It’s lucky hicks like me don’t have the money to buy the Mercedes-Benz S 550 Sedan. I’d embarrass the brand. While I had it for a week to test drive, I was sneaking out after dark so I could sit in the backseat and watch DVD’s. But first I removed my shoes.
The S 550 is the top dog in the Mercedes lineup. Any perk, luxury, technology, or safety scheme that’s known to man is in that car. On the Snob-O-Metre the S-Class buries the needle at the redline. It’s so massively impressive I started to think it was a bargain at $138, 650.
For Mercedes, the S-Class is a precious flagship, think of it like the anchor tenant at the mall. It’s the biggest car they make, chauffeur big. In fact there just might be a time zone change between the front and back seats. But there has to be something bigger than big, so I had the S-Class Long. It’s 130 millimetres longer than the standard S 550, and is set up to be driven by a chauffeur if you happen to have one. The passenger seat can be controlled by the driver for easy entry and exit, and the seat reclines flat as a pancake for a refreshing snooze.
Snooze you won’t, even as a passenger because the S 550
is lovely to drive and luxurious to ride in. This special creature starts out at a base price of $106,600, but for full ego satisfaction it’s best to pile on the packages. Adding Intelligent Drive, Exclusive, AMG Sport and Premium packages, tacked on another $25, 900 to the price of my tester.
It will take up most of your driveway and all of your affection once you get to know it. Piloting around 5, 246 millimetres or over 16 feet of car sounds intimidating, but this Benz easily dances and glides through chippy city traffic. On the highway the 4.6-litre V8 with 449 horse power and 516 lb.-ft. of torque squirts the S-Class into gaps in traffic where a bubble of serenity can be maintained, unbothered by the rust buckets, crude pickup trucks and bland vans the less lucky must drive.
After all, six degrees of separation won’t do, there must be at least 60 degrees of separation between the privileged occupants of the S-Class and the other mortal motorists. That must be why Mercedes was the first to sell a car that drives itself. It’s a “top this” story for happy hour at the country club.
Yes for a full 30 seconds take your hands off the wheel, feet off the gas pedal and the S 550 will do all the driving. The technology is bundled in the Intelligent Drive package, an option, at $2,700 that is about the price of a sunroof, but so much more fun. Using sensors, cameras, radar and drones for all I know, the S Class reads the road, reads nearby traffic and operates without any involvement from the driver. There are some restrictions, it doesn’t work on sharp curves, but in short bursts it’s impressive. When it’s time for the driver to take control, two red hands appear on the instrument panel as a warning, followed by an audible reminder. One criticism, to activate all this stuff, you must use a stalk hidden behind the steering wheel. I think these controls should be buttons on the wheel.
Ultimately self driving is a bit of a parlour trick, but a bunch of other safety and assistance aids are built into the Intelligent Drive, including active lane keeping, cross traffic alert, night vision assist which picks up pedestrians and animals lurking in the dark, and attention assist which monitors drowsy drivers. Distronic Plus joins the group, another name for it is
adaptive cruise control, but this one works at low speeds and in traffic jams.
Ok, admit it, it’s exhausting taking all this in, and we haven’t even touched on the hot stone massage built into the seats, the seven colours to choose from for interior ambient lighting, the Air Balance Package that pipes your favourite perfume through the car, or the Magic Body Control that stabilizes the S-Class in cross winds. Now that one is a shade short of malarkey to me. The little piece of popcorn called the Nissan Micra, now that needs help in cross winds, but the 2,750 kilogram S 550? Please! All-wheel-drive is standard, Mercedes calls it 4MATIC, as is the seven speed automatic transmission.
Once inside the S 550 it’s just as easy to forget about tech and torque and enjoy the plush life. The seats are bubblegum puffy, headrests feel like they’re filled with down, armrests are heated, and the colour display screen is 12.3” of cinematic magic. Animations to illustrate how to adjust seats or park the car using Parktronic, are so entertaining I made a movie of them, and I needed the Pano setting on my iPhone to really capture the spaciousness of the cabin. But I never could pair my phone. It’s easier in any Kia or Hyundai.
Beyond a Bentley or a Rolls, it’s impossible to imagine any car with more high-end stuffing than the S 550. This S Class is stamped Special Delivery.
Written by: Kathy Renwald