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Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2009 Review

There are no current plans for a right-drive model of the first production S400 hybrid.
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That is, as long as that buyer is not in Australia. The 220kW, 7.9-litres/100km limousine with a mere 186g/km CO2 emission level powers Mercedes-Benz into a new era of luxury.

But the most disappointing feature of the S400 – Mercedes’ first production hybrid and the world’s first production hybrid with lithium-ion batteries — is that there are no current plans for a right-hand drive version.

The closest one for which Mercedes would speculate about a right-drive model is for the next generation S-Class, due in 2012.

That’s a long time to wait for a car, especially one that has only just been released in its home market.

The disappointment showed on my face on a run in the car through Germany’s Black Forest region, where the undulating and twisting narrow roads have no patience for weak engines. The relatively modest 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine is usually starved of brisk off-the-mark sprints, weighed down by the S-Class 1.9-tonne mass and its own leisurely power output.

But mated with a n electric motor, situated between the engine and the seven-speed automatic gearbox, it becomes subtly more responsive and with a big boost to low-end delivery.

As it caught the evening traffic snarl out of Stuttgart, it switched off its engine when stationary to save fuel. I had expected it to crawl forward with the snail’s pace of the traffic, quietly using only its motor in a similar fashion to the Lexus and Toyota Prius. But it didn’t, instead always silently starting the engine and letting petrol fuel the ride.

The lithium-ion batteries are considerably smaller — about 10 per cent of the size and weight — than its rivals. But they may also be less powerful to act as stand-alone power.

The battery box sits under the bonnet so there’s no change to the luggage area in design, layout and available space. That is a big bonus compared with its rivals that use the bigger, heavier metal-hydride batteries.

Why has Mercedes-Benz grasped the hybrid concept and set it free in its latest S-Class saloon? Simply because it believes performance and luxury can co-exist with a more environmentally-conscious powerplant.

In wheeling out the S400 Hybrid, Mercedes takes on Lexus and for the future, a potential stream of upmarket rivals.

It will lead to more hybrid examples and, within two years a diesel-hybrid version that promises much greater emission and fuel use reductions, predicts the company’s high-voltage energy manager Dr Martin Hermsen.

So impressive is the S400 Hybrid that it overshadowed the concurrent launch of the 2009 S-Class make-over model. This is the car that leads into the 2012 next generation model.

For Australia, the S400 will be only a dream. But eight models will lead the S-Class into the Australian market starting in August with the S350 and S500 petrol-engine versions. These will be followed by the S350 CDI turbo-diesel, the S350 and S500 long wheelbase versions, then the S600, S63 and S65.

Mercedes-Benz Australia spokesman David McCarthy says prices will remain about the same as the current range.

In a similar vein, little has changed about the 2009 S-Class in comparison to the outgoing series. Yes, a closer look sees restyled head and tail lights, a new grille and mirrors.

New systems are included inside the car and theres new technology such as the split-image monitor that allows the driver to see the satellite navigation map while the front passenger enjoys a movie.

The S-Class is still a big car yet retains a conservative style that lures a mature market. Undoubtedly, it’s impressive and — as the S-Class has since 1951 — speaks without words about the importance of its owner.

Pricing guides

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Range and Specs

S500 5.5L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $52,690 – 60,610 2009 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2009 S500 Pricing and Specs
S63 AMG 6.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $66,660 – 76,560 2009 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2009 S63 AMG Pricing and Specs
S320 CDI 3.0L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO $50,710 – 58,300 2009 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2009 S320 CDI Pricing and Specs
S600 L 5.5L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $60,610 – 69,630 2009 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2009 S600 L Pricing and Specs
Neil Dowling
Contributing Journalist