In the search for the optimum hybrid system for the premium motor car, the engineers were already sure of one thing right from the concept phase: a Mercedes-Benz SUV with a hybrid drive would have to share the same typical brand attributes as any other Mercedes vehicle. Essential elements such as the greatest possible active and passive safety, optimum ride comfort and ease of operation, uncompromising reliability over a long period and high-quality workmanship with select materials would have to be on a par with a comparable, conventionally powered standard-production vehicle. And all combined with the greatest possible efficiency. At the same time, the drive system should be testimony to the company's innovative strength and cutting-edge technology. These objectives demanded a complete development cycle – the kind of process any new model family developed from scratch would undergo. Until the Mercedes-Benz ML 450 HYBRID reached series-production maturity, the engineers and technicians clocked up a total of four million kilometres, taking in some of the world's most extreme climatic conditions to prove the system's reliability, be it in the sub-zero Arctic circle, the searing heat of arid desert regions or in the sweltering, humid temperatures of the tropics. The work was supplemented by an extensive test-rig programme and detailed simulations as part of the "Digital Prototype". An important aim during development was to optimally match the various subsystems within the powertrain. System matching enables the various drive modes to be easily used while the customer is driving.

The two-mode hybrid technology in the ML 450 HYBRID, whose drive architecture supports purely electric operation and purely combustion engine operation or any combination of the two, takes its lead from the fundamental work undertaken by the "Global Hybrid Cooperation". This group brought together research and development work undertaken by the companies Daimler AG, BMW Group, General Motors and Chrysler.

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Superior technology: two-mode hybrid for the most efficient drive system

Thanks to two-mode hybrid technology the ML 450 HYBRID boasts tangible benefits: its performance figures are on a par with a conventional eight-cylinder SUV with permanent all-wheel drive while fuel consumption and emissions have been reduced by up to 60%. The vehicle designed specifically for the US market delivers 'city' fuel consumption of 21 mpg and 'highway' consumption of 24 mpg, making it the most efficient vehicle in its segment. With its SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) classification, the SUV meets the most stringent emissions standard for vehicles with a combustion engine currently applicable in the US. At the same time, the ML 450 HYBRID with a system output of 250 kW (340 hp) and a combined torque of 517 newton metres guarantees a superlative driving experience combined with an enhanced level of ride comfort. The driver can concentrate fully on the traffic and enjoy the ML 450 HYBRID driving experience without having to select additional functions as the drive management system is fully automatic. The functionality of the 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive system is also fully retained.

At the heart of the two-mode hybrid drive is the transmission unit with two compact electric motors, three planetary gear sets and four clutches. This configuration enables the power to be split into an electrical and a mechanical path. Conventional one-mode hybrid systems tend not to have mechanical ratios. As such, this kind of system transfers the bulk of the power via the electrical path with high electrical output and hence lower efficiency. It works efficiently principally at lower loads and speeds. If power also needs to be transferred at higher loads and speeds, an accordingly larger electric motor would be required. Having to power and find space for this engine would only be possible at the expense of efficiency. In response to increasing engine loads and higher speeds, two-mode technology, by contrast, variably shifts the power transfer from the electrical path to the mechanical drive path. As a result, the system is much more efficient in all situations, both in inner-city stop-and-go traffic as well as on fast motorway journeys, while also enabling smaller electric motors to be used. The efficiency boost – both in urban traffic as well as on motorway journeys - is therefore where "two-mode" technology gets its name from.

The four clutches are used to distribute the driving force generated by the electric motor and combustion engine via four fixed ratios and two electric variable ratios to all four wheels on the 4MATIC permanent all-wheel-drive system, depending on the driving situation. Various strategies ensure the best possible fuel consumption and performance, depending on the traffic situation or the driver's requirements:

* When moving off or at low speed up to the second fixed gear, the ML 450 HYBRID operates in ECVT 1 mode (Electric Continuously Variable Transmission), delivering a very comfortable, smooth ride.

* At higher speed from the second fixed ratio, ECVT 2 mode is used. Depending on the optimum operation point, a combined or continuously variable mode is selected.

* In the first and third fixed gear both electric motors work synchronously, providing either additional energy for acceleration (boost) or storing the braking and coasting energy (recuperation).

