While critics might decry Mercedes-Benz entering a number of downmarket niches and with cheaper product – like the CLA and GLA – the truth is that increasing sales in those new categories helps pay for the more traditional stuff; the luxury and performance sedans that made Mercedes products into must-have accessories for the upper class.
|1. Pricing starts at $93,825, or about $130,000 as tested.
2. AWD model rated for 16 mpg city, 26 MPG highway.
3. Available wine cooler.
4. Customizable dual 12.3-inch screens display all info on dash.
So when a new S-Class comes along, it’s quite a big story given that models tend to stick around for a decade or so. It also tends to forecast all the new technology that eventually makes its way into less expensive products. Things like heated rear seats, active cruise control and more are things now available in reasonably priced compacts and mid-sizers alike.
Speakers Look as Good as They Sound
Take, for example, the fantastically designed front speaker covers for the optional Burmester audio system. They are truly modern works of art, each tiny hole meticulously placed, surrounding a blue LED ring that highlights where the actual driver is located… Does it make the playback sound any better? No way. This is purely another superlative touch to make the owner feel like his new ‘Benz is worth the money.
The range of engines is similar to before, but the S550 uses a 449-horsepower version of Benz’ twin-turbocharged 4.6-liter V8, which also offers a ridiculous 516 lb-ft of torque. These are numbers that a decade ago were top-line AMG-spec rockets and this is merely in the “middling” model. A seven-speed automatic transmission carries over, as does the optional 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system that keeps the big Merc pointed in the right direction once the rain or snow hits.
It does 0-60 mph run in 4.8 seconds (0.2 quicker than before), helped by a little weight savings in the generational change: base 550s now weigh 4,729 pounds, while 4MATIC adds another 55. Fuel economy figures aren’t completely terrible – even with the 4MATIC model – at 16 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway helped by standard auto stop/start, although don’t expect the majority of owners to ever hit those.
World’s Best Cruiser?
Although the aforementioned AMG models are probably more exciting from behind the wheel, the S550 is better suited to calm, quiet, drama-free motoring. Steering is light and doesn’t communicate much of what’s going on. The AIRMATIC suspension is amazingly supple, even with the larger optional wheels with low-profile tires on our tester. Braking is decent for something this large, although it’s no Porsche Panamera in terms of responsiveness.
While the performance figures are definitely impressive, the S-Class is always something better enjoyed inside its cosseting cabin. There’s organically shaped wood on the dash and doors while other bits are treated with leathers and some of the finest plastics and metals we’ve seen. The steering wheel takes special note here; it’s a slightly-squashed circle with wood and leather sections and metal inlays that feature the Mercedes-Benz name in script along the bottom. Major controls are found on the two spokes and it’s another piece of art, this one that you can hold.
When off, the entire dashboard is an enormous blank canvas, but when alive, the twin 12.3-inch displays are fully customizable. They default to a pair of gauges, but can also provide easy access to all of the car’s various systems through the revised COMAND infotainment system. The control knob still sits on the center console within easy reach of your right hand, but now features buttons scattered around that cut some of the complication. Depending on how deep your pockets are, you can get heated and ventilated seats for every position and thanks to integrated air bladders and motors, can give several different styles of massages.
Seats Suited For a King
The optional rear thrones in our tester feature nearly infinite ways to adjust and come separated by a wide console that can feature everything from secondary controls for the dual rear LCD screens, a wine cooler and more. Like the rest of the new S-Class, the materials and design are so much more luxurious than previous generations.
In fact, this sedan is good enough to make Maybach’s death seem almost forgettable. Better still, the S550 starts at $93,825 including delivery, which seems a relative bargain given all the improvements over the previous generation. Once you start adding in the various packages and standalone options, the as-tested price rises to over $130,000, however repeating the full list of features here would be longer than the actual review itself…
With few players in the field – and all of them European except for the Lexus LS 600h – the newest competition would be the latest Maserati Quattroporte, which is turbo-V8-powered all-wheel drive Q4 guise starts at $104,000 and with similar equipment levels nets out around the same region as the Benz. Audi’s revised A8 delivers similar excess, although perhaps not the presence of the others.
Mercedes-Benz is making sure its latest offerings are real winners and since the S-Class is the company’s headliner, it’s the most polished of the bunch. Captains of industry and petty despots will be pleased…