using a single drop of fuel

Words: Chris Ng

Silence begins to fill the air. It isn’t the kind of silence that is deafening, nor is it so noiseless that you can hear your heart beating; that would be maddening. Instead, the hush that’s filling the air is pleasant with enough inaudible noise to keep my mind sane. No wind or engine; I can just about hear whispers of the tyres rolling on the tarmac.

Right about now, the Mercedes-Benz S 500 Plug-in Hybrid that I am in is running purely on electric mode and it will do so for up to 33km. So far, the traffic in Copenhagen, Denmark, is rather light and the low speeds in which the car is travelling at should extend that range a bit more. Outside, the residents of the city are on their bicycle, commuting to the destination under their own power.

Although I am inside the very large and very green car, I think the greenest mode of transportation are those simple contraptions that are being pedaled. With the massive number of bicycles on the road, which definitely outstrips the four-wheeled varieties by at least three-to-one, it is no wonder that Copenhagen is this year’s European Green Capital. To add, the ‘Cykelsuperstier’ or Cycle Super Highways encourages the citizens to ride rather than drive. Looks like Copenhagen is well on its way to become Europe’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. It is fitting that the S 500 Plug-in Hybrid test drive is being held here. Except that I’m not doing much driving at the moment; the rear seats need testing as well.

The seats are as luxurious and plush as you would expect. Nappa leather covers nearly all of the surfaces and what is not covered in skin is accentuated with either a metallised or high-gloss wood trim; both equally opulent. The wide seats can be reclined too, if one chooses to sleep to one’s destination. Not me, I still have plenty to explore and find the arm rests, even the one on the door, is positioned at the right height. There are two jetliner-styled tray tables stowed in the middle armrests and a screen mounted behind the front passenger seat. What else? I find a remote control for the screen and a pair of headphones. All of these feel rather like Business Class in an airplane. Where are the flight attendants?

The S 500 has reached the outskirts of the city and is now merging with the E20 that will take me across the Oresund Bridge and into Scania, the southernmost part of Sweden. Just then, the engine kicked in, but if not for other journo who mentioned it, I would not have realised the switch over.

The Mercedes-Benz wafts along the highway at speeds. Ah yes, now I hear a very light rumble of the V6 putting down more pace onto the road. Distance is being chomped up but there is still an hour to go before it is my turn at the wheel. Now is a good time to make an argument why this car makes much sense.

Plug-in hybrids, in case you didn’t know, works as how it is named. The car is essentially a petrol-electric hybrid with the option to charge its battery while on the move and at a charging station. With this car, Mercedes-Benz says you’ll be using less fuel every day and it is possible to use just electric for your entire commute.

Here’s the strategy: Mister Manygold commutes 25 kilometres daily to reach his headquarters in the city. With a full charge, the S 500 can travel 33km, which means, Manygold would not have used a drop of petrol to get to work. Now, at work, Manygold will plug the car into a charging port (or wall socket) at the office to juice up the car’s battery. About 4.1 hours is needed to get the high-voltage, 8.7 kWh lithium-ion battery back to full and just in time for lunch. 20 kilometres later, Manygold is back at work and the car back at the charging station. At the end of the day, he goes home, plugs the car in and goes to bed. If you’ve been following the story so far, Manygold has been getting around purely on electricity alone. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is Mercedes-Benz’s ideal situation.

Of course, the world is never ideal, but the S 500 Plug-in Hybrid boasts a very impressive economy of 2.8l/100km, which is equivalent to 65g CO2/km. However, reaching a 2.8l/100km is near impossible in the real world, but do keep in mind that this is based on NEDC’s math, which favours plug-in hybrids. Yet, to see it on the flipside, if one keeps to Mercedes-Benz’s strategy, then it is quite possible to even reach 0.0l/100km. It is an enticing proposition.

In any case, the global tightening on emissions and the ever-fluctuating price of fuel seem to drive the world further into a fully electrified future. More efficient battery, quicker charging times and more charging stations will eventually get us there. And to be truly clean, even the electricity that goes into the car should be generated by renewable energy and not the burning of coal. Till then… the lux-limo still make sense.

But in our country where having energy-efficient is still just blowing wind, and fuel is still subsidised, can S 500 Plug-in Hybrid find a Malaysian address? If the potential owner runs an eco-friendly company and wants to make a point, the S 500 Plug-in Hybrid makes for a strong case. Perhaps, an owner can be found in someone who loves all-things technology for this car is as high-tech as you can get. But that is all just conjecture, let’s focus on the drive.

