Going executive class in Mercedes-Benz’s S550
For those looking for the Trump-iest experience this side of a weave and a breathy debate, anyone aspiring to the absolute toppermost of the automobile food chain ought to have their eyes set on the new edition of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
It’s all about big-time presence, prestige and, in the 4Matic-equpped S550 I got to test, it’s also a fully capable wintertime cruiser. Though it appears Westerners don’t quite go for that arrangement, opting instead for maybe a GL-Class SUV.
That does leave Mercedes’ flagship sedan as a rare commodity in Colorado, but that’s also kind of cool – especially for those who can relatively easily drop up to $130,000 on a limo-class machine that’s more comfortable in the back seat than a day at a ski hill spa.
Everything that a Chrysler 300 aspires to – or even the Jaguar XJ, in some ways – is taken to a new level by the 206.5-inch-long Merc, with more diesel locomotive prowess and largess in the process.
The only real downside to that 4,600 pounds of massive German lifestyle statement is that the 4.7-liter biturbo V8 felt just a little big short of power as I crested the top of Berthoud Pass, even with 449 horsepower and 516 lb.-ft. of torque on tap. That came as a bit of a surprise as, down in Denver, the S550 is relatively easy to get up to its 130-MPH limit in no time at all.
I guess if you’ve decided to go with the most massive and elegant example of non-sports-car motoring but want to be carefree at 10,000 feet, maybe opt for either the V-12 edition or two different levels of AMG supercar upgrades, topping out at a 621-horsepower version that retails for $225,000. Or, hey, see if you can land the Maybach hyper-limousine model, if you’re really, really into the Trump lifestyle.
Besides that slight, high-altitude power deficit, I think you’d be perfectly happy with what the “standard” $97,400 S550 offers, though mine admittedly did have nearly $30,000 in options added to sweeten the pot.
Fitted as mine was, that included squishy fabric headrests atop the practically reclining rear seats, plus possibly the largest rear passenger foot space I’ve ever seen in an automobile, especially when you electronically motor the front passenger seat up and out of the way.
Deploy the shades, crack the Cristal and hope that your driver can elude the paparazzi. Or, if you’re lucky enough to be driving, you’ll get almost as much luxury as the good people in the back, with seemingly 900-way-adjustable seats (the electronic massage settings range from mild to “workout”) even inflating on their edges to help keep you pinned in place as you do your best to act like you are driving a C-Class, not an S.
The amazing thing is how pliant and sporty this giant car can actually be on a series of curves, mimicking the solid performance of the smaller members of its family.
It’s also very subtly moving in the autonomous driving direction, with a package of not-so-in-your-face safety aids that include forward collision avoidance, a lane-keeping system that will indeed brake and steer to bump you back on path, 360-degree cameras and such. Mine also was upgraded to include the new version of night vision which, fantastically and horribly, can project an iPad-sized forward image at night onto the all-electronic instrument panel, I suppose technically allowing you to drive without actually looking out the front windshield. That seemed just a tad scary.
The S-Class exterior is certainly more streamlined but still imposing, with a massive grille and huge openings to help that massive turbo engine breathe.
Inside, you get a level of elegance and refinement that was pushed over the top with a leather dash inlay that looks like a hand-tooled saddle, seashell-shaped speakers on the Burmester surround-sound stereo, piano black trim and an Alcantara headliner.
And the S550’s new audio and navigational control system looks odd at first, like a giant steel candy dish with a rotating knob in the middle, but becomes quite intuitive to use by touch after just a few tries.
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