2010 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid Review

Thursday October 7th, 2010 at 12:1010 PM
Posted by: peter

By Peter Newton

Pros:

  • Elegant and stylish
  • Loaded with every possible luxury amenity
  • Spacious and comfortable cabin
  • Superior driving experience for highway cruising

Cons:

  • Very complex to operate
  • Underpowered and heavy

Mercedes-Benz is one of the best known automotive brands in the world and can claim to be the oldest automotive brand that is still active. In the US, owning a Mercedes has long been a mark of success, showing that you have arrived in the world. A few years ago, however, the shine on the distinctive three-prong star has been a bit tarnished by some manufacturing quality issues and a user control interface for the onboard computer that has was panned in the automotive press. Mercedes is known for their strong engineering strengths and historically sound quality, so I expected the cars to bounce back to their former glory. With a chance to review the S400 Hybrid, I looked forward to see how they had recovered from those mishaps as well as see how they had embraced the new environmentally green movement with a hybrid luxury car.


2010 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid

Driving Impressions
I drove a beautiful white 2010 S400 Hybrid, the “green” offering in the exclusive S-class sedans. The S-class series are not the most expensive line of Mercedes cars, but they are the largest sedan they sell and the prices are lofty to match. The S400 is at the bottom of the S-class series and clocks in at about $111,000. What do you get for that? A big car loaded with luxuries. I bring this up now as it relates directly with the driving experience.

The S400 is a big, heavy car, coming in at 4,390 pounds! That’s heavier than my Acura MDX! This baby is built for cruising down the autobahn with style and elegance. I enjoyed taking it on the California highways, which have speed limits but still allow for some high speed motoring. The stability and comfort that the S400 surpasses any of the cars I’ve driven, making long distance driving something to look forward to. I would relish the opportunity to drive from San Francisco to LA and back, just to cruise down the road with this supremely confident coach.

With some disappointment, I have to admit that highway motoring was the peak of the driving experience for the S400. With a fuel efficient V-6 delivering only 295 horses, the very size and solidness that gave it such a nice ride on the freeway weighs it down during city driving. To be sure, the ride is still very nice – comfortable, stable, and elegant. However, it does not have the power to really put you back in your seat as I’d expect out of a luxury sedan. I suspect that to hit the MPG targets, the power was dialed back, leaving a driving experience that is comfortable, but not exciting.

2010 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid

Build
Mercedes seems to have worked out any quality issues they had a few years ago. Everything on my S400 looked flawless. Leather and burled walnut covered the cockpit in a beautiful sea of tans, browns with flecks of black for accent. The doors were suitably heavy and provided a good solid ‘chunk’. I didn’t test the trunk heft, as it had a button for a powered close which I couldn’t resist using time and time again, with flawless results.

Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The design ethic for the S-class sedans must run somewhere along the lines of “Make it as comfortable as possible”. Everything about the interior of this car spoke to a desire to pamper the occupants. From fully adjustable seats in both the front and rear, including four memory settings for a quick return to a passenger’s ideal configuration, to folding rear sun shade to knock down the bright sunlight, the S400 is loaded with every luxury possible.

Both the front seats feature massage capabilities, while the rear passengers can enjoy watching DVD movies on the screens built into the front seat headrests, listening on the provided wireless headphones.

Climate control is separate for driver and front passenger and all seats offer both heating and cooling.

dual-zone automatic climate control Mercedes-Benz analog clock adjustable fiber-optic ambient lighting

This car is loaded with so many features that unfortunately, the engineers have not figured out how to best control all of them. In fact, the main shortfall of the car is the complexity of operation. The owner’s manual is more than 500 pages thick and the provided cheat sheet is 12 panels! At first I thought these guys need better editors to cut out the fluff, but the car is really that complicated.

The manual is a densely written document that plods from feature to feature in boring detail, sharing just the basic facts- no fluff whatsoever. I spent several hours reading it just to make sure I could turn on the head lights correctly. Turns out I didn’t have to worry – the lights are automatic. But I also learned how to control the infrared night vision display for enhanced night visibility, among other things.

numeric input keypad COMAND system w/enhanced voice control 14-way adjustable power seats

Many of the capabilities of the S400 are controlled by the infamous mouse/pointer/selector knob, a.k.a. COMAND Controller, that sits between the driver and the passenger. Having one master knob to control so many features creates a challenge that Mercedes has not figured out- how to do so many different things and make it easy to use. With such a myriad of activities to control, there are layers of menus for even simple tasks. It takes three clicks just to change the radio station! Also, with so much information available but only one screen for display, it is difficult to cycle through the screens to see it.

With the radio stations and the navigation map, along the battery power/gas mileage performance, there were too many screens that I found myself flipping between. There is a very versatile speedometer on the dashboard that includes limited information on several tasks, but it was never enough information for me.

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