Dec. 11, 2009
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2010 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid Review
It's probably best to call the new Mercedes-Benz S400 BlueHybrid a mild, rather than full, hybrid, because it can't propel itself on electrical power alone. In other words, the BlueHybrid is not powered by the two-mode system co-developed with GM for big SUVs, which will be an option for the M-Class next year. This is a smaller, cheaper system designed to be scaleable across all Mercedes car lines. Despite its comparative simplicity, the S400 BlueHybrid's gasoline and CO2 savings are significant:
some 21% in the European test cycle, compared with the regular V-6 S350. It's also quieter at rest and more muscular in real-world acceleration. There's very little penalty over the standard V-6 in terms of weight -- just 170 lb -- and none at all in passenger or luggage accommodation or payload. 2010 Mercedes Benz S400 Bluehybrid Rear View Click to view Gallery Of course you can't buy a regular Euro-spec S350 in the U.S., so let's do the numbers against a V-8 S550. The BlueHybrid goes 47% farther on a gallon than the S550 on the Euro test cycle, but its performance figures aren't so far off -- about seven sec 0-to-60 instead of 5.4. That's why they called it S400: because it feels like a four-liter engine. The BlueHybrid's electric motor effectively does duty as the gas engine's flywheel, turning at crank speed all the time. It offers 118 lb-ft of torque at zero revs, but because its torque falls with revs, it only contributes an extra 20 hp to the total by the time the gas engine is in its stride. Compared with the standard V-6, this extra torque makes it feel slightly more like the V-8 at lower revs: a strong but lazy roll-on to the throttle without so many hectic downshifts. 2010 Mercedes Benz S400 Bluehybrid Side View Click to view Gallery The point, throughout this engineering job, was to make the hybrid feel like the regular car, except in the issue of tank range. In fact, the V-6 has new cam timing and cylinder heads. It runs, like a Prius, on the Atkinson cycle. This delays inlet valve closing, reducing effective compression. It gives the engine great efficiency but over a fairly narrow rev range. In other parts of the rpm spectrum, the electric motor fills in the torque deficit. The transmission is reprogrammed to suit, aiming to keep the engine where it's happiest. The electronics keep a constant eye on battery state of charge, and if it's near 100%, then the electric motor is deployed fully while the engine is throttled back. If you've just ascended a long steep hill and the battery is low, then more of the overall power will be coming from the engine.
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