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Man is a mind-bogglingly amazing being. He’s only been on this planet in his current form for less than a quarter of a million years – that’s like a minute compared to the Earth’s age – and already he has changed it in ways immeasurable and unimaginable. He has explored every nook and cranny, every range and depth. He introduced industrialisation. He built the steam engine, surely the most beautiful machine to ever grace our land. He built a big iron bird to cheat gravity. He has defiled and polluted the planet. He has even left it.

Clearly, if Man has even enough brilliance and talent to devise the Petaling Jaya one-way system, there’s no limit to what he can do. Not content with inventing the wheel and turning fire and electricity, his long-time foes, into bros, he’s gone and fused them all together to create a machine beyond the ken of a simpleton like myself.

If already you find this difficult to read, let me tell you it pales in comparison to how I drowned in the press information on the Mercedes-Benz S 500 Plug-in Hybrid. I was in the Nordic to drive it for a pretty short time, and in that short time I was utterly overwhelmed by the car and its myriad technologies. The W222 is not a simple car to begin with; throw in a state-of-the-art modular hybrid system and I was pretty much in a crash course on the Lenstra-Lenstra-Lovasz lattice basis reduction algorithm, with the exam due tomorrow.

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I will admit here and now that the S 500 Plug-in Hybrid is the first and only W222 I’ve driven to date – talk about being thrown into the deep end. The true significance of this particular variant of the Sonderklasse lies not only in its ability to elevate the limits of performance, efficiency, engineering, technology, luxury, safety and space within one package (haven’t all S-Classes done that from the start?), but in the fact that it spearheads Merc’s journey towards zero-emissions mobility.

Yes, all-electric versions of the B-Class and smart fortwo are already realities, but there’s the rest of the range to think about – most of which are larger vehicles that need the operating range. Again, there are already technical answers to that, but not all of them make business sense – at least not yet. Merc believes the plug-in hybrid is the best way to get there.

So much so that it has announced that by 2017, we can expect 10 new plug-in hybrids from Mercedes, SUVs included, which pretty much covers nearly, if not all of its passenger models. So the Tristar’s ‘green’ machines will comprise petrol-hybrid (now badged Hybrid, soon h), diesel-hybrid (BlueTEC Hybrid, soon h), plug-in hybrid (Plug-in Hybrid, soon e) and electric (Electric Drive, soon e).

The S 500 Plug-in Hybrid is the company’s first plug-in hybrid on sale. It’s also the third, and most powerful, hybrid W222 after the S 400 Hybrid and S 300 BlueTEC Hybrid. Its ‘500’ moniker suggests a big V8 under the hood, but no – the internal combustion component is a 3.0 litre twin-turbo V6 that makes 333 hp between 5,250 and 6,000 rpm and 480 Nm of torque between 1,600 and 4,000 rpm. You’ll recognise it as the motor used to power the E 400 and non-hybrid S 400.

So if it’s a ‘400’ motor, why the ‘500’ name? Why, the extra grunt comes from the hybrid system, of course. The 114 hp/340 Nm electric motor, integrated into the 7G-Tronic Plus seven-speed auto gearbox, is fed by a water-cooled 8.7 kWh lithium-ion battery located in the boot, dropping its usable volume from 500 to 395 litres. The result is a total system output of 442 hp and 650 Nm of electronically-limited torque, which gets it to 100 km/h from rest in just 5.2 seconds.

This brings it closest, performance-wise, to the non-hybrid S 500, which has merely 13 hp and 50 Nm more, and reaches 100 km/h just two-fifths of a second faster. And for that kind of thrust, you’ll have to shoulder the associated taxes and fuel bills of a 4.6 litre V8.

Certainly, a normal S 500 cannot cover up to 33 km without emitting a single particle out the back, nor can it achieve rated figures of 2.8 litres per 100 km and 65 grams of CO2 per km. But here’s the real shocker: despite the added complexity, the S 500 Plug-in Hybrid (which is long-wheelbase only) costs the same as the regular S 500 L in Germany – just under 110k euro (RM448k).

Honestly, unless you’re one of those no-replacement-for-displacement, V8’s-great-mate types, or you absolutely need the 500 litre boot, choosing between the two should be a no-brainer – certainly when you consider what a luxo-barge like the S-Class is meant to do.

