2009 Mercedes Benz S550
If I ever come into a huge pile of cash, I'll go straight to a Benz dealer and pick up an S-class. I've been in love with this generation of S-class ever since I first had the chance to drive one more than three years ago. This car still feels every bit as special today as it did back in 2006.
The S-class is an enormous car, but it feels at least one whole size smaller from behind the wheel. Our Four Seasons long-wheelbase 7-series feels much larger (partially because it has a longer wheelbase) around town and in the parking structure. This S550 never felt larger than an E-class from behind the wheel--although anyone lucky enough to steal time in the rear seats would attest to a magnificent improvement in legroom over any E-class.
I can now admit that the entire time I spent driving our Four Seasons BMW 750Li back to Michigan from California I was secretly thinking the S-class would have been a better ride. I much prefer the linear acceleration of the Benz's normally aspirated engine to the BMW's laggy-then-explosive thrust from its twin-turbo mill. Mercedes' active body control feels a bit more normal than any of BMW's fancy new dynamic drive control settings. And the cooling function on the Benz's front seats is much, much quieter than BMW's system.
Aside from the six-figure price and the sudden shift in national opinion toward both fuel economy and the type of people who can afford these luxury cars, I can't find much to complain about here.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
I am always, always happy to get behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz S-class. Fast, surefooted, smooth, luxurious, and roomy, it's everything you'd ever want in a big luxury sedan, and more. It's so easy to drive, so rewarding to be in. I'm about to take my first trip in our Four Seasons BMW 750Li, and I'm looking forward to seeing if I like it as much as the S-class.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
I used to think I couldn't sing enough praise for the S-class, but having been blessed with two S550s over the past month, I'm starting to run out of fresh commendations. Still, extra seat time has only affirmed my feelings--if you're looking for a sedan that rewards both passengers and the driver with acres of luxury and a flawless drive, you're going to be hard-pressed to trump the S550.
In a car like this, you can expect designers to reap lavish appointments upon rear passengers, but Mercedes-Benz does the same for those in front. The premium leather package is nothing short of supple, and the infinitely adjustable bucket seats contort every which way in order to comfortably hold your frame. Ergonomics are also top-rate; the leather pad above the Comand dial on the center console supports the wrist oh-so-nicely, and buttons for other features (i.e. volume, seating positions, navigation, etc) are logically placed a finger's length away from the knob. I like Audi's MMI and can get through BMW's iDrive, but I think Benz has perfected the rotary infotainment control with this setup.
Apart from a few missing options (this tester didn't have the rear side-window screens, for instance), the biggest difference between this car and the last S550 we tested is the lack of Mercedes-Benz's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. In most instances, you won't notice it's missing, a sign of Benz's supreme stability and traction control systems or the invisibility of the 4Motion driveline. Living without powered front wheels saves you $3000 and approximately 200 pounds, but I'd still suggest that those who regularly traipse through lake-effect snow or other treacherous conditions spring for the option.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
Evan is right. Get the 4Matic. You're already bringing 90 large to the party, yes? And it is a party in this car. Oohs. Aahhs. Whipping through deep bends with the massage seat holding you together behind the wheel. (Kids love that.) Creamy ride. Dreamy controls. Makes me want to never give it back.
Jean Jennings, President & Editor-in-Chief
A guy in a brand-new, V-12-powered S600 (which starts at some $58,000 more than this "base" S-class) pulled up next to me at a stoplight, lowered his window, and interrupted his very important phone call to tell me how this--flint gray metallic--is his favorite color on these cars.
"I really wanted my car in that color," he said, "but I would have had to wait a few more weeks, so I settled on silver."
S-class owners don't have to settle for much, though, since the cars are darn near perfect right out of the box. Make-you-feel-like-royalty luxury and comfort. Overwhelm-your-nerdy-nephew technology. Outsprint-Mustang-punks acceleration. Get-it-right-the-first-time ergonomics. It's all there and more.
Owners of lesser Benzes know this, too. Another guy in a last-gen E320 4Matic made it a point to whiz by in a 45-mph zone. The S-class was not impressed.
I wasn't as wholeheartedly impressed as usual, however, since this particular S-class felt less rigid and more wobbly than others I've driven (and adored) in the past. I blame it on Michigan's frost-heaved roads ...
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
2009 Mercedes-Benz S550
Base price (with destination, gas guzzler tax): $91,225Price as tested: $110,500
Options:Savanna Premium Leather - $1330iPod Integration Kit - $425Active Body Control - $3960Premium Package - $4990 - Rear View Camera, Parktronic, Keyless Entry, Drive-Dynamic Front Seats with Massage Feature, Night View AssistDistronic Plus Package - $2880 - Distronic Plus with Parking Guidance and Blind Spot AssistSport Package - $5960 - 19" AMG 5-Spoke Wheel, Sport Body Styling
Fuel economy: 14 / 22 / 17 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Engine:Size: 5.5L 32-valve aluminum V-8Horsepower: 382 hp @ 6,000 rpmTorque: 391 lb-ft @ 2800 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic transmission
Weight: 4465 lb
Wheels/Tires:19" AMG 5-spoke wheels255/45 R19 all-season tires