From £118,095
Can Merc’s limo retain benchmark status as a hybrid? It’s time to find out

Why we’re running it: To see if a plug-in hybrid S-Class can be as convincing an ultimate long-distance luxury saloon as its diesel ancestors

Month 2Month 1 - Specs

Life with a Mercedes S-Class PHEV: Month 2

There’s still much to explore, even from 1500 miles away - 20 July

I’ve been playing with an app. In my techno-Luddite world, that’s akin to Tarzan riding a monorail around the jungle. But sitting here in the Corfiot sunshine, I can look at my telephone and see that my car remains where I last parked it, some 1500 miles away from where I am now.

If it weren’t, I could deactivate the key from here. I can tell that it’s locked, and were it not, I could lock it from here. If I had left it with valet parking, I could set a geofenced perimeter that would alert me were the car to breach it in my absence. I can tell that no one has driven into it hard enough to trigger its collision detection sensors.

I know how much petrol is in the tank and how full of electrons is the battery. I could programme it to ensure that upon my arrival at its door, the interior temperature would be precisely what I would choose, regardless of the weather outside.

I can open or close the windows and/or the sunroof. I can review the tiniest details of my last journey and bone up on how to drive the next one more frugally. And so on and on and on.

The app is called Mercedes Me, and it puts a staggering amount of information and functionality at my fingertips. Which just leaves one question unanswered: does it say more about me or the app that I rarely use any of it?

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Indeed, I don’t think I’ve ever simply gone onto it to find some fact or operate any one of the myriad features that it lets me access from anywhere in the world.

The greatest use it has been to me is that on a couple of occasions I’ve come home with lots of stuff to unload and then gone on to some other activity only to be reminded that I’ve not locked the car. A press of an icon later, the car is secure again without me even needing to search for the key, let alone visit the car.

Sometimes I wonder whether all this gizmology is there because it’s so much easier to create the impression of progress by such means than, for instance, making the car even quieter and comfier – which in the S-Class’s case would be a very tall order indeed.

There are all manner of cars that I drive now, probably most of them, that offer an entire platoon of apps on their touchscreens, none of which I ever use. And when I talk of such things to my children, I discover that they don’t use them either.

Then again, perhaps we Frankels are strange. If nothing else, the Mercedes Me app provides a fleeting diversion from anything else that I might be doing – a welcome and interesting displacement activity. For that alone, it has its value. 

Love it

Computer world

Breathtaking levels of tech are at your disposal, none more evident than the world of possibilities provided by the Mercedes Me app.

Loathe it

Losing touch

I just can’t get on with the haptic controls on the steering wheel. I was told that I would get used to them, but that was 4000 miles ago and I still haven’t. 

Mileage: 6803

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The Big-Benz is not quite at home in tight spaces - 13 July

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There are few drawbacks to living with a big Benz, but multi-storey car parks are one. My nemesis this time came in the Gatwick short-termer. People worry about threading wide cars around these places, but in fact long ones are worse, as one now badly kerbed wheel attests.It was, of course, entirely my fault, and I’m furious with myself. 

Mileage: 5998

Range Rover launch gives rise to impromptu comparison - 6 July

It did feel a little unfair to turn up at the recent launch of the all-new Range

Rover in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. It meant that my experience of Land Rover’s crucial new flagship would be topped and tailed by journeys in what I have no doubt is the best mass-produced luxury car in the world.

The Range Rover is a car that’s expected to climb slippery slopes, wade through mud baths, cross deserts and clamber over rocks, and were it to display any inadequacies in any of those directions, it would be roundly criticised for them by the likes of me. 

We don’t make such demands of the S-Class. Yet if the Range Rover turns out not to be quite as quiet and comfortable as the limousine, it will get a kicking for that, too. 

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For there’s that curious conundrum resulting from the requirement to build a car that absolutely has to be superlative off-road despite the fact that no one will ever take one off-road. There’s nowt so queer as folk, as they used to say in Yorkshire.

