• The E300 BlueTEC Hybrid is likely to be the first mass-produced, diesel-powered hybrid to be sold in the U.S.
  • The gas-powered E400 Hybrid will be available in the U.S. in the second half of 2012.

 

Although Mercedes-Benz has dabbled in the hybrid arena before, with its first entry being the $90,000 S400 Hybrid last year, the company has largely focused on the evolution of the diesel powertrain to meet increasingly more stringent fuel economy standards. But in an indication of electrification's seeming inevitability, Mercedes will debut two new hybrids geared towards its more mainstream E-Class customers at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show.

Even so, for Mercedes the introduction of these new E-Class hybrids comes with a bit of a twist. The first to hit the U.S. in late 2012 will be the gas-powered E400 Hybrid. The company says it expects that car to return 24-mpg city, 31-mpg highway, and 27-mpg in combined driving.

Even with the stellar mileage for such a well-appointed and heavy vehicle, Mercedes says it has not compromised on luxury, comfort, cargo capacity or passenger space. In fact, the company says it has used the extra 27 horsepower boost of the electric motor to increase the performance of its 302 horsepower V6.

While the E400 Hybrid will bring some class to the hybrid realm, a conventional gas-powered hybrid in itself isn't groundbreaking-even with its advanced lithium ion batteries, engine stop/start functionality, regenerative braking, and all-electric driving mode. Instead the breakthrough with the Mercedes hybrid system comes in its modularity, meaning it can be applied to most drivetrains across the manufacturer's lineup.

Case in point: the company will also be debuting the E300 BlueTEC Hybrid, a vehicle that combines the efficiencies of both a diesel engine and hybrid system to result in an ultra-luxurious, ultra-efficient vehicle. Although the E300 BlueTEC Hybrid will make its sales debut in Europe, all indications from Mercedes point to it eventually coming here as well-meaning not only is it the first diesel-electric hybrid Mercedes, but it will also likely be the first ever mass-produced, diesel-electric vehicle to reach U.S. shores.

Using European testing methods Mercedes says the E300 BlueTEC Hybrid could return an average of about 52 mpg in combined driving. United States EPA fuel economy tests tend to result in more realistic and lower numbers, so when it does come here expect that to be dialed down but still come in around the mid-40's.

Mercedes-Benz has yet to announce pricing on either of these new hybrids, but given that the current E350 BlueTEC sedan starts at just around $52,000 we expect the new hybrids to start at a significantly higher price point. Mercedes will release more information during the 2012 Detroit Auto Show Media Days, Jan. 9-10.

What it means to you: Mercedes-Benz's new E-Class Hybrids will bring mainstream, business class luxury to the hybrid arena. The gas-powered E400 Hybrid will go on sale in late 2012 and the diesel-electric E300 BlueTEC Hybrid is likely to hit U.S. shores in the near future-becoming the first diesel-powered hybrid in this country.

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Nick Chambers is a "next generation" car enthusiast, recognized for his green automotive coverage in Gas 2.0, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, HybridCars.com and PluginCars.com. In addition, he's been syndicated in Matter Network, AP and Reuters.

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