20 January 2005

Mercedes has dropped a huge hint that a hybrid version of the new M-class 4x4 is close to production. One of its Detroit displays was this near-production 4x4 transmission (right), which incorporates twin electric motors.

Autocar talked to a Mercedes engineer who confirmed that the system was undergoing final calibration tests to make the transition between petrol and electric power as smooth as possible.

It’s likely to be seen first on the new M-class, which has been engineered with enough space under the boot floor to take a substantial battery. The system is based around Merc’s seven-speed 7G automatic transmission. Sandwiched between the ’box and the engine are a pair of electric motors. The motors develop just 34bhp each, but 141lb ft and 221lb ft of torque respectively.

The system would allow the M-class to run as a conventional petrol or diesel (though the turning of the engine will allow the motors to act as alternators and recharge the batteries). In zero-emissions mode – most useful in cities – the electric motors could easily provide enough torque to power the car from traffic light to traffic light with impressive performance.

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