Fabulous ride, Posh cabin, Hushed interior
CONS Price, Fuel economy
Back on top of the world For decades, Mercedes-Benz earned the right to call itself "The Standard of Excellence" as the brand produced and sold luxury vehicles that had no equal. Recently, that image became tarnished by tumbling quality ratings a spate of less-expensive and, less luxurious, Mercedes models. As the German automaker seeks to regain the luxury-car title, it now must contend with European competitors like Audi, BMW, and Jaguar, as well as upstart luxury players like the Lexus and Infiniti.
The flagship of the Mercedes-Benz line has always been the vaunted S-Class. It is a vehicle that has symbolized engineering and luxury excellence for nearly forty years. Being the standard bearer for Mercedes, what better way to get the brand back on track with U.S. buyers than by introducing a completely redesigned S-Class for 2007.
Again available only as a four-door sedan, the new model sports fresh styling, more powerful engines, and several significant new features. Compared to the previous generation, the '07 S-Class is about three inches longer in wheelbase, two inches longer overall, one inch taller, and half an inch wider.
Four models are offered. The $87,475 S550 is powered by a 382-horsepower 5.5-liter V8. The S63 AMG lists for $127,775 and comes with a 518-horsepower V8. The V12-powered S600 has 510 horsepower and a base price of $144,975. Finally, the line-topping $194,775 S65 AMG has a V12 with a whopping 604 horsepower. All models come standard with rear-wheel drive; all-wheel drive, called 4Matic is optional on the S550. AMG models have larger wheels and tires, a sport-tuned suspension, and special interior and exterior trim.
2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 4Matic
Base Price: $86,700
As-Tested Price: $91,540
Built in Germany.OptionsPremium Package 1
Front and Rear Obstacle Detection System
Power Panorama Sunroof
Engine: DOHC 5.5-liter V4
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Drive Wheels: all-wheel drive
Dual-front, front- and rear-side, and curtain-side airbags are standard on all models. Also standard are antilock brakes with brake assist, stability control, and Mercedes' Pre-Safe system. Pre-Safe is designed to reduce the impact of an unavoidable collision and to better prepare occupants to survive that collision. Pre-Safe utilizes forward-looking radar to help detect possible collisions. If it senses that a collision is imminent, Pre-Safe can help apply maximum braking force to reduce impact speed, tighten the front seat belts, and position the power seats to provide maximum occupant protection. Pre-Safe also closes the side windows and sunroof in the event of a roll-over collision.
Standard features on all models includes dual-zone climate control, Tele-Aid assistance system, navigation system, power tilt-telescope steering wheel, leather upholstery, wood interior trim, sunroof, door and trunk closing assist, Bluetooth cell-phone link, HID headlamps, adjustable shock absorbers, and theft-deterrent system.
Key options include heated and ventilated front seats with automatic massage feature, park assist, rear-view camera, keyless access and starting, dual-zone rear climate control, panorama sunroof, adaptive cruise control, power sunshades, power trunk closer, active suspension, and a night-vision system.
Get up and Go
The 5.5-liter V8 that powers the S550 is silky smooth and plenty potent. Mercedes claims a swift 5.4 seconds from 0 to 60 mph. That's a believable boast given the V8's robust power delivery. Highway passing response between 50 and 70 mph is especially impressive.
Perhaps more impressive than the silken V8 is the slick-shifting seven-speed automatic transmission. When set in Comfort mode it is difficult to perceive--without looking at the tachometer--when shifts are taking place. In Sport mode, there is a slight "bump" when shifting gears, but the transmission is much more alert to driver-induced downshifts. Regardless of setting, the transmission does an excellent job of maintaining the right gear for a given speed.
The S550's available all-wheel-drive does an excellent job of delivering power to the wheels with the most traction. The system is unobtrusive when functioning and doesn't bring any coast-down driveline lag.
The S550 4Matic is EPA rated at 15 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. When converted to 2008 ratings, those numbers shrink to 14 and 21. In routine driving, expect to average about 18 mpg. If your commute includes a fair amount of highway travel, you might be able to average close to 22 mpg with a light throttle foot. Mercedes-Benz says that the S550's V8 requires premium-grade fuel.
