Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG (© Richard Dredge - Microsoft/Magic Car Pics)Click to enlarge picture

Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG

After a relatively low-key and eco-focused showing at the 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show, Mercedes-Benz is back with a bang this year thanks to the unveiling of its new SLS supercar, and it's nice to see the German automaker let its hair down and have some fun.

Reviving the spirit of the iconic 1950s 300SL and repackaging it with 21st-century technology was bound to create a buzz at the show, and it did, as show-goers flocked to the Mercedes stand. Equipped with a boosted, dry-sumped version of AMG's mighty 6.2-liter V8 engine that develops 571 horsepower, the SLS has the firepower to keep up with the best of the competition. And Mercedes' first dual-clutch gearbox is a significant departure for a brand that has always stuck by the traditional automatic transmission for its flagship models.

But here in the glitz and glamour of the motor show, the engineering matters less than the look. And 55 years after the first Gullwing, those trademark doors have lost none of their impact. Novelty doors are a show concept essential, of course, but rarely make it onto the production versions — not so with the SLS.

And it's not just the SLS making its debut here. The estate version of the all-new E-Class - launched earlier in the year in saloon and coupe form - is also on show for the first time. As sensible and useful as the SLS is wild and exciting, the E-Class estate has been a Mercedes staple since the late '70s, and this fifth-generation version carries on the tradition in fine style.

All of the features of the regular E-Class, from the rock-solid build quality to the innovative Attention Assist anti-drowsiness system, are of course included on the estate version. But with a load capacity of up to 1,950 liters and a standard fit, key-operated Easy-Pack powered tailgate and host of clever internal cargo options, it's of course more practical than ever.

The estate versions of the E-Class have always been elegant beasts, often more so than their saloon brethren in fact. And so it proves with the new E-Class estate, the boxy lines taking the edge off some of the new E-Class' more controversial styling traits and blending elegance and practicality with real panache.

It's nice to see Mercedes playing to its strengths with a traditional family estate car packed with sensible safety features and great, real-world powertrains — like the 204-horsepower E250 CDI with its huge 369 lb-ft of torque, 150g/km carbon-dioxide emissions and 49.5 mpg fuel economy. What more could you want?

Well, a luxury hybrid perhaps. And on the back of the S400 "mild" hybrid we drove earlier this year, Mercedes has chosen Frankfurt to showcase its all-new plug-in S500 Hybrid. Wearing the Vision badging used by Mercedes concepts, the new hybrid demonstrates the next step in the company's stated aim of introducing modular hybrid systems tailored to individual markets and requirements.

On the S400 Hybrid, the electric motor simply assists the gas-powered engine to boost efficiency and reduce emissions. But the S500 version uses a much bigger battery and more powerful motor and can disconnect the engine to run on electric power alone for around 18 miles. And though the battery charged through brake regeneration, you can also top it up from your domestic electricity supply.

As a result, Mercedes is able to claim an astonishing CO2 figure of just 74 g/km and fuel economy of 88 mpg - better even than the latest Toyota Prius but without any compromise in the luxury or refinement that S-Class buyers expect and way better than the hybrid Lexus LS600h it compares more directly against. But don't expect Lexus to stay quiet for long.