I’ve just crossed the almost eight-kilometre long bridge and well into the land of Vikings, Ikea and Zlatan. The landscape is rather flat with green and brown patches laid out across the land like someone’s forgotten quilt. Oh, and I just saw Ikea and I am crossing off ‘See Ikea in Sweden’ off my to-do list.

Now it is my turn behind the wheel and what a fancy thing it is – leather-wrapped, wood-accented with a Mercedes-Benz nameplate in cursive. Besides the usual tilt and telescopic adjustments, the steering wheel is also heated. Again, generous amounts of leather and wood cover the stylish-minimalist dashboard. Touch anything and the feedback is one of elegance and opulence. The traditional meter cluster is gone, replaced by a large colour-screen that displays the tacho, speedo, map and whatever else you have the COMAND selected to. The driver’s seat is just as fabulous as the rear’s, clothed in leather with heating option, and massage functions. I found out later that the light-pressure rubs on the back helps relieve muscle tension on long distance drives.

I suddenly envy the chauffeur who will be driving the S 500; his desk is light years more beautiful than mine in Car Malaysia’s HQ.

The luxury limo wafts long the meandering countryside roads, leaving the press-drive’s first stop – Helgas Hamnkrog, a little coffee house in the seaside town of Alabordana – behind. It isn’t particularly hard to navigate this over five-metre long car on roads that are just slightly wider than the width of the S-Class. And the limo is agile enough to take corners with spirit. The steering wheel does a marvellous job in putting the wheels on the right track and without delay. The only complaint is that the steering does not completely transmit what the front tyres are up to, but remember that this S-Class is ultimately built for overflowing comfort. So it is also a given that the ride is without bumps and rolls.

It isn’t long before I re-surface on the E20 for my next and final stop at something called Twisting Torso in Malmo; an architectural marvel I was told. My right foot steadily increases pressure on the accelerator to merge with the highway. The 7G-TRONIC PLUS hesitates, taking almost half a second before dropping the seventh for third. Speed and momentum builds quickly, I am definitely using up the remaining electrical charges in the battery. The 3.0-litre V6 is also on song and does not take long for the 2.2-tonne car to reach highway speeds. At its most aggressive, the entire system generates 442bhp with 650Nm of electronically-limited torque, making a 0-100kph sprint time of 5.2 seconds possible.

Power comes from two sources, seeing that this is a Hybrid vehicle. Pairing with the petrol engine under the bonnet, the 85kW/340Nm electric motor gets its energy from an 8.7kWh, 22Ah lithium-ion at the rear. It weighs 114kg and takes up about 96 litres from the boot space, which means the golf bags now shares space with the battery.

The two pulses on the accelerator pedal is an ingenious way of the Mercedes telling me that I should really let it coast to save fuel and give it time to recharge itself. There are four operation modes – Hybrid, E-Mode, E-Save and Charge. You know Hybrid; E-Mode makes the car run on electric until the last moment possible; E-Save maintains charge in the battery and Charge fills up the battery via the engine.

Accompanying those modes are three drive programs. E is the default drive program that seeks the balance between efficiency and power. E+ makes the car smarter and always engages the most efficient management of power. S only works with Hybrid mode and will put the car in its most powerful setting.
I’m on Hybrid and E+, which is the mode that this car ever needs, really. Unless the Mafia is on my tail, I cannot image engaging the angrier setting.

Up to now, Hybrid cars lean heavier on the petrol engine for momentum more than the electric motor. Not so here, not when you can travel 33km purely on electricity alone. Or sacrifice some of that range so you’ll hit the electric’s top speed of 140kph. Driven with the proper mindset and strategy, it is possible to relegate the 3.0-litre V6 into a glorified range-extender.

The Mercedes-Benz S 500 Plug-in Hybrid is different, it leads the way. No longer does a powerful and luxury car need to guzzle so much fuel and expel toxins into the air. Even at its current setting, Mercedes-Benz has engineered the S 500 Plug-in Hybrid to exceed Euro Emission Standards well into the 2020s. Yes, this one is for the long run.

Mercedes-Benz S 500 Plug-in Hybrid

2,996cc, V6, High Pressure Injection, 2 turbochargers, EDC, 333bhp @ 5250-600rpm, 480Nm @ 1600-4000rpm, plus electric motor 85kW, 340Nm, total 442bhp, 650Nm (electronically limited)
7G-TRONIC PLUS automatic transmission
0-100kph 5.2sec, top speed 250kph (electronically limited), top speed electric 140kph, 2.8l/100km, 65g/km
Length/width/height (mm)

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