Hybrids, as the 2017 Mercedes-Benz S550e can attest, are not just for fuel economy anymore.
Nope, they're everywhere, powering super cars like the Acura NSX, familiar hatchbacks and sedans like the Toyota Prius and Honda Accord, and any number of inexpensive-to-luxury crossover sport utility vehicles.
Increasingly, customers are being seduced by plug-in hybrids, which combine gasoline and electric power like regular hybrids, but also can be plugged in to charge batteries for additional range on electricity alone.
The new 2017 Mercedes-Benz S550e is such a creature. It combines a twin-turbo, 3.0-liter V-6 gasoline engine with a 132-kW electric motor to make 436 horsepower and 479 lb.-ft. of torque. It needs that sort of force because the S550e weighs 5,115 pounds.
Even so, Mercedes says its big plug-in can nail 60 mph from rest in 5.2 seconds while delivering EPA combined city/highway fuel economy of 26 mpg on gasoline only and 58 in gasoline-electric hybrid operation.
While the plug-in feature enhances fuel economy, it adds the inconvenience of plugging in, which some S550e owners likely won't bother doing. The battery pack and other hybrid parts also reduce the trunk to a bit more than 9 cubic feet, which is subcompact size in a large car.
Plug it in with the standard charging cord and a full charge can be accomplished overnight. You can recharge more quickly -- in about 2.5 hours -- if there's a public fast-charging station nearby.
All of that provides an electric-only range of about 20 miles, which is displayed in a readout on the instrument panel. It is possible to rocket up to more than 70 mph purely on electric power, but it won't last very long because the effort sucks up the juice.
You can select a hybrid mode that fires up the gasoline engine to help keep the battery charged. Without that, even modest urban driving easily depletes the charge in less than 20 miles.
So the default is to simply drive the S550e in hybrid mode all the time, where it performs like a satisfying big Mercedes-Benz, which is to say in sumptuous luxury with plenty of competence for any circumstance, abetted by an air suspension system.
Whether motoring on electricity or a combination of electric and internal combustion power, the S550e has the manners of an unobtrusive butler or footman. There are no nasty intrusions of wind, mechanical, or road noise -- unless the road is uncommonly pockmarked. It's even difficult to tell when the gasoline engine fires up.
strong>There are two performance modes: Comfort and Sport. Comfort caresses the driver and passenger with a modestly floating ride that would complement the skills of a careful chauffeur. The driver and front-seat passenger are also swaddled by seat bolsters that grip the torso in turns.
Switch to the Sport mode and everything tightens up: Steering feels more responsive, the ride gets tauter, the handling becomes quicker and more precise, and the powertrain responds more rapidly to throttle inputs. It's not a sports sedan but a more satisfying experience for anyone who enjoys driving.
Regardless of its green orientation, the S550e at heart is still the dignified flagship of the Mercedes-Benz fleet, which is to say that it comes well equipped -- especially if you order most or all of the available options -- with a full suite of state-of-the-art safety installations, as well as sinfully sumptuous comfort and convenience features.
Among the latter are heated seats, front and back, that deliver back massages on the go. Four-zone climate control keeps everybody comfortable Pillows can be detached and stashed in the trunk. The right-rear seat also boasts a power footrest.
Obviously, you're not going to get any of this at a bargain rate. The tested S550e had a starting price, including the destination charge, of $97,525. With $38,960 worth of options, its bottom line sticker came to $136,485.
Copyright © 2017 Motor Matters
|Base price||$97,525 (as tested: $136,485)|
|Curb weight||5,115 lbs.|
|Engine type||Bi-turbo V-6 and 132-kW electric motor|
|Epa mileage rating||24 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, 58 mpgE combined|
|Fuel capacity||21 gal.|
|Horsepower (net)||436 combined|
|Overall length||206.5 in.|
|Torque (lb.-ft.)||479 at 1000-4750 rpm|
|Vehicle type||4/5-passenger RWD large hybrid sedan|
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