* In the second and fourth fixed gear, one electric motor is switched off to improve efficiency. The second electric motor is used for the booster function and recuperation.

The two compact electric motors boast a high power density and are fully integrated into the transmission housing. The limited installation space means the two electric motors have to be configured differently. The first electric motor - positioned nearer to the combustion engine - develops 62 kW (85 hp) and 235 newton metres of torque and has been designed with power output and minimal losses firmly in mind. The electric motor placed at the end of the transmission develops 60 kW (82 hp) and 260 newton metres and is thus the ideal solution for moving off solely under electric power and providing the booster function.

Compact 288-volt battery with high power density

The electrical energy in the ML 450 HYBRID is stored in a compact, liquid-cooled high-voltage nickel-metal hydride battery. Battery data at a glance:

Liquid-cooled high-voltage nickel- metal hydride battery
Mounting location
Vehicle rear
Weight (kg)
Modules / cells (quantity)
24 / 240
Electrical output (kW)
Capacity (kWh)
Voltage (V)

A battery management function monitors and controls the various charge flows during electric motoring, boost or recuperation to ensure a stable charge state. The entire high-voltage onboard network complies with the most stringent safety standards.

Sophisticated management system computes the most fuel-efficient operating mode in real time

Operation of the two external rotor magneto motors and the management of the entire high-voltage onboard network requires complex control electronics housed in the engine compartment of the ML 450 HYBRID. Waste heat from the electronics is dissipated via a separate cooling circuit to increase efficiency. An integrated Auxiliary Power Module enables power to be exchanged between the 288-volt battery and the 12-volt onboard network.

A powerful computer controls the hybrid system with up to 50 million computing operations a second. The electronic control unit calculates the most efficient operating mode 160 times a second, thus ensuring the lowest possible fuel consumption. The management system also supports new functions and comfort/convenience features:

* The transmission's coordinated shift strategies ensure judder-free manoeuvring

* "Chill down" mode enables the battery to recover during overload or high temperatures*

* An adaptive drive mode learns the driving style of the driver or the particular route profile to optimise the agility of the drive mode

* The "Power Launch Control" supports optimum acceleration in boost mode*

* The "Traffic Jam" feature enables the vehicle to be driven entirely under electric power in stop-and-go traffic even with a low battery charge status*

* exclusive features of the ML 450 HYBRID

Consumption-optimised Atkinson V6 engine

The modified 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine has been optimised in accordance with the Atkinson process, delivering substantially better fuel consumption and emissions figures with an output of 205 kW (279 hp) and a maximum torque of 350 newton metres. The development engineers utilised some of the benefits of the Atkinson principle whereby the expansion phase is longer than the compression phase. The intake valve is kept open slightly longer between the intake and compression phases, which improves the engine's thermal efficiency while reducing the specific fuel consumption and untreated emissions. This process is not used with conventionally powered vehicles because Atkinson engines - apart from the lower fuel consumption and emissions - tend to deliver lower torque at lower revs and thus inferior response particularly at low engine speeds. On the ML 450 HYBRID this drawback is more than offset through the use of the electric motors when moving off normally, accelerating or using the booster function. The M-Class thus offers superb responsiveness and agility.

Compared with the conventional 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine, the Atkinson version features a modified cylinder head, pistons and camshaft. The camshaft timing has also been modified. The newly developed regulated oil pump adjusts the flow rate to the engine's actual requirements, thus minimising the necessary delivery rate and helping reduce fuel consumption and emissions. Since the alternator and starter functions are integrated in the two electric motors, these two components, which are now surplus to requirements, no longer need to be connected up to the belt drive on the combustion engine. The air conditioning compressor and the steering servo pump are another two components that do not need to be powered via the belt drive. These are driven electrically on the ML 450 HYBRID and can be run independently of the combustion engine.

Operating strategies of the two-mode hybrid drive

The ML 450 HYBRID offers the full range of extra functions offered by a hybrid drive. These include variable hybrid mode for city and motorway driving, silent, purely electric moving off and motoring, the "booster function" for fast acceleration, recuperation and the start/stop function. These functions are activated depending on the operating state and traffic situation:

* While at a standstill, the combustion engine is switched off. The air conditioning and power steering functions are fully retained thanks to the electric drive of the air conditioning compressor and the steering servo pump.

