First drive: S300 Blue TEC hybrid



The Numbers

2.1L 4cyl diesel + 20kW/260Nm electric motor, 150kW, 498Nm, 0-100km/h in 7.6secs, top speed 250km/h, 4.6L/100km

The Topgear Verdict

Mercedes' hybrid S-Class has big car comfort with small car fuel efficiency, but there are trade-offs involved

2014 Mercedes-Benz S300 BlueTEC Hybrid

It's becoming increasingly clear that the long-term goal of car companies is to do away with the weakest link in the whole driving thing, the nut behind the wheel - ie you and me.

The latest Mercedes-Benz S Class isn't quite there yet, but it's not far off.

We've just driven the latest - and cheapest, at "just" $195,000 - variant of the world's pre-eminent limousine, the S 300 BlueTEC Hybrid, and it's very much unlike driving mere mortal cars.

There's the silence, for a start, which is almost spooky. The hybrid system allows you to start the engine in silent mode - very much the opposite experience of the drowning roar you get from the top-line S 63 version - and then to cruise along like some giant, silent whale shark through traffic, as long as you don't exceed 20km/h.

When needed, a seemingly implausibly small 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel engine kicks in to get you properly moving.

Obviously, hauling around 2046kg is a big job for an engine that wouldn't have powered anything bigger than a C Class a decade ago, but this is where the genius of hybrid tech kicks in again, providing electronic boost when you're accelerating hard and need the grunt.

The diesel is good for 150kW and 500Nm while the "electric machine" as they like to call it gives you an extra 20kW and 260Nm.

The S Class is, of course, more of a cruising car than an accelerating one and when you are loping along the technology you're using matters not, what strikes you is how staggeringly, church-ishly quiet and bafflingly smooth this car is.

The interior is lushly wonderful as well, of course, with headrests like duck-down cushions and seats like the lounge chairs you'd find in a five-star hotel room.  And the ride is simply superlative. You could drive it down a set of stairs and not feel a bump.

If you really feel like being green you can even go into "Gliding" mode on the highway by taking your foot off the accelerator and allowing the electric machine to drive you, using a combination of battery power and regenerative braking.

Best of all, for people who don't like to mix with the proletariat, you'll only have to visit a filthy service station and a dirty diesel pump half as often with the S300 Hybrid's fuel figure of 4.5 litres per 100km, which equals more than 1500km of range off each 70-litre tank.

More tellingly, future-wise, if you're in cruise control mode you can just take your hands off the steering wheel and the car will drive for you, using the lane markings and radar to follow the car in front of you. After 20 seconds a sign does come up asking you to put your hands back on, even though you don't really need to, but you can bet the next S Class won't require you to do so.

Driving, it's something you'll tell your kids about.

Driven: June 17, 2014