The Mercedes Benz S-Class has long been the flagship of luxury flagships. For 2010, it aptly retains this distinction.

The bread-and-butter of the S-Class is still the S550 model, powered by a smooth and robust 382-horsepower 5.5-liter V8. Want more juice? The S-Class lineup is topped by a power trio comprised of the S600, S63 AMG and S65 AMG, the latter with a tremendous 604 horses and 738 pound-feet of torque.

But for 2010, the spotlight is on a newcomer. In conjunction with the freshened 2010 S-Class lineup, Mercedes-Benz is introducing its first hybrid, the S400. This is also the first mass-produced vehicle in the world with a lithium-ion battery (stored behind the rear seat). Powered by a modest 3.5-liter V6 engine and a mild hybrid system, the 295-horsepower S400 marries a combined fuel economy of 28 mpg with the ride and handling characteristics of an S550 -- thanks to a modest 120-pound weight increase.

Power for the S400 hybrid is quite good, unless you start comparing it to the rest of the model line. We first got acquainted with the S400 on the speedy German autobahn, where the hybrid did its share of left-lane passing. It isn't the fastest S-Class going, but the power delivery is strong and steady, especially once it gets rolling. The hybrid system feels sophisticated and seamless, and the driver can monitor power flow by way of an instrument cluster animation graphic.

Although the 2010 Mercedes-Benz S400 offers very good fuel economy for a car this size, it isn't likely to pay off at the pump. But if you're looking for one car to express both affluence and environmental consciousness, the S400 will be tough to top.

Aside from the addition of the new hybrid model, the S-Class lineup benefits from a few new technology features. On the driving/safety front, there's now standard Torque Vectoring Brake, which initiates braking of the inner rear wheel to achieve greater agility through bends. And now as a part of Active Body Control, new Crosswind Stabilization compensates for lateral wind gusts and helps maintain directional stability by distributing wheel load.

Within, the most significant change to the S-Class is an optional Splitview front interface that allows the driver and the front passenger to view different content on the same screen at the same time. So the driver can use the navigation system while the front passenger watches a movie.

The S-Class has also undergone a minor facelift. The front-end dons a more aero grille and new LED lighting, while the rear touts new exhaust pipes and a revised taillamp design. Wheels and side mirrors are also new.

The new 2010 Mercedes Benz S-Class offers it all. Luxury, technology, performance, and now even the chance to go green. But to experience any of it, expect to pay a small fortune.

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