>> It basically violates everything we've come to think an S class is. Immodest with fuel consumption and remarkably trim and quick on its feet. Now the first two of those are okay to violate; the last one not so good. Let's drive the Mercedes S400 Hybrid and check the tech.
Looking unfortunately similar to a Beluga whale, thanks to its diamond white paint job, our S400 is arguably the sleeker Hybrid of the moment. Most folks don't even know this car exists. A few badges give it away on the outside, but almost nothing gives it away on the inside; certainly not any sacrifices in the appointments or cabin tech. Now we've seen most of what's in this cabin before, it's traditional high-end Mercedes S class stuff. A couple of features--you can see we've got the traditional latest generation command interface which is really good, you've got all this 3D building nonsense going on and of course you can also change it up from this sort of contour eye of God view, notice the icons are nice and the traffic indications. Check this out--we've got the ability to swing this screen from driver facing to center, to passenger facing. Another even newer technology, brand new on the Mercedes is what they call split view which electronically turns that into two displays. From my angle I would see, let's say navigation information and entertainment settings; from the passenger angle like where you are right there, you'd look at it and you might see a movie playing that I can't see from here. Lots of sources on this car for example we've got a DVD queued up, looks real good, here again while you're stopped. You can't look at that while you're driving. AM-FM radio of course including HD radio on this guy, satellite radio, Sirius, disk includes our six-disc slot here which can gobble up audio or video disks, MP3 or standard or audio CD's; memory card refers to what the website says is a PC MCIA or PC card slot, they're lying. It's luckily an SD card slot which is at least a little more marginally relevant to people. Music register--that's the hard drive in the car primarily there to run this interface and the navigation system especially; but they also give you some space to put your own stuff on there, to rip music to it. The next thing on the list is the media interface. That's one of these multi-harness affairs here in the car. You plug in whatever you want into that Mercedes connector and it ends up being like in this case we've got a female mini, an Aux jack and I've also got my iPod connector which we've got an iPhone or an iPod Touch hooked up to. All kinds of assistance technologies on this car either standard or optional, including the I think very annoying and downright dangerous night view assist. You hit this button over here in the dark and when you have low beams on only, it turns that video speedometer into an infrared night vision camera looking forward. You think it's really cool except that it's all screwy. Your focal distance is right there versus out on the street so you've really got to change your plane of focus when you look up and down. And the new version we have on this car now will actually detect the pedestrians using some software logic that says that's a person; and put little brackets around it even if you can't tell it's a person the brackets mean that's what that shape is. These little pylons that are lighting up on our side view mirrors are part of the blind spot detection system, yellow and red, depending if there's someone in your blind spot or not. You get a big old B if there's someone there and you still signal or move into them so it gives you a variety of suggestions on what to do. And it's got what's called lane keep assist which really doesn't keep you in your lane; it's a stick shaker so if you drift across a lane without a turn signal on, you're going to get two sets of vibrations on the wheel like [vibrating sound]; but I find it's really late. I'm like halfway in the other lane, got half the car clear across the dividing line and then it starts to vibrate and then I run you off the road so I'm not really impressed with it. And we also have Dystronic [assumed spelling] which is their adaptive cruise control. This little stalk here handles that and you can see I can set my follow distance as well as my speed with that. We have keyless go on this car, ala carte option by the way; push button starter, but you don't have to have a push button starter. If you're like me and you like a key you can actually turn, if you get into an emergency, you just pull this whole cap off of there--look at that--and there's a place where you'd actually insert this electronic key and turn on or off. Now if you're like me and you hate going to the theater because everyone's talking all the time, this is the car for you. This is where I want to see movies; you've got lots of backseat room, we have a rear seat package that has recline and massage and we've got some well-done rear seat monitors; not terribly large but they're nicely faired in to the back of headrest area and you've also got auxiliary jacks for each one so you can plug in your portable for a video source if you like; you've got wireless headphones addressable to each of the systems; you've also got a DVD deck down here underneath the seat that you can use for the rear or you can pipe in the source coming from the system in the front. Now under here is a big shocker. This big Benz is the Hybrid V6 gas engine, three and one-half liters, pretty scrawny stuff for an S class but made it to an electric motor gets you to 295, 96 horsepower, 284 foot pounds of torque, pretty good numbers. Good enough for a zero to sixty and 7.2--not bad for a big old boat this size. And the MPG is 19 city, 26 highway. Again, pretty darn good plus the pollution numbers are great, 9.5 out of 10 on the smog number, higher numbers are better and a pretty good 58 on the CO2 emissions. Couple of other technologies here that are very cutting edge--one is this car is the first production vehicle that's a Hybrid to use Lithium Ion batteries, you know the stuff that every car maker is trying to get too these guys already had it and you have automatic start stop in this vehicle. Whenever you come to a stop, boom, it shuts down and when you lift off to go and hit the gas again, it fires right back up. That power train is some 25% more efficient than the V8 gas engine S550 which only ekes [assumed spelling] out a rather nose-thumbing 14 city, 21 highway. So yes, the S400 makes a real difference in MPG. The problem is you have to drive it. In two days of doing that I never was able to make peace with the lurchy, surgy, janky [assumed spelling] way this Hybrid power train delivers motive force. Yes if you really step on it there's great smooth power in there but in typical part throttle driving--you know the stuff you do 95% of the time, this thing comes across lumpier than hurried oatmeal. As I mentioned this is a mild Hybrid so it never runs on pure electric but the auto start-stop technology kicks the engine on and off with kind of disturbing thud some of the time; even the braking seem to hesitate once in a while when you're on and off of the gas and the brakes a lot in city traffic; just sort of a hot mess. Okay let's price this big boy. Based on the S400, Hybrid, Hybrid only on this model is 88,000--this is not a Prius. Now to CNET this guy up you've got to spend a few thousand more. First of all $700 bucks for that really cool split view technology where you see two things on that single front dash monitor, very [inaudible]. $1750 will get you the night view assist with pedestrian detection, that infrared forward looking camera that drives me crazy but you've got to admit it's pretty cool technology; $2900 more for this driver assistance package; that will get you the adaptive front cruise, the whole dystronic system I showed you plus the lane keep assist that doesn't really keep much of anything from happening and the blind spot detection stuff here in the mirror. And another $2400 for that rear seat entertainment system. Oh and by the way your Mercedes dealer will sell you a special Mercedes branded 2 gigabyte SD card for $49. I'm going to pass on that.