The first S-class I ever drove was this magazine's 4-Seasons 1992 400SE. That car blew my mind, for reasons big and small. One of its more subtle qualities was that every moving part on the car-steering, brakes, accelerator, switchgear-had a uniformity of feel. This current S-class is the same way. I also love how the torque converter and throttle mapping combine to provide a liquid-smooth takeoff from a stop. Lesser Benz models do not work this same way.
Early iterations of Mercedes' Comand system were a disaster, but I find the current one to be quite easy to use. I only wish that more audio information were available when you have the navigation screen up (as Ford does); you shouldn't have to toggle between navigation and audio. The array of silver buttons looks great, but some separation of function would be a bit more practical. Also, I agree with Eric that having the night vision display in the instrument cluster forces you to take your eyes too far off the road. Projecting the image in a head-up display on the windshield would be a better solution.
I realize that this car is for the money-is-no-object crowd, but $5800 for a set of wheels and a bit of rather cheesy-looking lower body cladding strikes me as Porsche-style highway robbery.
I agree also with Phil that a fairly tight turning circle helps this huge car feel not quite so huge when parking. Very helpful.
Although the S550's regal nature seeps into the driver's subconscious and makes one want to drive chauffeur smooth, I was curious to see how the big Benz would handle a high-energy blast down a tight, backwoods two-lane. So I found a quiet piece of road with plenty of lumps, bumps, sudden elevation changes, and quick turns. I popped the active body control into Sport and let 'er rip. The car just glided from turn to turn, and crest to drop, with the grace of an Olympic skier. An impressive performance.
Joe Lorio, Senior Editor