To obtain a state-of-the-art benchmark potential energy surface (PES) for the archetypal oxidative addition of the methane C-H bond to the palladium atom, we have explored this PES using a hierarchical series of ab initio methods (Hartree-Fock, second-order Møller-Plesset perturbation theory, fourth-order Møller-Plesset perturbation theory with single, double and quadruple excitations, coupled cluster theory with single and double excitations (CCSD), and with triple excitations treated perturbatively [CCSD(T)]) and hybrid density functional theory using the B3LYP functional, in combination with a hierarchical series of ten Gaussian-type basis sets, up to g polarization. Relativistic effects are taken into account either through a relativistic effective core potential for palladium or through a full four-component all-electron approach. Counterpoise corrected relative energies of stationary points are converged to within 0.1-0.2 kcal/mol as a function of the basis-set size. Our best estimate of kinetic and thermodynamic parameters is -8.1 (-8.3) kcal/mol for the formation of the reactant complex, 5.8 (3.1) kcal/mol for the activation energy relative to the separate reactants, and 0.8 (-1.2) kcal/mol for the reaction energy (zero-point vibrational energy-corrected values in parentheses). This agrees well with available experimental data. Our work highlights the importance of sufficient higher angular momentum polarization functions, f and g, for correctly describing metal-d-electron correlation and, thus, for obtaining reliable relative energies. We show that standard basis sets, such as LANL2DZ+ 1f for palladium, are not sufficiently polarized for this purpose and lead to erroneous CCSD(T) results. B3LYP is associated with smaller basis set superposition errors and shows faster convergence with basis-set size but yields relative energies (in particular, a reaction barrier) that are ca. 3.5 kcal/mol higher than the corresponding CCSD(T) values. © 2004 American Institute of Physics.