2007 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Review

2007 Mercedes-Benz S-Class - Car of tomorrow.


Welcome to one of the world's most technologically advanced luxury cars -- and to the future.

The car is the new-generation, $85,400 Mercedes-Benz S550 full-size sedan, which this reporter drove near here during a media preview of the car on a wide range of roads through Arizona's mountains and desert terrain.

This entirely new early 2007 model Mercedes is about 1-1/2 inches longer, a half-inch wider and about an inch taller than its predecessor. While bigger, roomier and more powerful, it's about $2,500 less expensive on an equipment-adjusted basis, Mercedes says.

The future is provided by such items as Distronic Plus, which not only automatically keeps the Mercedes a safe distance from the car ahead during highway driving, but lets you drive a pre-set distance in stop-and-go traffic -- without using your feet.

The S550 accelerates, slows and brakes by itself -- to a complete stop, if necessary -- while following the car ahead, and then automatically picks up speed again when you touch the accelerator pedal after a complete stop to prevent unwanted acceleration if, say, a driver suddenly encounters an intersection.

Widely read "Car of the future'' magazine articles in the 1950s described autos that would drive themselves when the 21st century arrived. Well, the Mercedes virtually drives itself with Distronic Plus, and no other auto can do that.

Mercedes spokesman Rob Moran said a driver can switch off the system at any time "because we never want to take car control from a driver.''

A radar-based Park Assist lets you easily parallel park the S550 by watching red, yellow and blue lines on a dashboard screen without even looking at the vehicles between which you want to park. The lines, or "hash marks,'' predict where the car will go with any given steering input.

That feature makes parallel parking easy for most people for the first time in history, but you really must use it a few times to fully trust it and not worry about scratching expensive paint.

Side bolsters in the big, posh front heated and cooled seats quickly and silently move over to better hold you in place when the car is cornering, then move back to their regular positions. It's as if a giant hand gently keeps you in place.

Then there's an Infra-Red Night View Assist option that can extend the driver's ability to see ahead to nearly 500 feet during the darkest night driving, utilizing a screen that gives a clear image.

This 382-horsepower S550 is a member of Mercedes' venerable S-Class, which has pioneered major safety and comfort features for the auto industry, including the first anti-lock brakes and stability control system.

The "S'' designation has been used to identify top-line Mercedes sedans and coupes and embodied the brand's flagship role for more than five decades. The last-generation S-Class was lightened and made smaller and less physically impressive because its predecessor was criticized for being too big and heavy.

Well, to heck with that, Mercedes decided when developing the ninth generation -- especially when the rival BMW 7-Series flagship sedan began stealing customers.

The new Mercedes has a more impressive grille and bolder, sleeker profile. It looks as imposing as the old large S-Class cars, which were developed by Mercedes engineers -- not marketing folks.

The impressive old S-Class models had conservative styling, but the new S-Class has radical styling for this class of Mercedes, with such items as heavily flared wheel arches to accommodate big tires.

Some auto writers at the preview initially liked the new look, others didn't. Most, though, said the styling gradually "grew on'' them. The S550 certainly drew plenty of looks from Phoenix area residents.

The S550 will be joined later this year by several companion models, including one with a turbocharged 520-horsepower V-12 engine and an even higher performance version from Mercedes' AMG motorsports and performance division.

However, the S550's sophisticated new-generation V-8 is so smooth you can't hear it when it's idling. It provides vivid acceleration (0-60 mph in 5.3 seconds) despite the car's size and 4,270-pound weight.

The engine works with no less than a seven-speed automatic transmission, which enhances acceleration and fuel economy, while providing barely noticeable gearshifts.

Unlike most luxury-car transmissions, which usually have five or six speeds, the S550 automatic can skip up to three gear ratios if necessary when it downshifts, moving directly from seventh to fifth gear, or even from sixth to second. The transmission can be manually shifted, but why bother?

Estimated fuel economy is 16 mpg in the city and 24 on highways.

The S550 has an enormous amount of interior room in a sumptuous leather-swathed interior, with genuine wood and chrome trim. Unusual ambient lighting emits a soft glow under the dashboard and carries through the doors.

The steering-column-mounted "Direct Select'' shift lever is pushed down to put the transmission in drive mode and lifted up to get reverse. A button is pushed on the end of the lever to put the transmission in park mode.

The power window switches are set so flush and close together that I often couldn't operate them without looking. Otherwise, I would lower a rear window when I wanted a front one lowered.

Using Mercedes' Command system involves twisting a console-mounted controller and following the "menus'' on a dashboard screen to do such things as adjust radio stations, climate conditions and seat positions. The Command system is among the easiest such systems to use, and Mercedes supplies a row of buttons near the dashboard if you don't want to bother with the system to adjust, say, the automatic climate control.

The S550 is loaded with standard equipment, including a killer 14-speaker Harman/Kardon surround-sound audio system, which took five years to develop for Mercedes.

So what is the S550 like to drive? It has precise steering that's a tad heavy, fantastic brakes with good pedal feel and solid handling -- with an emphasis on luxury, not sport. The air suspension provides an incredibly smooth ride.

There's plenty of room up front in the church-quiet interior, and the rear seat has limousine-style space.

The trunk is plenty large, although its opening is moderately high.

Despite its futuristic features and bold styling, the 2007 S550 seems like a welcome return to the grand old S-Class Mercedes models, which made you feel wealthy just sitting in them. 


PRICE: $85,400.

LIKES: Top new Mercedes. Roomy. Fast. Great ride. Solid. Futuristic.

DISLIKES: Controversial styling. Too many gadgets? Window control placement.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

For more reviews from Dan, visit Facebook.