* Manoeuvring, for instance when parking, only uses the electric drive.

* If the driver presses the accelerator from a standstill, the ML 450 HYBRID moves off solely using electric power. If the accelerator is pressed rapidly, the management system recognises the need for increased acceleration, activates the combustion engine which it backs up with additional torque from the electric motor (booster effect). This noticeably increases the vehicle's agility without having to use the kickdown feature.

* When cruising, the operation point is shifted toward lower specific fuel consumption figures to increase the efficiency of the V6 engine while in turn also increasing efficiency particularly under partial loads.

* Recuperation, the conversion of braking energy into electric power and subsequent storage starts immediately the vehicle is in overrun mode or during normal braking manoeuvres. The service brake is also activated during heavy braking. The ML 450 HYBRID can match where necessary the kind of good maximum deceleration you will find on a conventionally powered M-Class with the same superb handling.

* The start/stop function deactivates the V6 engine as soon as it is not needed, say when rolling up to a red traffic light. As soon as the driver presses the accelerator, the ML moves off using electric power and then starts the combustion engine.

* The Silent Start enables the vehicle to be started without creating any noise.

Info display indicates current operating state

The ML 450 HYBRID driving experience offers an impressive mix of high agility and balanced ride comfort under all operating conditions. A specially designed display concept enables the driver to keep track of the particular drive mode. The COMAND system display can be used to either display the current energy flow between the high-voltage battery, combustion engine and electric motors including the percentage charge state of the battery, or a fuel consumption and recuperation energy graphic. The battery charge state can also be called up in the instrument cluster. The conventional rev counter is replaced by a display which illustrates the combined drive system and recuperation output at a given moment.

The choice is yours: Economy or Sport mode

To ensure you can experience the extraordinary agility of the ML 450 HYBRID even more emphatically, apart from Economy mode, the model comes with a Sport mode, which is activated using the "E/S" button in the centre console. This operating mode provides the handling of a conventional automatic transmission with eight fixed ratios and very short shift times. The response is even more spontaneous thanks to the decidedly sporty engine and transmission control unit and the direct through-drive in the powertrain. Sport mode also recognises the driving characteristics of the driver or the particular road profile and adapts the system management function accordingly.

Classic benefits of the M-Class remain unchanged

The Mercedes-Benz M-Class models rank among the most successful premium SUVs and offer the greatest possible active and passive safety, optimum ride comfort and ease of operation, uncompromising reliability over a long period and high-quality workmanship with select materials. These attributes naturally also apply to the ML 450 HYBRID, which in these respects offers performance on a par with the conventionally powered variants. The hybrid version meets the same crash requirements and offers outstanding active safety thanks to the dynamic handling control systems ESP®, ABS or BAS and the 4MATIC permanent all-wheel-drive system. The hybrid technology has been integrated perfectly, without taking up any additional installation space which would compromise comfort or practicality. The space in the passenger compartment is unchanged; the boot capacity is as large as ever. The only external clues on the ML 450 HYBRID are the redesigned bonnet, the BlueEFFICIENCY label on the wings and the HYBRID lettering on the rear.

The ML 450 HYBRID is produced at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in the United States.

Technical data (US figures) at a glance

Combustion engine Type Number of cylinders/arrangement Displacement cc Valves per cylinder / valve control system Rated output kW / hp
Rpm Max. torque Nm (ft-lbs) Rpm
Atkinson-style petrol engine V6 3498 4 / continuously variable 205 / 279 6000 350 (259) 3000 - 5500
Electric motors Rated output, electric motor 1 kW / hp Rated output, electric motor 2 kW / hp Max. torque, electric motor 1 Nm (ft-lbs) Max. torque, electric motor 2 Nm (ft-lbs)
62 / 84 60 / 82 235 (174) 260 (192)
Combined system output Rated output kW / hp Max. torque Nm (ft-lbs)
250 / 340 517 (383)
Fuel consumption FE Label mpg City Highway Combined Tank capacity l (gal) Theor. range km (mls)
21 24 22 90 (23.8) 840 (520)
Emissions standard
Performance 0-60 mph sec ¼ mile Top speed mph
7.8 15.8 131