But I’m not here to review a Range Rover, just to make a few hopefully interesting observations about the Benz in the light of that experience. And it’s a fair comparison: both the S580e and the Rangie that I drove had a 3.0-litre straight-six engine and a list price within seven grand of the other, which up here in the rarefied air above £100,000 isn’t much. But while the Benz is a petrol-electric hybrid, the Rangie was a diesel.

I would have always placed myself in the diesel camp for such cars until now. But not only is its price absurd, I think the Benz’s powertrain is simply superior, too. It’s quieter even when the ICE is on; it has even more torque, which surprised me; and while the Range Rover motor develops a little less than 350bhp, the Benz has a little more than 500bhp.

The cars have very similar weights, yet while the Range Rover does 35.7mpg on the combined scale (the Benz’s equivalent figure is over 300mpg because of the hybrid and therefore meaningless), I can get 40mpg from the S580 even without a charged battery.

On my current tank of fuel, with plenty of home-charged electric motoring, it’s doing around 52mpg and genuinely covering more than 60 miles without the need for an engine.

No question the Rangie has more sense of occasion: I actually prefer its cabin, and its ride and refinement are the next best thing to the Benz. Remember, too, that the S580 has no seven-seat option, nor would it have a decent crack at the Darien Gap were you so minded, either.

But for me, who only goes off-road when work requires it but who has to pay for every drop of his own fuel, the S-Class just makes more sense.

Love it

Watershed moment

This is the first plug-in hybrid powertrain that’s actually better than a diesel alternative.

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Loathe it

Auto activation 

The lane keeping aid defaults to on, requiring two menus and two button presses to cancel. 

Mileage: 5771

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There are few cars suited to long distances than this plug-in S-Class - 15 June

It’s an eight-hour drive from home to Lotus HQ and back, so it’s important to have the right wheels. This is a journey for which the S580e was born: not fast, not fun, but important. What would have been better? A Rolls, perhaps; but at £2 a litre, I’d be broke before I was home. The Benz topped 40mpg. For that trip and this person, it was unimprovable. AF

Mileage: 5067

Life with a Mercedes S-Class PHEV: Month 1

What could be more frugal than a five-metre-long, 3.0-litre straight-six petrol limo?  - 8 June

Before the big Benz silently rolled up to the house, I had spent the previous few months knocking about in a Land Rover Defender. Brilliant car: I loved every minute of it, save those rather too frequent occasions spent filling its tank and emptying my wallet at the same time. 

Even with just a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, with petrol prices being what they are, it was a sizeable disincentive. It would only do 25mpg if you drove it unusually gently.

So what hope, then, for the S-Class, with its similar weight and a 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine?

Of course, the secret lies in its ability to travel a considerable distance on battery power alone (of which much more in a minute), but it’s easy to exclude that from the reckoning just by pressing the ‘battery hold’ icon on the touchscreen. And what’s astonishing is that, even if I factor in the usual optimism of the Mercedes trip computer (why are they allowed to not tell the truth?), it will still do close to 40mpg without depleting its electrical reserves in the slightest.

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For that, I can thank a shape that is to the Defender as a pencil is to a house brick, but also an astonishing ability to scavenge energy in the most unlikely of circumstances. Find myself on the gentlest downhill gradient and it will have the engine off in an instant, stopping dead all those energy-sapping reciprocating masses, because it has figured out that it can maintain progress on the energy it’s recovering without troubling that in the battery. Sometimes I even see the electric range increase by a mile or two.

But actually I spend as much time as possible driving it on electricity sourced from my wallbox at home. Because it has a chunky 28.6kWh battery, that gives it a claimed range of 63 electric-only miles. Compare that with the 25 miles of the Bentley Bentayga Hybrid that I ran on this fleet earlier in the year.

