If you value agility and sportiness in your luxury car, check out the BMW 7-Series, Jaguar XJ, or Porsche Panamera. Of course, if you really value agility and sportiness, check out something smaller than a massive luxury sedan. That’s why I’d pass over those other fine-driving machines in favor of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class if I were buying a large luxury sedan. Unlike its peers, the S550 makes no attempts at masking its size, and instead embraces the idea of a car with a wheelbase as long as a football field.
There’s not a car out there as cool and collected and under-the-radar as the S-class. It is the ultimate escape from a stressful day at the office, achieving roving-spa status when you kick on the massaging driver’s seat. Skimming effortlessly over the highway at near triple-digit speeds, the tires rhythmically patter across expansion joints to remind you that they’re in contact with the road, but even the largest potholes don’t unsettle this cushy cruiser. There’s big power available from the 5.5-liter V-8, and yet the throttle calibration smartly errs toward sluggish. Unless you’re very deliberately asking for speed, the S-class just wants to stride off the line — confident but without any sense of urgency. My one complaint comes down to agility’s low-speed cousin, maneuverability. I’d prefer a short-wheelbase S-Class, but Mercedes doesn’t sell that car in the U.S.
Eric Tingwall, Copy Editor
I’ve driven several S-class Mercedes over the years, and they always reflect exactly what you’d expect from a top-of-the-line German luxury sedan: grace, power, solidity, quality. This S550 is no exception. The doors close with a solid thunk, the interior is full of high-quality leather, and the 5.5-liter V-8 delivers power in an utterly smooth and progressive manner. At more than $100,000 as tested, this car doesn’t come cheap, but I imagine that if you have the economic wherewithal to afford this car, you won’t be disappointed.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
While I marveled at how perfectly the leather’s contrast stitching followed the contours and curves of the dash, Our summer intern, Greg Fink, marveled at how good he looked in the back seat, thanks to a small, personal flip-down mirror. While he was busy getting lost in his own eyes, I was playing with the 15-speaker harman/kardon surround sound system, which comes standard on the S550. Honestly, I think you would have to be absolutely crazy to spend $6400 to upgrade this amazing stereo system to the Bang & Olufsen BeoSound, but that’s just me.
While “fast and vigorous” is a setting on the massaging front seats of this S550, those two words also could describe the power coming from the 5.5-liter V-8. It’s maybe more fast than vigorous, but one can’t help but be impressed with the huge straight-line acceleration from a car that is a room at the Bellagio on wheels.
Christopher Nelson, Road Test Editor
I guess if you’re in for $94K to begin with, another four grand for the Active Body Control is money well spent. It helped keep the S550 flat and stable when I threw it into one of my left-turn on-ramps — that is, when I drove the S-class like a sports car, just like all of its owners do. Not.
I can understand why items like ABC, 4Matic all-wheel drive, and a super-premium stereo cost extra money, because not everyone who buys an S-class wants or needs that equipment. For example, anyone who lives in the Sunbelt has virtually no use for 4Matic. But I was a little surprised to scan the Monroney and find a $2290 line item for “premium black leather.” To that, my reaction was, “Really? I’m in a ninety-four-thousand-dollar luxury car, the sedan that supposedly is at the top of the Mercedes-Benz pecking order, and it doesn’t just COME WITH premium leather? Come on, Mercedes.
That bitching aside, I concede to feeling pretty darn special anytime I am driving an S-class, and I admit that it did lift my spirits to walk downstairs this morning at 6:30 and spy the grille and three-pointed star of the S550 through the big window that overlooks my front steps. Call me shallow.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
2011 Mercedes-Benz S550
Base price (with destination): $93,875
Price as tested: $108,335
382-hp 5.5L V-8
7-speed automatic transmission
Direct-steer, power assisted, speed-sensitive steering
Airmatic air suspension w/adaptive damping system
Internally ventilated & cross-drilled front brake discs w/4-piston calipers
Internally ventilated rear brake discs w/single piston calipers
40GB hard-drive GPS navigation with Bluetooth & voice control
15-speaker Harman/Kardon surround sound system w/in-dash 6-disc DVD/CD changer & media interface
Central controller w/8-inch display
Power read window shade
Electronic trunk closer
Full leather interior w/wood trim
14-way power heated and active ventilated front seats
Dual-zone climate control system
Electronic stability control
Tire pressure monitoring system
Anti-theft alarm w/engine immobilizer
Predictive protection system
Options on this vehicle:
Black premium leather — $2290
Contrast stitching for leather — $300
Heated steering wheel — $490
Active Body Control (ABC) w/crosswind stabilization — $4090
Splitview entertainment system — $710
Premium package — $ 3630
Mulitcontour front seats with massage
Parktronic w/parking guidance
Rear view camera
Driver assistance package — $2950
Active lane keeping assist
Active blind spot assist
Key options not on vehicle:
Bang & Olufsen BeoSound premium sound system — $6400
Night View Assist Plus with Pedestrian Detection — $1780
Rear Seat Entertainment system — $2450
Rear Seat Package — $3040
4MATIC all-wheel drive — $3000
15 / 23 / 18 mpg
Horsepower: 382 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 391 lb-ft @ 2800-4800 rpm
Curb weight: 4455 lb
Wheels/tires: 18-inch alloy wheels