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Like most recent Mercedes-Benzes, the S400 Hybrid uses a stalk mounted on the steering column as the shifter for the seven-speed automatic transmission. This car also gets paddle shifters on the steering wheel spokes for sequential manual gear changes, which let us coax a little more power from it.
A new feature of the navigation system helped out during our mountain driving escapades. Along with the usual 2D and bird's-eye maps, Mercedes-Benz incorporated a new 3D map into the navigation system, showing topographical details. This map not only gave us advanced warning of curves in the road, but made rises and descents clear, as well.
Similar to new 3D maps in Audi and BMW models, the S400 Hybrid shows maps of major urban areas in incredible detail. Driving through downtown San Francisco, the map rendered every building, adding textures to a few notable landmarks.
Mercedes-Benz also followed Acura's example by incorporating Zagat restaurant listings into the navigation system's points of interest database. Searching for an eatery in the Zagat category, the system not only showed ratings for food, decor, and service, but also included comments to give a more complete idea of what each restaurant is like.
The maps show traffic information, and the navigation system uses this data to dynamically calculate routes. For freeway travel, the route guidance graphics include an indication of which lane the car needs to be in for each junction or off-ramp. Our only disappointment with this navigation system was that it doesn't give much advanced warning for each maneuver, which is problematic when you are sailing down the freeway and 70 mph.
The navigation system stores its maps on a hard drive, and Mercedes-Benz reserves a portion of that storage space for music, letting you rip CDs in the car. We were also pleased to find solid iPod integration in the car, with a full view of the iPod's music library on the LCD.
Music plays through a Harman Kardon audio system, using a 600-watt amp and 15 speakers. The results are excellent, with some of the clearest and well-balanced audio we've heard in a car. Bass is never overpowering, and the highs come through with rich clarity, making every sound distinct.
A fine Bluetooth phone system was also present in our car, offering full phone book capabilities.
Beyond that fairly typical cabin tech content, Mercedes-Benz loads the S400 Hybrid with all manner of driver assistance technologies. As we've seen in previous Mercedes-Benz models, radar gives the car adaptive cruise control. We were very impressed that when a car ahead of us stopped on the highway to make a left turn, the S400 Hybrid brought itself to a complete halt. When the road ahead was clear, our car accelerated to our preset speed, although there was a significant wait for it to hit the gas.
We found blind spot detection very useful on this car, as people seemed to drive perpetually off our left or right quarters. This system shows a red icon in the side view mirror if a car is in the next lane, and makes it blink if you hit the turn signal. However, if the car is visible in the S400 Hybrid's side mirror, the warning won't light up; it only turns on when other cars are truly in the blind spot.
Lane Keeping Assist is another new technology on the S400 Hybrid. It monitors the lane lines, giving a warning if you cross over without signaling. Its warning consists of a very light, intermittent rumble of the steering wheel. But this warning is so light that it doesn't seem like it would wake a dozing driver. We would like to see Mercedes-Benz increase the intensity.
Driving at night with the night vision system on is a very interesting experience, as it changes the speedometer, which is really just an animation on an LCD, to an enhanced view of the road ahead. It lets you quickly glance down and see further ahead than you can with the naked eye. We've found it works best on very dark roads with no other cars around, as headlights and taillights tend to blow out the image.
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid is a high-tech marvel, incorporating innovative and ground-breaking technologies to assist drivers. The blind spot detection and adaptive cruise control both contribute to the driving experience. Standard cabin tech features, comprised of navigation, Bluetooth phone, and the stereo, are all first rate. We particularly like the audio quality of the car's Harman Kardon sound system.
We could wish for a full hybrid system in this car, but the existing system makes the V-6 engine a viable choice to drive the big S-class. In turn, that choice avoids the gas guzzler tax and gets the car reasonable gas mileage. The air suspension enhances the performance, making the car a luxury cruiser and giving it some cornering capability.
|Model||2010 Mercedes-Benz S-class|
|Powertrain||Mild gas-electric hybrid 3.5-liter V-6|
|EPA fuel economy||19 mpg city/26 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||20.8 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard hard drive-based navigation with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3 compatible six disc changer|
|MP3 player support||iPod|
|Other digital audio||Onboard hard drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Harman Kardon 600 watt 15 speaker|
|Driver aids||Night vision, adaptive headlights, adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning, lane departure warning, rear-view camera, automatic high beams, rain-sensing windshield wipers, driver attention monitor|
|Price as tested||$111,090|