Located on the right side of the rear bumper, under a flap, is the charging socket. Using a 3.6 kW on-board charger, the charge time from 20% to 100% is about two hours from a 400 V/16 A wallbox, two hours 45 minutes from a 230 V/13 A outlet and 4.1 hours from a 230 V/8 A household outlet. A six-year/100,000 km warranty is offered for the battery, electric motor, plug-in components and power electronics.

Mercedes also took the opportunity to showcase its inductive, cable-less charging system – a sort of Qi for cars, if you will. A base plate containing the primary coil is located on the floor, while a secondary coil is tucked away underneath the car. When the car drives over the plate, the coils create an alternating electromagnetic field through which electrical energy flows. The car then charges wirelessly at over 90% efficiency, so is the claim. The technology is still being tested on a fleet of S 500 Plug-in Hybrids.

The modular hybrid system integrates a wet start-up clutch between the engine and electric motor, in the housing where you’d expect to find the torque converter. During electric-only operation it decouples the engine, and if the engine is employed, it helps with moving off.

As you’d expect, how the two power sources are managed and employed, or what Merc calls the ‘intelligent operating strategy’, is influenced by many different factors, which include traffic data from radar and route data from the navigation system. The system also seeks to deplete the battery as much as possible going uphill so that it can be recharged on the way down. Or it can ensure the car reaches urban areas with as full a battery as possible to facilitate electric-only driving in the stop-and-go environment.

The driver has control over power management to some extent via four operating modes (Hybrid, E-Mode, E-Save and Charge) and three transmission modes (E, E+ and S). We’ll start with the operating modes. Hybrid is the default auto setting, E-Mode is for electric-only operation, E-Save maintains battery charge for later use and Charge prioritises charging of the battery.

Suffice to say, Charge is the least efficient mode as the petrol engine has to charge the battery and drive the car at the same time. Additionally, the transmission modes comprise the default setting E, eco-biased E+ and sporty S, where the electric motor is used only to boost the engine. For max efficiency, you combine Hybrid and E+.

We began our drive with a very short 17 km jaunt from Copenhagen airport to the hotel. The cars were 100% charged and we were to be on E-Mode throughout the journey, so as to get there without using a single drop of fuel. As you’d expect, get in and push the start button to the sound of absolute silence. Ditto moving off, ditto sailing through towns, ditto cruising at 100 km/h, with only the occasional road noise and pothole bumps whispering faintly in the distance. The silence is so quiet it’s deafening.

In E-Mode, a little curved bar gauge in the 12.3-inch colour-TFT instrument panel fills up with the amount of throttle you give it – press the right pedal past a point to fill up the gauge completely and the petrol engine will kick in. You don’t have to be too conscious of it, as the travel of the pedal is pretty long. Plus, just before you reach the electric-drive ceiling, the ‘haptic’ accelerator pedal buzzes your right foot as a warning.

S500 PLUG-IN HYBRID, Kopenhagen 2014

The buzz, which comes in the form of a double-pulse, is very subtle, but you’ll feel it, almost on a sub-conscious level. In other operating modes, it also tells you when to lift off the throttle to save fuel, such as when the radar detects a slower-moving vehicle ahead. The S 500 Plug-in Hybrid will then adjust its distance to the car in front, recovering energy in the process.

Driving the S 500 Plug-in Hybrid on electricity alone is, as earlier described, an almost surreal and paradoxical experience. After all, you’re in a 2.2 tonne manor on wheels, and yet, you’re polluting less than all the little superminis around you. Then there’s the sight of one instrument needle pointing at 100 km/h and the other at zero. All-electric driving is possible up to 140 km/h, although we did not substantiate this claim.

You’ve heard all the hullabaloo about electric cars developing max torque from zero revs, but the S 500 Plug-in Hybrid does not feel fast nor sprightly in E-Mode – 340 Nm is not a lot when you weigh 2.2 tonnes. It’s enough to keep up with urban traffic, anyway. Although you’re on a single-speed direct drive here, the gearbox keeps the appropriate gear selected as you drive, so the petrol engine is always ready to join in.

Did we manage to cover 17 electric-only kilometres? Yes we did, and as we got there early, we decided to go round the block until the petrol engine kicked in. Which didn’t take long – we covered an additional three kilometres before the rev counter finally leapt into life at 10% battery. That’s 13 km less than the quoted 33 km all-electric range, but we were driving far from economically.

