Germany's Mercedes-Benz has been building cars longer than just about any automaker, so when their big sedan receives a major model makeover, it's history in the making.
A dozen or so models (or as Mercedes-Benz refers to them, classes) are currently available, but it's the S Class that has the distinction of holding the flagship moniker. The ultra-luxurious S Class sedan receives a major redesign in the 2007 model year, the first since its 1999 model year redesign. The all-new 2007 S Class hit dealers in February of 2006.
Historically, the United States has been a huge market for the roomy S Class. The U.S. accounted for nearly half of worldwide sales of the previous-generation S Class. In the 2006 calendar year, Mercedes-Benz sold a total of 248,080 vehicles in the U.S., a nice increase from 224,421 vehicles sold in 2005; of those, 30,886 were S Class.
Our test-drive vehicle, the 2007 S550 was the first of the redesigned S Class models to debut. The S Class is one of Mercedes-Benz' larger volume classes and includes several models within the Class.
In addition to the S550, Mercedes-Benz also offers two lower-volume models: the 2007 S600 with a twin turbo V-12 engine cranking out 510 horsepower and the high-performance S65 AMG also with a V-12 engine and cranking out 604 horsepower. AMG represents Mercedes-Benz' high (or higher) performance models with enhanced brakes and sportier-tuned suspensions.
While the $88,750 starting price (including destination charge) of our test vehicle may seem pricey, keep in mind the base starting price is $650 less than the outgoing 2006 model year S550 despite the major makeover. With options, the bottom line added up to $104,075, including a $1,300 gas guzzler tax. But when considering the S600 starts at $140,000 and the S65 AMG lists at $182,275 (yes...the $775 destination charge is included), the S550 price doesn't seem so bad.
The 2007 incarnation is 1.7 inches longer, a half-inch wider and an inch taller than its predecessor and boasts 20 more horsepower. Few parts are carried over from its predecessor.
The sole S550 powertrain is a high-tech 5.5-liter all aluminum V-8 (with four-valve-per-cylinder technology) producing 382 horsepower. Zero to 60 mph acceleration is about 5.4 seconds, nearly one second faster than the 2006 model. Despite the horsepower increase, the 2007 S Class exhaust emissions are lower. Drivers of the S550 may opt for rear-wheel drive or Mercedes 4Matic all-wheel drive where power is delivered to all four wheels via an electronically-controlled system. This is the recommended choice for Chicago's four-season weather.
Fuel mileage is estimated at 16 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. During the week-long test drive, calculations averaged a shade more than 18 miles in combined driving. The large fuel tank holds 23.7 gallons of premium unleaded fuel.
The V-8 engine is mated to a seven-speed, electronically-controlled automatic transmission, providing a wider spread of ratios between first and top gear resulting in slightly enhanced fuel economy and barely noticeable gearshifts.
The spacious leather interior easily accommodates five riders. Leg room is outstanding, especially in back. Genuine wood and chrome trim adorns the interior and steering wheel.
To start the vehicle, a dashboard button to the left of the steering column simply needs to be pushed while the brake is applied. A small, electronic key fob must be in the vehicle or in a pocket or purse.
Rather than a conventional mechanical gear shift, an electronic gear shift stalk is on the right side of the steering column. This system requires a gentle tap up of the stalk to move the transmission into reverse; a tap down moves it into drive. A push of the stalk's end moves the transmission into park when the vehicle is stopped.
In the past decade, German automakers have been quick to add interior technological enhancements designed to make the driving experience more pleasurable. Unfortunately, some advancements were distracting and frustrating to work. Sometimes, tuning in your favorite radio station required a visit from the technologically savvy Geek Squad.
The 2007 S550 changes that dynamic and does a better job of making technology easier to understand and use. Most dials and buttons are marked with large, easy-to-understand icons or good old-fashioned words depicting their function. The previous-generation S Class was the first to feature Cockpit Management and Data System (COMAND) to unite navigation, audio and telephone in a center dashboard screen. This current generation of COMAND is easier to understand with much sharper graphics. Between the bucket seats is a turn and push controller used to navigate through a screen tutorial. It took minutes, not days, to master.
Outside, the silhouette resembles more of a coupe, not a sedan with an arched rather than box-type roofline. Wheel arches add a muscular touch. Chrome adorns the window trim, and two chrome strips run along the bottom of the doors between the front and rear wheels. Fog lights, once located in the headlight housing, are now molded into the front bumpers. Doors or trunk don't need to be slammed shut thanks to electronically-operated door-closing and trunk-closing assists.
At highway speeds, the quiet engine is sometimes drowned out by wind noise, and wind noise itself is almost non-existent. For a large vehicle, the S550 has an excellent turning radius and steering is light and responsive.