by Jay Traugott
The sixth-generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class large luxury sedan has been around for some time but still manages to set the bar for virtually every other competitor at this premium end of the market. The S 560e plug-in hybrid is a relatively new addition to the range, having been introduced for the 2020 model year. Combining a twin-turbocharged V6 engine and a 90-kW electric motor, there's 469 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque available, along with considerable fuel savings. At around $109,750, the privilege doesn't come cheaply - but then again, neither do best-in-class comfort levels. Along with an exquisite interior and first-class seating front and rear, the S-Class glides down the road with an effortlessness that has proven elusive to many other rival offerings. The only question is: can the hybrid model justify its $5,000 price premium over the magnificent, V8-powered S 560?
For 2020, the S-Class Hybrid is a new addition to the range and gets additional standard equipment along with the rest of the S-Class lineup. This includes advanced driver assistance systems such as Parking Assist Package, a system that helps the driver to parallel park, with the car taking care of the steering and the driver only needing to control the throttle and brake pedals. Brake assist, a new generation of COMAND interface, as well as Keyless-Go and hands-free access are now also standard. A few exterior updates are also made to the front fascias and wheel choices.
See trim levels and configurations:
|S560e Plug-In Hybrid||
3.0L Twin-Turbo V6 Plug-in Hybrid
Subtle 'Hybrid' badging aside, the hybrid S-Class is virtually indistinguishable from the similarly specified S 560. This is no bad thing, as the current S-Class retains its effortless style and stately presence. Still, the entire S-class now boasts the aggressively styled grille previously exclusive to V12 models. 19-inch wheels and an LED Intelligent Light System are standard, but there are otherwise few exterior adornments to detract from the classic shape.
At 58.8 inches in height, 74.8 inches in width, and a luxurious 206.9 inches in length, the S 560e closely matches the BMW 7 Series in overall size. The wheelbase is 124.6 inches long, helping to free up space in the expansive cabin. Curb weight for the S 560e is 4,885 lbs, marginally heavier than the BMW 745e xDrive's 4,848 lbs - this is despite the BMW using a heavier all-wheel-drive system.
The hybrid system comprises a gas-fed 3.0-liter V6 bi-turbo engine and a 121-hp electric motor. Together, the total system output is an impressive 469 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel the S 560e from 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds. The lithium-ion battery means that it is possible to drive 30 miles on electric power alone. In town, running on only electric power, the S-Class is incredibly silent and effective. When the internal-combustion engine gets in on the action, there's plenty of power on offer, and the S-Class excels at a high-speed cruise. The 9G-Tronic automatic transmission provides almost imperceptible shifts and complements the muted, cushioned responses through the pedals and steering wheel. As competent as the V6 engine is, it's not quite as polished as the newer, inline-six engine doing duty in some of the marque's other models.
The S-Class is primarily built to be as comfortable and isolating as possible and, viewed in this context, it achieves its mission with aplomb. Body control and ride comfort are exemplary, the S-Class providing that sense of waftability that is so sought after by shoppers in this segment. While some sharp bumps can filter through to the cabin, there isn't much else to spoil the serenity in there.
With all of the focus on comfort, the big Mercedes does an admirable job of remaining composed and balanced when pushing on, especially when Sport mode is engaged. As expected, steering feedback is notable only by its absence, but while this may be a problem in a smaller, sportier machine, it makes perfect sense in the luxurious S-Class. Exclusive to the S 560e is an economy mode that enhances battery charge.
While U.S. EPA estimates haven't yet been released for the S 560e, the EU test cycle for the mechanically identical 2019 model indicates an audacious 84 mpg - this is a phenomenal number and would equate to a range of 1,554 mpg from the 18.5-gallon gas tank, but is largely unlikely to be replicated in real-world driving and seems to be overly optimistic. For the 2019 560e, EPA estimates on city/highway/combined cycles were 25/32/28 mpg, with a combined gasoline and electric range of 65 MPGe - it's far more likely that the 2020 version will hit closer to these targets. Still, with the S 560e's ability to run on electric-only power for short distances at town speeds, there will certainly be a significant fuel saving in these scenarios. The 13.5 kWh battery has a charging time of 1.25 hours.
