After a slow start, hi-tech hybrids are attracting mainstream success. And it’s not just penny-pinching family cars that are getting the eco-friendly electric treatment.
The newest generation of luxury limousines has also been given a green makeover. The latest arrival is the Mercedes S300 Hybrid, which combines a small-capacity four-cylinder diesel with an electric motor to deliver a compelling blend of performance and economy. But are captains of industry going to be convinced by such a humble powerplant, or are they likely to be swayed by a theoretically smoother and more refined petrol unit?
To find out, we’ve lined up the new S-Class against a pioneer of the luxury hybrid class: the Lexus LS 600h. Boasting a strong and silent 5.0-litre V8 and muscular 221bhp electric motor, the innovative car has the Mercedes beaten hands down for performance, plus it comes lavishly equipped and is backed by a decade of petrol-electric know-how.
So which of our fuel-saving flagships takes victory in this classy encounter? Click on the links above to read the in-depth review of each car, then scroll down for our verdict.
Despite sharing similar hybrid principles and performance on the road, the Mercedes and Lexus are very different under the skin.
The LS’s petrol engine has over twice the capacity of the diesel S-Class. Plus, its electric motor alone produces 221bhp – almost as much as the S300’s total output. And while the Lexus delivers its power to all four wheels through a CVT gearbox, the Mercedes uses a seven-speed auto and is rear drive.
The LS 600h’s reclining seat, four-zone climate control and powered blinds are all fitted as standard; you’ll have to pay £4,000 to get the same kit on the S-Class.
Although both models feature a long wheelbase, our tape measure revealed that the Lexus had an extra 90mm of rear legroom.
If you plan on purchasing one of these cars for business use, the Mercedes is a no-brainer. A higher-rate earner will pay £7,018 a year tax to run an S300 specced to the same level as the Lexus – that’s still £5,714 less than for the LS 600h.
The brilliantly engineered S-Class can comfortably lay claim to the title of ‘best car in the world’. Its diesel-electric hybrid system isn’t as well integrated as the Lexus’ petrol unit, plus it’s a little thirsty, but it’s remarkably refined and delivers surprisingly strong performance.
There's lots to like about the LS 600h – its hybrid system is very effective, there’s loads of standard kit and it’s comfortable. But the price tag is hard to ignore, and the Lexus doesn’t feel composed on the road. It also lacks the bespoke quality of the best limousines.
|Mercedes S300 Hybrid L AMG||Lexus LS 600h Premier|
|On-the-road price/total as tested||£72,260/£103,185||£99,995/£99,995|
|Residual value (after 3yrs/30,000)||£30,783/42.6%||£42,398/42.4%|
|Annual tax liability std/higher rate||£2,455/£4,909||£6,366/£12,731|
|Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)||£2,160/£3,600||£2,731/£4,552|
|Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost||50/£624/C/£30||50/£929/J/£265|
|Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service||£40 per month||£272/£596/£272|
|Engine||4cyl elect/2,143cc||V8 electric/4,969cc|
|Combined peak power||228/3,800 bhp/rpm||439/6,400 bhp/rpm|
|Peak torque||500/1,600 Nm/rpm||520/4,000 Nm/rpm|
|Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel||70 litres/foam||84 litres/foam|
|Boot capacity||510 litres||420 litres|
|Turning circle/drag coefficient||12.3 metres/N/A||11.8 metres/0.27Cd|
|Basic warranty (miles)/recovery||3yrs (unltd)/4yrs||3yrs (60k)/3yrs|
|Service intervals/UK dealers||Variable (1yr)/136||10k miles (1yr)/51|
|Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.||9th/12th*||4th/1st*|
|Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./stars||N/A||N/A|
|0-60/30-70mph||8.0/7.2 secs||6.8/5.2 secs|
|30-50mph in kickdown||2.9 secs||2.3 secs|
|50-70mph in kickdown||4.3 secs||2.9 secs|
|Top speed/rpm at 70mph||155mph/1,900rpm||155mph/1,400rpm|
|Noise levels outside/idle/30/70mph||71/44/56/66dB||62/44/60/68dB|
|Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range||34.4/7.6/530 miles||26.0/5.8/480 miles|
|Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket||220/120g/km/17%||251/199g/km/32%|
|Auto box/stability/adaptive cruise ctrl||Yes/yes/£2,300**||Yes/yes/yes|
|Climate ctrl/leather/heat./vent. seats||Yes/yes/yes/£660||Yes/yes/yes/yes|
|Metallic paint/LED lights/keyless go||Yes/yes/£1,490||Yes/yes/yes|