Mercedes S-Class plug-in hybrid review
A massive 62-mile electric range and a sumptuous, high-tech interior move the Mercedes S 580 e plug-in hybrid to the front of the low-emissions limousine pack
- Huge electric range
- Stunning interior
- Flat boot floor
- No all-wheel-drive
- Only long-wheelbase
- Electric EQS has lower BiK rate
|Car type||Electric range||Fuel economy||CO2 emissions|
|Plug-in hybrid||62 miles||177-217mpg||29-37g/km|
The Mercedes S-Class has dominated the luxury saloon class for decades. Every generation has introduced new technology that has rivals struggling to catch up – and which eventually finds its way to more affordable cars. But as electrification gathers pace and Mercedes launches the EQS as a zero-emissions equivalent to its flagship, the question arises as to whether the traditional luxury saloon can stay at the cutting edge.
Introduced in late 2021, this incarnation of the S-Class debuts and optional 'Drive Pilot' cruise-control system that allows you to take your hands off the wheel long enough to watch a film in slow-moving traffic, as well as this S 580 e plug-in hybrid model with a battery twice as big as the previous S 560 e hybrid.
Power comes from a 3.0-litre, six-cylinder petrol engine plus an electric motor. The engine makes the same 362bhp it did in the old model, but now it’s supplemented by 148bhp of electric power instead of 121bhp. Working together, they deliver an impressive 510bhp, up from 470bhp for the S 560 e. That translates to a rapid 0-62mph sprint time of 4.5 seconds, making the S 580 e the fastest, most powerful version of the current S-Class you can buy – until the inevitable AMG version appears.
Neither the Audi A8 nor BMW 7 Series plug-in can match the S 580 e's firepower, but more importantly, they can't match it for fuel economy or electric driving range, either. Those cars will do around 30 to 35 miles on electric power, which is comparable to the old S 560 e. But because Mercedes has increased the size of the battery from 13.5 to 28kWh, the S 580 e will run for 62 miles before the petrol engine has to cut in.
That’s an official Mercedes figure, but we drove for 40 miles on a mix of German roads, reaching 80mph in places, and still had 20 miles remaining on the range display. And that extra-large battery has a significant impact on running costs: official economy improves from 108-113mpg to 177-217mpg, and the 29-37g/km CO2 rating is the lowest among hybrid luxury cars.
When the petrol engine does join in, either because you’ve depleted the battery, or because you’re asking for a big kick of acceleration, you barely notice the switch, so smooth is the integration of the two engines, and so well insulated is the stunning interior. You do hear it when accelerating hard, but as this is a meaty 3.0-litre straight six and not an overworked four-cylinder, the noise isn't unpleasant by any means.
Featuring a 3D instrument panel and augmented reality head-up-display that overlays navigation arrows onto your view through the windscreen, the S-Class hybrid's cabin (above) is dominated by a huge touchscreen running the latest version of Mercedes’ MBUX software. Almost all function have migrated to the 12.8-inch screen, but fortunately a call of ‘Hey, Mercedes!’ followed by a command is usually understood. And since the most important person in this car will often be in the back, voice commands are picked up throughout.
Unlike the entry-level S 350 d diesel, which starts at less than £85,000, the S 580 e is only available in long-wheelbase form, so there's not much change from £110,000 for even the cheapest trim. There is at least acres of legroom in the back and – unlike the previous S-Class hybrid – no awkward step in the boot floor.
The 520-litre luggage capacity is easily the best in the class, too. But at 5,289mm between its bumpers, the stretched S-Class is a big car: we’d definitely recommend the optional four-wheel steering system, which transforms the manoeuvrability, giving it the same turning circle as an A-class hatchback.
Air suspension is standard, coping well with all but the most severe urban bumps and potholes and giving the S-Class a better ride than its rivals. It steers accurately, too, and while driving fast on a twisty road reminds you of the extra weight of the battery pack, the S 580 e still feels very composed, controlled and even agile for such a heavy car, despite the lack of all-wheel drive. And unlike some plug-in hybrids, the Mercedes' petrol engine actually makes a nice noise when it's awoken and pushed hard.
Most S-Class buyers won’t be driving quickly, though, and while the S 580 e is expensive, it’s the standout car both in the S-Class range and in the luxury limousine class overall. It outshines its rivals with stronger performance and an excellent 62-mile electric range, while inside it boasts the quietest, most elegant cabin this side of a Rolls-Royce.
And while it can't match the running costs of the pure-electric EQS, the S-Class still feels just a touch more refined, luxurious and special than the newcomer – particularly in the rear seats. The impression is that Mercedes didn't want to knock its longstanding 'halo' model off the top perch just yet, giving it a few more years in the limelight before combustion engines disappear from luxury cars altogether in the near future.