Mercedes-Benz S-Klasse. S 500 PLUG-IN HYBRID (V222), 2014

The next day we took a beautifully scenic 160-odd kilometre route to Malmo, Sweden via Alabodarna. Now freed for duty, the twin-blown V6 endowed the S 500 Plug-in Hybrid with muscle almost unbefitting its character, amplified by the S transmission mode. Floor it and there’s a split-second delay before impressive straight-line speed follows. What’s even more impressive is the way the power is delivered – you are not flung back in your seat as much as advanced forward progressively and purposefully. Acceleration can be blinding without being break-neck, as proved by the S-Class.

Although it handles very well for its bulk, it’s still not a car you want to fling round corners – the semi-active Airmatic suspension, even in its Sport setting, yields so much serene comfort that does little to promote spirited or dynamic driving. It’s not that it can’t do it, but a princess is not prized for her ability to play rugger. The Sonderklasse’s strength, as you would’ve deduced, lies in its ability to cocoon and cosset its occupants in exquisite fittings and a sea of toys to isolate them from the outside world, while they obliterate many, many miles in very, very little time indeed.

The introverted electro-mechanical steering is loath to transmit any kind of surface feedback, but although I felt it a bit too light, its precision and accuracy must be commended. It does a good job of belying the big Merc’s bulk in towns, and an even better one of holding the car’s course on the motorway, where few to no steering corrections are required. The 7G-Tronic’s gearchanges are smooth but not imperceptible, while the ride is, on the whole, nothing short of sublime.

The S 500 Plug-in Hybrid’s regenerative braking system is of the second generation – touch the brake pedal lightly and the electric motor is reversed, providing electrical braking and charging the battery. Only when more deceleration is required do the disc brakes come into action. The overlap between electrical and mechanical braking is very unnoticeable; in fact more unnoticeable than the transition between petrol and electric drive. Brake pedal action is pretty natural and linear, without being grabby as you’d expect regen-brakes to be.

It has to be said that charging of the battery on the move, whether through deceleration or Charge mode, isn’t as effective as you’d expect. Unless you’re on a really long downhill stretch or covering miles and miles of sustained motorway speeds in Charge mode, charge is recuperated rather slowly under normal driving. So reaching urban areas with enough juice to go all-electric is quite difficult to achieve if you haven’t been driving economically from the start. With the petrol engine in operation, 110 km/h in top gear corresponds to 1,750 rpm.

Making its debut on the S 500 Plug-in Hybrid is Extended Pre-Entry Climate Control, which is standard here. Using Merc’s Connect Me mobile app, the driver can pre-set a temperature to which the car will be air-conditioned by a specified departure time. Even the seats, steering wheel and armrests in the doors and centre console can be pre-heated, so the driver enters the car into immediate comfort. Connect Me can also be used to monitor the car’s charging status, amongst other things.

Also standard are LED High Performance headlamps, LED tail lamps, Comand Online, Thermotronic quad-zone climate control, memory package for driver and front passenger and seven ambient lighting colours, while the usual exhaustive safety arsenal includes Pre-Safe, Collision Prevention Assist Plus and rear seat-belt airbags.

Our test cars were filled with toys, including 19-inch alloys (18-inch alloys wrapped in 245/50 front and 275/45 rear tyres are standard), Night Panel, a 360-degree camera, Burmester sound and Air Balance perfume atomisation. You can customise just about everything, from the way the air is distributed (Diffused? Concentrated? Uniform?) to the intensity of the perfume. And of course, on this hybrid, you can see where all the power is going through an energy flow graphic. Simply overwhelming.

The bosses at the back have a smorgasbord of gadgets to keep them entertained – a rear seat entertainment package provides two headrest monitors and a remote control, so they can surf the net, watch movies, access the Comand Online system – the sky’s the limit. Our four-seat test cars had tray tables that could be stowed away between the rear seats. All seats have massage, heating and ventilation, with the front perches adding extendable thigh supports – which are electrically-operated, of course.

Now for the most important bit. The Mercedes-Benz S 500 Plug-in Hybrid will be available in Malaysia on an indent order basis, and unlike the S 400 Hybrid, it will not be locally-assembled (CKD) for now, which rules out tax-free pricing. The regular S 500 is priced from RM1.08 million, so there’s your ballpark figure.

Does it make sense next to the V8-engined S 500? Absolutely. Next to the half-million-ringgit S 400 Hybrid in Malaysia however, I’m not so sure. But this is an S-Class that arguably pushes the boundaries further than any of its kind has done before – it’s painfully efficient, a technological marvel and very, very fast, in addition to all the familiar S-Class hallmarks. Man is truly a mind-bogglingly amazing being.