Actually, and now that it has learned a bit about me, how and where I tend to drive, the Benz is estimating (and delivering) around 66 electric-only miles. 

So unless I’m going a long way, this ultra-luxury, long-wheelbase limousine, with its 2.4-tonne kerb weight and more than 500bhp, has the lowest energy cost of any car that I’ve ever owned or run.

Even long journeys, like my typical trundle to London and back, will yield well over 50mpg without me recharging it in the city.

The other great bonus is that it keeps me out of service stations. Because I add another 60-plus miles of range every time I plug it in at home, it can go enormous distances without troubling a forecourt (886 miles on the last ‘tank’), which makes journeys quicker and more pleasant.

The downside is that about a third of the boot capacity is lost, which is significant. But with both Frankel offspring long since fledged and dispatched from the nest, it’s not something that troubles me with any regularity at all.

Love it 

What inflation?

Extraordinary energy efficiency for such a heavy and powerful car is much appreciated with the current cost of fuel.

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Loathe it 

Roofbox required

The boot capacity is okay for me, but those wanting to travel across Europe with a family of four need to satisfy themselves it will do the job. 

Mileage: 4222

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Welcoming the S-Class to the fleet - 25 May 2022

Thirty years ago, there was another S-Class Benz on this very fleet. It was an S500 of the W140 generation: silver paint, V8 motor, keys guarded very closely by one S. Cropley Esq, who remains of this parish to this day. But I was able to wrench them from his grip once, because Jaguar was launching the new Daimler Double Six and we had to do a twin test with the world’s best luxury car. Which the S-Class was.

The good news for me was the launch was in Biarritz. But it was also on Valentine’s Day, so I drove down overnight with my then girlfriend (now wife) in the passenger seat and promptly fell in love – with the car, you understand. I still regard successfully smuggling my other half onto a two-day car launch one of the greater achievements of my career.

Ever since, that car has set the standard against which all mainstream luxury cars, and S-Classes in particular, have been measured in general, at least in my mind. And while some have been quicker, quieter and doubtless even more sybaritically comfortable, none has yet managed to suffuse me with quite the same sense of supreme well-being achieved by that old W140. Cropley still gets misty-eyed about it to this day, and rightly so.

So that’s the job here, of this top-of-the-range, flag-waving, all-singing, all-dancing new S-Class, which is mine for the next few months. It comes with a wheelbase almost as long as its name, denoting it to be the one that sits at the top of the pile, the numero uno, the majordomo of the S-Class household. It also has, and this is the crucial bit, a plug-in hybrid drive.

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Why crucial? Because it is allegedly capable of travelling 63 miles on electrons alone. If this is true, and thanks to my trusty Pod Point home charger, this will take the financial sting out of even quite long journeys while also allowing me to waft around on a cushion of electrons, to which, I must say,

I am quite looking forward. Mercedes-Benz ordered the car and wanted it to be the range-topping model but invited me to choose its colour inside and out, plus optional extras. So wishing to make as small an additional statement compared with that already inherent in driving an S-Class, I chose standard Selenite Grey metallic paintwork with a black leather interior. To be honest, those were easy choices, but not as easy as the options. Staggeringly well equipped as it already is, I asked for and received precisely none.

What it lacks, which even Cropley’s old S500 had, is a V8. That’ll come when the AMG variant arrives on stream later this year, but the S580 packs a 3.0-litre straight six with 362bhp in conjunction with a 148bhp electric motor fed by a 28.6kWh battery, which is more than twice the capacity of that fitted to, say, a Bentley Flying Spur hybrid. Hence the enormous all-electric range.

There’s a price to be paid, of course: it weighs 2385kg, but I guess if there was a class of car where some excess avoirdupois was going to cause less trouble than others, this is probably it. More irksome is the resulting reduction in boot capacity of around 10%, or more if you want to take the charging cables in their bags along for the ride with you.

