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Luxury hybrids: Cutting edge, or ahead of their time?

Posted by Bill Griffith  June 17, 2009 09:30 AM

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The Mercedes S400h is a mild hybrid, unlike the full hybrid powertrain in the more expensive Lexus LS 600hL. (Daimler)

When Honda introduced its V-6 Accord Hybrid, both the marketing folks and public were confused. Weren’t hybrids supposed to be the ultimate “Econo Box?” The Accord Hybrid was thriftier than the gasoline model, but it wasn’t a mileage miser. It was a performance car; unfortunately, only a few folks realized and appreciated that, and even fewer bought the concept.

Now we have hybrids expanding across the automotive spectrum. Besides the strictly economy versions, you’ve got SUVs (Highlander and Lexus RX 400h) trucks (Silverado and Sierra 1500) and luxury vehicles (Escalade, Lexus LS 600hL).

What’s next? How about the Mercedes-Benz S400h? If mileage is your goal, it’s predicted to get 23 city/33 highway. The price will be north of $90,000.

Over the years, Mercedes has been a leader in introducing new facets of motor-vehicle technology. Now they’re coming in along with many others. My prediction is that they’ve waiting to make sure their system is seamless.

Oh yes, the lithium-ion battery pack is guaranteed for the life of the car.

A bit less expensive (under $35,000 MSRP) will be the Lexus HS 250h, expected to be (naturally) roomier, wider and longer than its sibling, the Toyota Prius. Lexus expects to sell about 25,000 in the United States in the coming model year.

Look for some interesting sales comparisons among Prius, Honda’s new Insight, and hybrid versions of Camry, Fusion (Milan), and Altima in the coming year.

And add Mazda to the party. The brand is looking to hybrid-ize its model lineup beyond the Tribute compact SUV.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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10 comments so far...
  1. "...are offering high-end luxury in what used to be an economy class."

    Since when has a hybrid been an "economy class"? Hybrids have always been significantly more expensive than their non-hybrid versions. I call that a luxury. You pay more for the technology in order to save on gas and help the evironment, and possibly to do your part to help advance the technology, or just to be a trendy attention-seeker.
    I think the S-class hybrid will appeal to many individuals with disposable incomes and guilty consciences as a way to feel better about themselves. And they should. 23/33 is very respectable.

    Posted by Skidpalace June 17, 09 11:05 AM
  1. what people aren't understanding is that mercedes and bmw are actually pioneers of hybrid & hydrogen technology. Mercedes and BMW, and now VW, offer clean diesel alternatives, which actually get better real MPG than, say, a Prius hybrid, and doesn't require a battery made of rare metals or that's hard to get rid of or costly to replace. people have been conditioned by marketing to think that a hybrid has to be a puny little thing that woudln't survive a 30mph collision with an SUV, where German companies are showing them the better long - term solutions.

    For instance, even the large SUV hybrids make sense in some applications, as I rented one for our family to get to and from Logan for a vacation. That thing goes to and from the airport every day, so in stop and go traffic where the electric motor is doing the idling for the engine and giving you power up to 10mph, that's a huge savings on gas.

    Posted by FJ June 17, 09 11:05 AM
  1. I couldn't have said it any better than what FJ stated. It's a shame that America still hasn't totally caught on to Diesel technologies. I think some people still have the images of dirty/smelly exhaust and loud engines, which is mostly far from the truth. European nations have embraced diesel for ages, I think the vast majority of vehicles over there at least come with some sort of diesel option.

    I could be wrong, but I think diesel is finally back below the cost of gasoline? I know it was a few weeks back. Not sure if it crept back up or not.

    I'm not bashing hybrids by any means, but if I were really going to make a car decision based on MPG's, I'd probably look at something like a Jetta TDI over a Prius....

    Posted by boss8120 June 17, 09 02:04 PM
  1. Diesels are great but they're neither economic nor clean. A TDI may give you 30% better gas mileage but Diesel is also 30% more expensive than gasoline. Diesel's may not emit CO2 but they emit a series of other equally bad gases. The main reason Diesels have caught up in Europe is because over there Diesel is cheaper that gasoline so there is a financial advantage to driving a Diesel. And Europe has clean diesel which we in the US don't so the cars can pass the strict European emmissions standards. The Us still allows the old dirty diesel to be sold. Which is not to say Diesels are not good. Each technology has it good and bad things. I personally would love a Diesel because of its higher torque for pulling and smoother and efficient highway driving. In city driving Diesels are no better than regular gasoline engines. Hybrids are a far better option for congested driving, which is not an issue in my case.

    Posted by MF June 17, 09 03:06 PM
  1. I dont understand why they dont make Diesel Hybrid cars? It will go farther than gasoline hybrid cars

    Posted by BP1002 June 17, 09 03:42 PM
  1. Battery for life? So... what's the lifespan of a new S-Class? My 02 was garbage at 50000 miles- sure did look nice though. I wouldn't trust a new Benz as far as I could drive it before the first transmission failure.

    Posted by Alex G June 17, 09 06:33 PM
  1. RE BP 1002, there are some diesel hybrid entries in the Progressive X-Prize competition - let's see how they fare. Also the Riley XR-3 is an efficient diesel hybrid albeit with quirky styling. I believe Suburu just announced a diesel hybrid plans. A small diesel running at constant RPM with a supercapacitor for cycling the stop/start energy and the power control electronics to make it all work together would give impressive MPG without sacrificing torque. We live in interesting times.

    Posted by LMS June 18, 09 06:31 AM
  1. Its good for consumers to have the option of a hydrid. It should be common to all new cars as a trim level option.

    I see many S-class models as livery cars. This would be a benefit to them to have hybrid models.

    And also many S-class owners who commute everyday might be more inclined to buy a hybrid model if they travel farther than to the outskirts of the city.

    And 33mpg for the SIZE and WEIGHT of an S-class is GREAT!

    Posted by Andy June 18, 09 10:04 AM
  1. MJ-You're wrong. Diesel is now cheaper than gas. Clearly it fluctuates, and last year it was more expensive. Diesel tends to be more expensive in times of economic growth (it's used by trucks that ship consumer goods). Also, the new EPA compliant clean diesels are nothing like older diesels. You probably wouldn't even know you were in one without notice.

    Check it out yourself:

    Posted by Steve June 18, 09 01:26 PM
  1. If they can keep prices to a minimum. Who can afford these pricey hybrids these days? Especially that proposed 90k Mercedes Hybrid.

    Posted by FrancisP June 23, 09 12:54 PM

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