Much like the BMW 7-series, the S550 is not a car one can digest in one night. There’s just so much going on, so much that it can do, that one barely scratches the surface by relating how it feels and how it drives.
So how does it feel and drive? Very nice and very nicely. Not enough information for you? Well, the beautiful leather chairs were quite comfortable, although I never figured out if there’s a way to adjust the bolsters. The Command interface is easy to use, meaning it took me ten minutes to figure out how to turn on the radio, but was able to remember exactly how to turn it on again the following morning. Acceleration is effortless, and it felt quite nimble, keeping in mind that its primary goal in life is not to be nimble.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
In vehicles such as the S550, one of the first features I look for are massaging seats. In previous Benz’s, this automotive indulgence could take some time to locate in the vehicle’s multimedia system. Not this time. The instant my butt came to rest on the premium leather covered driver’s seat, I noticed a vibrating seat icon on a button near the Comand dial, pushed it, turned the knob to “fast and vigorous,” and was on my way to driving bliss. And for future reference, Mr. Zenlea, the side-bolster adjustors can also be accessed through this button.
Although the S550 is the poor kid on the S-class block, you’d never know it by its $93,000-plus base price. Amazingly, this doesn’t include an iPod interface and Bluetooth. (These are also not standard on our just-as-expensive Four Seasons 2009 BMW 750Li.) Although hardly pricey at $425 and $300 respectively, these features are so commonplace even on cars costing a third of the S550 that it’s strange that they aren’t standard.
The chassis tuning is near perfect, power delivery is silky smooth, and acceleration is so undramatic that the speedo read jailbait long before I had even merged onto the highway. Fortunately, the massaging seats lulled me into legal speeds for the remainder of my drive.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
When we named the Mercedes-Benz S-class a 2008 All-Star, I wrote that “pretty much everything about it is just right.” This 2009 S550 4Matic only serves to cement that opinion. From its sumptuous interior that cradles both driver and passengers in comfort to its sedate but attractive (and unmistakenly Benz) exterior to driving dynamics that are at once luxurious yet athletic, this big Benz does it all. From behind the wheel, the S-class belies its size, feeling like a smaller car than it is. BMW‘s 7-series gives the big Benz a run for its money in the full-size luxury segment, but this S550, especially with the 4Matic all-wheel-drive option, is, as Mary Poppins would say, “practically perfect in every way.”
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
I really wish I had an extra $111,000 lying around, as this S550 may well be my ideal daily driver. I don’t say that because it’s economical (note there’s a $1300 gas guzzler tax tacked onto this non-AMG model), but because it’s immensely comfortable. I slid behind the wheel after an exasperating day at the office, and it felt as if I was sliding into my favorite Barcalounger–albeit one wrapped in sumptuous hide and bolted to a muscular German V-8.
I’m sure the $1300 “premium leather” package had much to do with the sensation, but this car just oozes comfort from every pore and, perhaps more important, every seating position. I can’t say I feel the same way about our Four Seasons BMW 750Li. That car seems to fall over itself catering to the posh needs of the rear passengers, slighting those up front in the process.
The Benz also seems more adept at answering my needs as a driver. Although the BMW’s sport mode whips up a taught suspension that may feel slightly more sportive during spirited driving, the S550 feels immensely more natural. The steering is linear (if not slightly overboosted), the car feels weighted (it should–it weighs in at 4630 pounds), and things don’t feel artificially modulated. Better yet, this beast is much easier to wheel through tight urban areas–perfect for a true daily driver.
If you live in an area that regularly receives substantial snowfall, I’d spring for the all-wheel-drive. I piloted a similar CL550 4Matic through a substantial blizzard late last year, and the system clawed its way through several inches of snow without any drama.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
2009 Mercedes-Benz S550 4Matic
Base price (with destination, gas guzzler tax): $94,525
Price as tested: $111,330
Savanna/cashmere premium leather $1,330
iPod integration kit $425
Bluetooth interface $300
Power rear side window shades $720
Heated steering wheel $470
Premium package $4,990
Distronic plus package $2,880
Sport package $5,690
14 / 21 / 17 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 5.5L V-8
Horsepower: 382 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 391 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm
Weight: 4630 lb
19 x 9.5 in alloy wheels
255/45R18 all-season tires