2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4Matic First Test
Suggested Attire: Three-Piece Suit
When we attended the first media event for the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the test cars were hidden in a dimly lit room. There would be no driving. Nor could we critique its exterior styling, because the sheetmetal was covered in fabric. This event, held early last year in one of Benz's many facilities in Stuttgart, Germany, was dedicated to what the folks at Mercedes considers one of the S-Class' top selling points: its interior. We've since spent quality time in the S-Class. We've driven it and tested its groundbreaking tech, but the interior is still what stands out. Sure, the S-Class can practically drive itself (more on that later), but that doesn't matter much when most customers, especially those outside of the U.S., buy the big Benz to be chauffeured in the back seat.
Entering the S-Class almost warrants formal attire -- anything less will make you feel woefully underdressed. The craftsmanship rivals even Rolls-Royce's. The steering wheel, for starters, is an elegant yet simple two-spoke design that would easily impress Michelangelo. The leather on the dashboard and door panels feature a diamond pattern, but it's not stitched, as in like most cars. Instead, it's hole-punched for a more custom look. Our tester had a few upgraded interior finishes (designo in Benz-speak) including Deep-Sea Blue and Silk Beige Nappa leather surfaces complemented by contrast piping. The round air vents and analog clock are classic, as is the deep brown wood trim. If any craftsmanship flaws exist, we have yet to find them.
The high-tech and modern features are just as impressive. One favorite among passengers was the ambient lighting system, which illuminates almost every panel in the car including the rear shelf and the massive instrument panel. Mercedes points out the S' entire lighting system, inside and out, consists of LEDs (a world first), including 300 in the interior alone. Dominating the dashboard are two 12.3-inch high-res screens (one for the instrument panel and the other for the COMAND infotainment system), while front passengers are spoiled with fancy massaging seats that have a setting for a fairly convincing hot-stone-style massage. Another wow factor is the S-Class' air perfuming system, which periodically pumps subtle bursts of scent into the cabin. Four fragrances are available, though Benz says you could put almost anything into the scent canister located in the glove box. Meanwhile, back passengers are treated to tons of legroom and seats that recline just a tad. A number of rear seat packages include a power footrest and the ability to recline the backrest up to 43 degrees (for the right passenger only) and massagers. The COMAND system, essentially unchanged from the last-gen S-Class, works fine, though BMW's iDrive system is better. Aside from that, the S-Class is just more proof that Benz has surpassed Audi in the interior game.
The Benz is fairly quick, though the Audi A8 L 4.0 is faster. Our tester was equipped with Benz's 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, which Mercedes has tweaked and improved over the last 25 years to the point where it provides added grip without hindering performance and fuel efficiency too much. In fact, 4Matic is now a performance enhancer, with a special version making its way into AMG's lineup. That said, the 455-hp, 4.7-liter, twin-turbo V-8 in our 2014 S550 4Matic propelled the 4911-pound sedan from 0-60 mph in a respectable 4.7 seconds, matching the rear-drive S550. An A8 L we recently tested, however, did the deed in 4.2 seconds despite making less power (420 hp) from its twin-turbo, 4.0-liter V-8. Chalk that up to the Audi's extra cog in its gearbox (eight-speed versus seven for the Benz) and a curb weight that's almost 300 pounds lighter than the Benz, thanks to its aluminum-intensive body.
As expected, 4Matic proved beneficial for the big sedan on the figure eight, clocking a time of 25.2 seconds versus 26.5 seconds for the rear-drive S550 (and 26.3 seconds for the A8). The big Benz feels stable enough when pushed hard through the corners, but it truly feels at home cruising city streets or gliding on highways and cutting through the air with a super low drag coefficient of 0.24. Its EPA rating of 16/26/19 mpg city/highway/combined is essentially the same as its rear-drive sibling's (17/25/19), identical to the Audi's, and slightly better than the BMW 750Li xDrive's (16/24/19).
This tester didn't have the new Magic Body Control system, which essentially uses stereo cameras to scan the road for imperfections to prepare the suspension system for those upcoming bumps. That said, the "standard" Airmatic suspension keeps things nice and smooth, even with our tester's large and sharp-looking 20-inch wheels. One cool piece of tech our tester did have was the Distronic Plus with Steering Assist. Distronic has been around for years and is Benz's term for the advanced adaptive cruise control system that has the ability to fully stop the car and accelerate again (think stop-and-go traffic). The Steering Assist is new and is aptly named – it will take over the helm and keep the car within your lane, and will keep doing so as long as you don't encounter any major bends in the road. It does the job, though it takes getting used to watching the steering wheel move on its own. It will also alert you every 10 seconds to keep your hands on the wheel, only because fully autonomous cars aren't completely legal (yet).
That said, it's hard to imagine what kind of new tech the S-Class will usher in once that day arrives. But when it does, a self-driving S-Class will undoubtedly make you feel like a million bucks, whether you're in a three-piece suit or not.
|2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4Matic|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$123,995|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||4.7L/455-hp/516-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4911 lb (53/47%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||206.5 x 74.8 x 58.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.7 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||13.3 sec @ 107.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||108 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.90 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.2 sec @ 0.78 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||16/26/19 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||211/130 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.00 lb/mile|