Talking of charging, the S580e also comes with another USP, at least among plug-in hybrid saloons: it will take a fast charge on the motorway at up to 60kW, which will replenish the battery from 10-80% full in just 20 minutes. I’d probably just continue using the ICE, not least as motorway electricity seems to be no cheaper than motorway petrol these days, but the facility is there if you want it.

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The other really smart thing it has are dual-purpose steering-wheel paddles. You can choose to use them to change gear as usual, or you can use them to set the amount of regenerative braking you want. There are three settings: the default mode offers a small, fairly unobtrusive amount of regen, but pull the right- hand paddle and it disappears almost entirely.

Pull the left-hand one, however, and there’s so much regen you barely ever need to use the brake pedal. I quite like that, along with watching the electric range meter tick up during long downhill sections, but others will not. There’s also a whole new world waiting for me to investigate via the Mercedes Me app. When I’ve registered, I’ll be able to find the car, lock the car, start the car, pre- condition the cabin of the car and upload destinations to the car all from the comfort of my own sofa, or perhaps someone else’s.

Apparently, I’ll also be able to park it remotely. I do wonder whether this will prove a genuinely useful and valued benefit to the ownership experience, or whether I’ll discover it’s just another one of those gimmicks that seems curiously beguiling when you read about it and is used once for fun, then forgotten about forever after. But I look forward to finding out.

Second Opinion

There’s a great deal to like in the new S-Classes I’ve driven (this particular grey example I haven’t yet managed), but I’m particularly taken with the way they drive. For a big car packed with tech, adding weight and complexity, the S is, for me, still the standout car in this class to drive.

Matt Prior

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Mercedes S-Class S580e specification

Specs: Price New £113,880 Price as tested £113,880 Options

Test Data: Engine 2999cc straight-six petrol, 28.6kWh battery, single e-motor Power 510bhp at 5000rpm Torque 723lb ft at 2400rpm Kerb weight 2385kg Top speed 155mph 0-62mph 5.2sec Fuel economy 54.3mpg, 62-mile electric range CO2 18g/km Faults None Expenses None

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Join the debate

Comments
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Add a comment…
Overdrive 22 July 2022
Autocar wrote:

.... Sometimes I wonder whether all this gizmology is there because it’s so much easier to create the impression of progress by such means than, for instance, making the car even quieter and comfier...

Alright, so the latest S Class has a lot more tech than the previous model (which itself wasn't exactly short on tech), but how much quieter or comfier than the previous model it is really? I'll bet unless you drive them back to back, and then for long periods and in different conditions, you can hardly tell the difference!

So yes, far more/newer tech, but in terms of traditional luxury saloon pampering and driving refinement progress? Not all that much, I suspect!

QuestionEverything 7 July 2022
No doubt it's a lovely car (although it would've looked more luxurious with a lighter interior colour) but Mercedes have lost that air of exclusivity they had up until the early 90's. These cars will probably be bought by private hire firms for airport collections rather than doctors and lawyers. The quality in the lower models isn't there anymore & you no longer feel special to drive a Mercedes. They don't even have the three pointed star at the end of the bonnet in this country's models. They're school run vehicles (not the S-Class) now that are probably more common on the roads than Fords. Shame really.
QuestionEverything 7 July 2022
I've noticed that this car still has the three pointed star in the bonnet so that's a relief but most of the lower models in Mercedes' range don't.
Gerhard 8 July 2022

Indeed, most C, E & S-Classes are taxis and livery vehicles, most private-owner Mercs are the suspicously Renault-related A-Classes and a few of the ageing GLC and ML/GLE SUVs

The only clever new Merc is the plug-in GLB, but given its humble origins it is wildly over-priced.

Gerhard 8 July 2022

Needless to say, the EQ sedans will ultimately also go the way of the C, E & S-Class cars...

405line 7 July 2022

Seems like a nice car and high tech, however I would've liked to have know what effect 60KW of power being diverted into a battery with say 15% charge has on performance and fuel consumption.