What Is It?
The first thing to notice about the 2015 Mercedes-Benz S500 Plug-In Hybrid is that it has a model year before its name. That tells us it has gone beyond "concept car" stage and matured into a production vehicle.
The second thing is that, though there was a previous hybrid S-Class, the S400 Hybrid (which came out in Europe in 2009), this one has 10 times the energy content, allowing users to recharge the lithium-ion battery pack from an external source. The result is that the S500 PHV can travel for up to 18 miles or so on emissions-free electric power alone.
The company is proud of this achievement, saying it "sets a new benchmark for luxury sedans that just a few years ago was thought virtually impossible." The benchmark in question is the consumption of three liters of gasoline to cover 100 kilometers. On each side of the Atlantic, different methods are used to calculate these kinds of numbers, but a rough translation could put gas mileage in the high 70s.
Here's an example of the ingenuity in the Mercedes-Benz S500. Its navigation system can interact with the hybrid system, taking into account inclines, downhill stretches, bends and speed limits to keep the drivetrain in its optimal mode.
Pricing will be announced closer to the release date.
When Can You Get It?
Add It to Your Shopping List Because...
Having the largest, most advanced, most luxurious sedan doesn't necessarily mean paying the highest fuel bills. The current generation of S-Class, the company's flagship sedan, launched this year as a 2014 model. It comes packed with technology to provide high levels of comfort and safety (the way it can "flatten" speed bumps is a wonder to behold). It looks like that same level of engineering and painstaking attention to detail has gone into the company's latest hybrid drive system.
Other Cars to Consider
2015 Audi A8 3.0 TDI -- At around the same time the S500 PHV goes on sale, the revamped Audi A8 will, as well. There is no hybrid option for buyers in the U.S., so the turbodiesel version will be the most frugal in the range.
2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 -- The current 7 Series hybrid does not have the same plug-in capability and therefore not the same way of stretching a gallon of gas quite so far. But perhaps BMW will come up with something in the next 12 months.
2013 Lexus LS 600h L -- It seems strange to describe some hybrid drivetrains as old-school, but the S500 PHV has moved the game along. In the Lexus LS 600h L, the best Environmental Protection Agency highway consumption figure it can manage is 23 miles per gallon.
2014 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid -- This is a new variant of the Panamera: a plug-in hybrid. While its fuel consumption is about twice as thirsty as what M-B is claiming for its S500 PHV, the Porsche badge and performance will win over some buyers when it goes on sale later this year.
2014 Tesla Model S -- This all-electric car has the equivalent of 95 mpg. It's not like for like compared with the S500 PHV, admittedly, but it could still be on the radar of someone whose eco-awareness is as generous as his car budget.