Seating five passengers in a cocoon of leather- and wood-trimmed opulence, the S-Class offers supreme comfort levels. In front, headroom and legroom are plentiful, while the seats offer a wide range of electronic adjustment. For the driver, a suitable driving position is easy to find thanks to a widely adjustable seat and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel. This is a car where rear-seat comfort is an equal priority, and passengers will be able to stretch out thanks to a vast amount of legroom at the back due to the long wheelbase standard on US models. The outboard rear seats are however softer and more comfortable than the rear center seat, which is firmer and offers less space. Several optional packages allow for the rear quarters to be made even more opulent - the rear bench can be specified to seat two in ultimate luxury with reclining, heating, and ventilated functionality.
With 16.3 cubic feet of trunk space available, 2.4 fewer than the regular S 560, the S-Class Hybrid doesn't have the largest trunk size in this class, but it's still bigger than what the BMW 745e can offer. The space on offer is large enough for most daily-driver cargo requirements such as the month's shopping, and a rear pass-through means that longer, narrower items can be loaded as well. However, the trunk opening isn't the widest.
Inside, small-item storage includes a variety of attractively concealed compartments, while the door pockets are padded both front and rear. The glove box isn't quite as accommodating as you may expect. Finally, rear seat occupants also get a center armrest.
As expected, the standard features list is an extensive one. Nappa leather upholstery is standard, as is dual-zone climate control with remote function, 16-way power and heated front seats, a power glass sunroof, push-button start, automatic door closers, a foot-operated trunk release, a backup camera, front and rear parking sensors, and a power blind for the rear window. A comprehensive options list ensures that the S-Class can be specified with almost every available luxury and gadget - these include heated door panels, a head-up display, a rear-seat entertainment system, a 360-degree parking camera, and ventilated seats for the driver and front-seat passenger. Some of the most advanced safety features available can also be fitted to the S 560e. Traffic sign recognition and night vision are just two of them, while a pre-safe rear seat package takes the total airbag count to 11.
A 12.3-inch multi-function display is controllable with the familiar Mercedes-Benz touchpad. A second 12.3-inch screen comprises the digital instrument display. The dual-screens' striking size makes the S-Class interior feel decidedly contemporary and, while there is certainly a lot to take in, the COMAND system becomes easier to use with familiarity. Navigation, Bluetooth, live traffic information, telematics, and the integration of both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard fare; voice commands accessible via the built-in Mercedes system are also included, as well as Siri and Google voice recognition.
The standard audio system is a 590-watt, 13-speaker Burmester unit which provides superlative sound reproduction. Should this system not be enough for you, a high-end 3D surround sound version is available - but at a jaw-dropping cost of over $6,000. Satellite radio, HD radio, a WiFi hotspot, auxiliary audio input, and an internal hard drive with 10 GB of storage capacity ensure that the infotainment system leaves you wanting for nothing. The highly customizable digital instrument cluster displays the remaining charge available for the battery.
The 2020 S-Class has a J.D. Power predicted reliability rating of three and a half stars, which classifies the range as just above average. Although there were four recalls issued by the NHTSA for the 2019 S-Class, none of these are pertinent to the S 560e, and for 2020 there are no recalls. The S-Class Hybrid is covered by a four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty and a four-year/50,000-mile drivetrain warranty, matching the BMW 745e.
While NHTSA and IIHS safety ratings aren't available for the S-Class, there's little reason to doubt that this is an exceedingly safe car, owing to Mercedes' superb ratings for other models. A full suite of nine airbags, as well as standard collision warning, active brake assist, lane departure warning, lane, keep assist, and a backup camera all bolster the safety credentials of the S-Class Hybrid. If you want even more airbags, the pre-safe rear system upgrades the total count to 11.
