What is it about the Germans (indeed, most Europeans) that causes them to not really get the hybrid thing? Mercedes-Benz has finally come out with a hybrid, but it’s too darned big!

At the New York International Auto Show, Ernst Lieb, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, pulled the covers off the new 2010 ML450, the company’s first full hybrid vehicle and to be sold exclusively in the U.S. and Canada. Did I say it was too darned big? And did I mention that the greatest jazz singer in the world, Dianne Reeves, sang a love song to it (“Better Than Anything”)?

Diane Reeves

A pair of electric motors is integrated into the transmission and combined with a 275-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 to produce 335 horsepower. There’s also a 2.4-kilowatt-hour nickel-metal-hydride battery pack. Ernst touted that the hybrid has “88 percent of the power and 94 percent of the torque of the V-8 versions, but uses 50 percent less fuel.” Well, yes, but it’s not exactly fuel efficient at 21 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway.

The hybrid uses the two-mode system developed in conjunction with GM, Chrysler and BMW—who mostly put it in big SUVs, too. With a standard ML350 you can get 15/20 mpg, so there isn’t a huge difference.

Mercedes is also hybridizing another big Benz to create the S400 BlueHybrid. I think the company should instead consider a gas-electric version of its tiny A-Class, which would probably be good for 40-50 mpg. The Germans think we're permanently stuck in big SUV mode, while they cheerfully keep the innovative small stuff over in Europe. An A-class hybrid would be a lot cheaper, too, and I’d sit up and take notice.

Here's what the new big Benz looks like on the road:

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