Road Raves: Mercedes-Benz S550 is King of the Road

Posted Wednesday, Nov. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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With each generation, the Mercedes-Benz S class redefines the luxury sedan standard. The all-new 2014 S550 continues that legacy with conviction, brimming with intelligence, craftsmanship, refinement, luxury and, of course, that all important “ooh” factor.

Start with the stately look: not too far from the dignified architecture of the previous generation but with a nicely tucked tush that adds sizzle to the big car’s swagger. The trunk lid, roof, doors and that long, long hood are all constructed from a specially bonded combination of aluminum and high-strength steel that lowers overall weight yet adds rigidity and thereby reduces vibration for a smoother ride.

How smooth? Well, with the optional “Magic Body Control,” you can experience the weirdness of banging over speed bumps and feeling … nothing. Zip. Nada. Using a crazy combination of wizardry and a windshield-mounted camera, the system scans the road ahead, calculates the best suspension settings and hydraulically adjusts each wheel’s individual damping to smooth out the ride.

It’s tempting to bust a set of tires doing this time and again because it never ever gets old.

EVER.

So you can just imagine what it’s like to float above our battered and bumpy roads with nary a bustle in your hedgerow.

This cocooning smoothness lives at the heart of the S550 experience. Sound isn’t so much damped as done away with. Who needs the inconvenience of road noise when you’re reveling in the richness of the (optional) 1,540-watt Burmester 24-speaker, 3-D surround sound system? More than just a media system, it cleverly uses the car’s very own front bulkhead cavity to deliver astonishingly delicate acoustics.

Performance is a given, propelled by a 449-horsepower twin-turbo 4.7 liter V8 with 516 lb-ft of torque that propels the 4,277-pound S550 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. Choose rear-wheel drive or the all-wheel 4Matic option.

Peace of mind also comes from the more than 30 standard and optional active and passive safety technologies, called Intelligent Drive.

For example, the optional Driver Assistance Package ($2,800) gives you more radar capability than most national militaries can muster. Distronic Plus features a radar-based cruise control system with steering inputs that tag onto the car in front of you and allows the S550 to pretty much drive itself.

And that’s just for starters. Pre-Safe Plus can sense an impending rear-end accident and snap into force field mode to protect occupants. Pre-Safe Brake will autonomously brake the car up to 31 mph with or without driver input.

BAS Plus with Cross Traffic Assist reads cross-traffic encounters with stereo cameras and adds appropriate braking assistance.

Other features include active lane assist, blind spot protection, attention assist and night view assist, contributing to the S550’s super-high safety quotient.

But all that stuff is hidden. The show takes place inside, where the Maybach’s legacy lives on in the plush, roomy flight deck, which boasts gorgeous leathers and rich woods rivaling those of Rolls-Royce and Bentley. Seriously.

Amenities include two 12.3-inch center-stack screens, all the communication capabilities of the Starship Enterprise, heated armrests and a nifty hot stone seat massage that’s good for a nervous laugh from your uninitiated passenger.

No light bulbs anymore, either. Mercedes says the S550 “contains not a single light bulb — the first car so equipped since the dawn of electric lighting.” Nearly 500 LEDs provide all interior and exterior illumination, including optional stereo speaker mood lighting (in seven driver selectable shades).

Round is the word when it comes to air vents: Mercedes says no more boring rectangles ever again.

The two-spoke wheel is very cool, as is the script drawn “Mercedes-Benz” at the bottom.

There’s even atomized cabin scent (a world first, according to company literature). Apparently, German car wash facilities don’t stock those pine tree thingies one can hang from the mirror.

Pricing starts at $92,900 and, as expected with a new generation S, options can easily drive prices north of $130,000.

But, hey, if you’ve waited this long to see what the other manufacturers have to offer and are ready to go for the gold, your patience is about to be rewarded.

Besides, you only live once, right?

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