In the great game of motoring Top Trumps that is the luxury car market, the advent of electric has caused a lot more turmoil than one might expect. With the market long dominated by the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the Stuttgart brand opted not to simply add an all-electric version of its hit car but to introduce a completely new model, the EQS, to sit alongside the S-Class.
On paper it made sense – and perhaps upon reflection it was a very wise strategic move. For the truth is that the EQS is not the benchmark car for the electric age we all expected. All the creature comforts inside, impressive range and enormous screens don’t deflect from bland exterior styling and driving dynamics that simply aren’t on a par with what you expect from the long-term leader in this luxury class.
It seemed like a massive own goal for Mercedes, particularly when BMW rolled out its new all-electric i7. Certainly, the BMW’s looks will put many buyers off – bland it ain’t – but if you can see past that grille and the touches of gaudy nightclub bling inside, you were presented with a better all-electric luxury car than the EQS.
Thankfully, help is at hand for Merc in the form of the long-term champion S-Class. While it might not come without some form of engine, in many ways a plug-in hybrid S-Class delivers the best of both worlds. The S580e boasts a battery pack big enough to look after you for the guts of 100km before resorting to its petrol power. Ultimately this means with a full tank and a full charge, you can conquer 800km without worrying about refuelling or recharging.
This is not the S-Class’s first foray into plug-in hybrid. Back in the middle of the last decade there was an S500e version promising a meagre 33km of full-electric motoring. In reality it delivered much less, particularly when its two tonnes of metal was required to hurtle towards the horizon at motorway speeds.
Clearly the rapid pace of plug-in developments made the S500e seem out of date before it left the garage. This time things are different. The S580e’s official promise of 102km is pretty close to reality, even if you do spend your motoring life on the M1. During our time in the car it delivered more than 80km of EV motoring on a mix of driving conditions and routes. It was a rarity to hear the engine at work.
That’s largely down to improvements in battery power and scale. Where the old car had a meagre 8.7kWh of storage, the pack in the S580e is a more impressive 28.6kWh. With DC fast-charging capabilities, it can also be topped up in as little as 20 minutes.
Needless to say this S-Class is also quick: the 510hp combined engine/electric motor output can send this car from 0-100km/h in 5.2 seconds.
Critics continue to shout about plug-in hybrids being not a halfway house but a cop-out. Yet for many S-Class owners, the mix of liveable range and the backup of an in-line six-cylinder makes not only the move to electric feasible, but also attractive. Remember that quite a lot of these S-Class are luxury limos, the basis of the driver’s livelihood. Time spent off the road is time without revenue.
There is no need to reiterate the other features of the S-Class; it’s still the pinnacle of the luxury class, delivering space, grace and pace, and the subtle application of the latest innovations in tech and safety.
The chance to glide around under electric power is the added bonus many were waiting for, though it might mean buyers will forgo the fully-electric EQS for this, ultimately better car. But, at the end of the day, that’s not the buyer’s problem – that’s something Mercedes needs to sort out in-house.
Lowdown: Mercedes-Benz S580e LWB
Power: 2,999cc six-cylinder petrol engine combined with 150hp electric motor powered by a 28.6kWh battery pack, delivering a total output of 510hp and 750Nm of torque.
CO2 (motor tax): 18g/km (€140)