In a segment where excellence is expected in all aspects of luxury motoring, the unwavering and polished S-Class still manages to stand out. While the BMW 7 Series chases a mix of comfort and driving pleasure, and the Audi A8 almost overwhelms with its sci-fi interior, the S-Class' relentless focus on luxury and comfort still proves to be the most beguiling package. The cabin remains one of the best you'll find in any sedan, blending the latest technologies with a beautiful design and excellent craftsmanship. Refinement is remarkable, and in electric-only mode, the S-Class Hybrid is eerily quiet while capable of tremendous efficiency. Still, the cheaper S 560 V8 is an even more impressive luxury sedan. If your commute is short and often confined to lower speeds, the S 560e makes sense. But if you require the best luxury car in the S-Class line-up and travel longer distances, the S 560 is well worth considering.
There's just a single variant of the 2020 S-Class Hybrid. The S 560e is available at an MSRP of $109,750, with this price being exclusive of tax, licensing registration, and a destination and delivery charge of $995. The Hybrid system combines a 3.0-liter V6 bi-turbo powerplant with an electric motor. Together, they're paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Only rear-wheel-drive is available.
The S 560e is the only trim available if you want a plug-in Hybrid S-Class. However, several optional packages and standalone extras make it possible to add even more tech and luxury upgrades to the S 560e. At the time of writing, no 2020 package prices had been released, but with the following costs allocated to the 2019 model, we don't foresee too much increase in the indicated charges. So, for 2019 the Rear Seat Package Plus is priced at $1,950 and replaces the rear bench with two large chairs, and includes folding rear tables as well as heated and cooled cupholders. The Premium Package adds power side blinds, 18-way power ventilated driver and front passenger seats, massaging seats, and a 360-degree camera. It costs $3,750.
Available standalone features we'd recommend include night vision, a rear-seat entertainment system, and Mercedes' Magic Sky Control - the latter is the brand's panoramic glass sunroof which can switch from tinted to clear at the touch of a button. While the S 560e is already a superb luxury sedan in standard trim, we'd recommend upgrading to one of the rear seat packages for the full S-Class experience.
The recently revised BMW 7 Series now features a bold new face, but many will prefer the less polarizing and more elegant S-Class. The 745e plug-in Hybrid uses a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six and an electric motor. While the BMW's gas-fed engine is smoother than that of the Mercedes', the 745e has less impressive total system outputs of 389 hp and 442 lb-ft combined. However, both cars deliver identical 0-60 mph sprint times, the 745e benefitting from standard all-wheel-drive and less weight to carry than the Mercedes. However, the Mercedes' larger capacity battery and faster charging times mean it is the superior hybrid of the two models, with similar all-electric ranges expected on both vehicles. Both also feature expansive and classy interiors, but the Mercedes has the more striking design, with the BMW's look being a touch too ordinary considering it is the brand's flagship sedan. Overall, although closely matched, the S-Class just sneaks ahead of the BMW thanks to its greater sense of occasion, superior battery, and incredible refinement.
Although both are the ultimate luxury sedans from these two German juggernauts, the Panamera - even in Hybrid form - is easily the more spirited and engaging performer. While still comfortable, it offers a level of dynamic ability that no other car in the segment can match. The Panamera Hybrid uses a turbocharged 2.9-liter V6 and an electric motor to achieve nearly identical outputs to the S 560e, but the Porsche is significantly quicker. Of course, the Mercedes still dominates in the comfort stakes and offers seating for five, with the Panamera's rear quarters only accommodating two passengers in standard form. The Panamera also offers the option of all-wheel-drive, which is unavailable on the S 560e. The S-Class cabin has the edge for ergonomics and style, but the Panamera is suitably well-appointed for a car in this segment. If you'll be doing most of the driving yourself, the Panamera wins this battle, but the S-Class is still the luxury sedan to pick if you prefer being chauffeured in ultimate comfort.
The most popular competitors of 2020 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Hybrid: