Mercedes-Benz S 500 PLUG-IN HYBRID (W 222) 2013

As Mercedes-Benz Malaysia prepares for an SUV blitz, the company’s Thai counterpart is set to roll out two plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) later this month. Bangkok Post reports that the two models are the S 500 e and the C 350 e, and they will be the first PHEVs to be assembled in the Land of Smiles.

The main difference between PHEVs and regular hybrid cars is that one can manually recharge the former’s batteries by plugging in the car to an external power source, EV-style. The charging port for both PHEV Merc saloons is located on the right side of the rear bumper.

The S 500 e is one of three hybrid variants in the W222 S-Class range, the others being the petrol S 400 Hybrid sold in Malaysia and the diesel-powered S 350 Bluetec Hybrid offered in Thailand. The LWB-only S 500 e is the most powerful of the lot, and is powered by a 3.0 litre turbocharged V6 with 333 hp and 480 Nm, combined with an electric motor with 114 hp and 340 Nm, juiced by a lithium-ion battery.

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Total system output is 442 hp and 650 Nm, which is good for 0-100 km/h in just 5.2 seconds, but with fuel consumption rated at just 3.0 litres per 100 km on the NEDC cycle. The claimed pure electric range is 33 km.

The C 350 e, Merc’s second PHEV after the S 500 e, is powered by the W205 C 250‘s 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo with 208 hp and 350 Nm. The ICE is assisted by an 80 hp/340 Nm electric motor for combined power output of 275 hp and 600 Nm. 0-100 km/h is done in 5.9 seconds and fuel consumption is rated at an amazing 2.1 litres per 100 km. The all-electric mode is good for a claimed 31 km.

BMW won’t be letting its archrival have the whole Lumpini park to itself, and will be introducing the locally-assembled 740Le and 330e PHEV models in Thailand later this year.

The G11 740e brings together a 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo, a 95 PS electric motor and a lithium-ion battery for a 326 PS total, a 5.5 second century sprint time and FC of 2.1 litres per 100 km. The fresh limo’s electric-only range is 40 km.

The 330e from the F30 3 Series LCI family also uses a 2.0 litre turbo, but it’s paired to a 108 hp electric motor for a combined 252 hp and 420 Nm. It goes from 0-100 km/h in 6.3 seconds and also uses 2.1 litres of fuel per 100 km. The EV range is 35 km.

This German PHEV push in Thailand comes as our northern neighbour adopts a new auto excise tax regime that is C02-based, moving away from the engine capacity-based system that Malaysia also employs. The new system, which also takes into account E85 gasohol compatibility, starts this year and is four-days old.

All four PHEVs mentioned above have C02 emissions below 100 g/km, which means that they can qualify for a 10% rate for hybrids below 100 g/km. Previously, all hybrids were given the low 10% rate, but under the new structure, hybrids emitting 101 to 150 g/km of C02 are liable for 20% excise tax; and those with 151 to 200 g/km C02 figures, 25%. Lexus’ conventional hybrid models lose out in this new system.

Now that these tech flagships are assembled in Thailand, will Malaysia be next on the list? The likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz will have to gauge demand, negotiate a deal with the government and start local assembly – like in the case of the S 400 Hybrid – as these Thai-made PHEVs aren’t likely to feature enough local content to take advantage of Asean free trade rules.

By the way, Malaysia’s first locally-assembled PHEV will be the Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine, which will hit showrooms in the second or third quarter this year. The 407 hp/640 Nm is currently available as a CBU import from Sweden.

In the meantime, read our test drive reports of the W222 S 500 e and W205 C 350 e to find out how they compare with regular S- and C-Class variants. We also recently sampled the impressive new XC90 T8 Twin Engine.