News Column

Mercedes-Benz S550

November 12, 2007

Ralph Gray

Mercedes-Benz S550

The trouble with looking for a $100,000-plus luxury sedan is a fairly limited selection. Seek only luxury and eschew sporty, and the field narrows. Luckily Mercedes-Benz is there. So is Bentley. Widen to sporty and in come Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Maseratti.

Include coupes and there are plenty of expensive two-door vehicles. But for four-door sedans and those right around the 100-grand figure well, there's Mercedes.

The newest one of those is the S550, the flagship of the top-of-the-line S Class. Coming from a long line of techno-luxo platforms, the S550 is the best one so far.

So while the choice may be limited, the S550 is not. Its all-new aluminum 5.5L V-8 delivers 382 horsepower and a 0-60 mph time of 5.4 seconds.

Top speed is electronically tethered at 130 mph. All this is handled by a super slick 7-speed automatic transmission.

Yet all this performance is subdued in favor of luxurious handling and ride. The S550 ignores bumps and handles curves like a bank vault competently but not eagerly. For swanning around turns, try a BMW or Jaguar.

Contributing to the nice handling manners are things like active body control that stiffens the suspension under duress, Airmatic that handles the ride and speed sensitive rack-and-pinion steering. Add an electronic stability control system as well.

There are disc brakes on all four wheels along with anti-locking and brake assist. Inside are eight airbags.

Mercedes-Benz S550 interior Mercedes-Benz S550

•Engines: 5.5L V-8

•Dimensions: 124.6" wheelbase; 205" length

•Base price: $85,750; As tested $103,200

•Fuel economy: 16/24 mpg

An infrared Night View Assist projects a large image of the road ahead in the instrument panel. The system cuts through vision-robbing rain, snow and fog. Headlights have heated washers and track around curves.

The S550 driving position is perfection. There's so much front-seat room that even the terminally tall will have to haul in the 14-way powerseat. There's just as much room in the back.

All perch on savanna/cashmere premium leather. The (hand-polished) burl walnut interior trim comes with bluish-gray lighting. There's also a sunroof.

As usual, the excessively technical radio and navigation displays are overly complicated. In contrast, there is a fine analog clock that requires only a glance.

Exterior appearance retains the traditional Mercedes grille but adds a more athletic look with pronounced fender flares and a streamlined roof.

For those wishing to watch their pennies, the S550 base price starts out at a more modest $85,750. Our tested car came to $103,200 aided by a host of extras.

A premium package added heated and ventilated front seats that give massages and a satellite radio among other things. We still like the Mercedes habit of including a weather radio as standard.

Source: Hispanic (c) 2007. All rights reserved.

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