On the Road
You'll find no better riding car in the world than the S550. Its blend of air suspension and computer control provides a serene journey on all but the most badly broken roads. Even when the roads grow rough, the big Benz never pitches or bounces. Luxury-car competitors could pay heed to the unequaled ride quality of the S-Class.
Though the S-Class is a large car with a long wheelbase, it doesn't drive that way. The turning radius is very tight and the car isn't as wide as some luxury competitors. Given the gentile suspension, you wouldn't expect the S-Class to handle like a race car. Turn up the wick when entering an expressway on ramp or on a twisty road and the S550 hunkers down and drives like a sports sedan. The more aggressively you drive the S-Class into a corner, the firmer the suspension becomes. Perhaps most impressive is how this big car smothers bumps in the middle of a fast turns.
Accurate steering is light in parking lots and grows firmer as speed increases. The S550 tracks impressively true on the highway and is unaffected by strong crosswinds. Brakes are arrestingly powerful and the pedal is easy to modulate. If you wait too long to apply the brakes, an audible warning is issued by the Pre-Safe system.
The S550 is eerily silent at all but extra, extra-legal highway speeds. There's little wind noise and even less road noise. Even the engine note is subdued.
Behind the Wheel
It is nice when automakers listen to customers and critics. Previous S-Class interiors were awash in a sea of buttons and seemingly cut-rate materials. The redesigned S-Class sports a classicly simple interior that is elegant, functional, and fitted with top-notch fabrics, leathers, and woods.
The driver sits in front of clear white on black gauges, though the trick speedometer is actually a video representation of a traditional analog dial. This allows the S-Class to display various messages directly in front of the driver. Climate controls are simple and straightforward buttons at the center of the dash.
Audio, navigation, and vehicle functions are controlled with a simple rotating joystick. It's perfectly positioned on the center console and easy to operate without looking. It takes a while to get used to the menus, but operation is not as confusing as similar systems in competitors. Sadly, it does force drivers to take their eyes off the road. Thankfully, many of the functions can be handled via voice control.
Font head and leg room are excellent. Seats are both comfortable and supportive. They are big enough to satisfy even the largest adults while not so overstuffed that they are off-putting to those of petite stature. A myriad of adjustments are available, including an expandable seat cushion and power lumbar supports. In addition, the available massaging feature is a refreshing reward after a long day at the office.
Visibility forward is good, though it is somewhat restricted to the sides due to small outside mirrors. Rear headrests fold at the touch of a button, making it easier to see out the back window. Front and rear park assist are great when maneuvering the S-Class in tight spaces.
Limousine-like rear seats are extremely comfortable and supportive. Head and leg room are ample, and it is easy to get in and out through the long and wide doors. The driveline hump is quite large, so sitting three abreast isn't a long-trip option. Available rear-seat power adjustments are a nice touch, as are the power sunshades, pop-down vanity mirrors, and available panoramic sunroof.
NHTSA Crash-Test Results, 2007 Mercedes-Benz S-Class
|Front Impact, Driver ||NA|
|Front Impact, Passenger ||NA|
|Side Impact, Driver ||NA|
|Side Impact, Rear Passenger ||NA|
|Rollover Resistance ||NA|
Trunk space is great for the class and plenty large for a week's worth of luggage. Rear seats don't fold and covered trunk hinges eat into cargo space. Interior storage is highlighted by large map pockets and hidden, door armrest bins.
Price aside, it is hard to fault the new S-Class. The 2007 redesign is better in EVERY way than its predecessor and vaults to the head of the ultra-luxury-car class. While quite comfortable cruising to the club, the S-Class really shines when the driver puts the spurs to the horse, so to speak. That was an element missing in the prior generation.
To the naked eye the S-Class is devoid of gee-wiz gadgets. However, nice touches like automatic door stays and massaging seats go that extra mile to make sure occupants are treated with the respect a $100,000 car demands. If you're a techno geek, the S-Class is also bound to impress, because behind the leather and wood interior beats the heart of a starship. Features like Pre-Safe, voice activation, navigation, Bluetooth, keyless starting, night vision, and air suspension are all on the cutting edge of technology.
No doubt the S550 and its line mates are among the most expensive cars on the road. That shouldn't deter luxury-minded buyers, though. With the S-Class you get what you pay for and more. If you are concerned with price, keep in mind that S-Class has tremendous resale value, which keeps the actual cost of ownership low.