The gas-electric Lexus RX
450h will have a new competitor when the new 2010 Mercedes-Benz
starts hitting showroom floors later this year. Featuring a 3.5-liter V6 engine connected to two electric motors (delivering a combined output of 335 horsepower and 381 pound-feet of torque) and a continuously variable transmission, Mercedes says the ML450 HYBRID will accelerate to 60 mph in a respectable 7.8 seconds and return city/highway fuel economy of 21/24 mpg. For comparison, the gas-only ML350 will reach 60 mph in 7.9 seconds and deliver city/highway fuel economy of 15/20 mpg. A so-called "full hybrid" the ML450 HYBRID can operate under electric power only, piston power only or a blend of each. In spirited driving situations, Sport mode essentially reprograms the otherwise seamless CVT to deliver eight "gears" and more driver control. Outside, the ML450 distinguishes itself with a redesigned hood, a BlueEFFICIENCY label and a HYBRID badge in back. There is no official price yet, but we expect the ML450 HYBRID to start in the high-$50,000 range.