The same week that we pitted the new Toyota Camry against the Ford Fusion in a family-sedan face off, we also drove what may be the ultimate luxury sedan -- the 2007 Mercedes-Benz S550.
The redesigned S-Class, with its $86,175 base price, is aimed at the champagne budgets of celebrities and high-rollers. If you want the full-blown, long-wheelbase S550 loaded up with lots of goodies, be prepared to shell out an extra $18,000 -- nearly the price of a base Camry.
Our test Benz had an eye-popping list of high-tech options, including a $1,000 panorama sunroof and fancy massaging front seats with an $1,800 price tag. Bottom line for our test car: $103,895, including a $1,000 gas guzzler tax.
Is it worth it? Yes, especially if you want to build team spirit between husband and wife.
HE: OK, I give up. Why is the owner's manual for the S550 in our bathroom?
SHE: It's not the owner's manual. It's the "operator's manual" and I brought it in here because I wanted to see what it weighed. It's 700 pages! Remember when we made that drive to East Lansing last Saturday and you kept ordering me to look up things, such as how to adjust the navigation system to face north and how to make the climate control system have the same temperature for the entire cabin? You clearly couldn't operate the darn thing without me as your co-pilot. The S550 is so complex, it forced us to work together as a team to drive it, instead of you being the "decider" as usual. Who would ever think Mercedes could actually help build strong marriages with its redesigned sedan?
HE: Honey, I've learned in 28 years of marriage that the only time I ever get to be the "decider" is when I'm alone in the room or the car. Speaking of which, I could pilot the S550 just fine without you. In fact, it's so sophisticated, it could almost drive itself. Seems like it has automatic everything, from the fancy adaptive air suspension to the ridiculously expensive $2,850 Distronic, which is Mercedes-speak for adaptive cruise control. It's just about the equivalent of automatic pilot. But here's the funny thing: I actually enjoyed driving the S550, which has that massive 382-horsepower 5.5-liter V-8 and a sweet seven-speed automatic transmission that you can actually shift manually with the fingertip pads on the steering wheel.
SHE: You make it sound so boy-racery, but the Mercedes has a hefty dose of romance to it. I love the ambient waterfall light that surrounds the passengers at night with a soft glow. The exterior styling is pretty amazing, too. We parked next to a two-generations-old S-Class that looked positively dowdy. The new one has sleek lines and edgy design cues, including prominent wheel arches.
HE: We were lucky enough to have the S550 in our driveway the same week that we test-drove the new BMW M5. These are both world-class sedans, one geared toward pure performance, the other skewed more toward a luxurious driving experience. As much fun as the M5 is, if I have to live in the car every day, give me luxury. Not like you're sacrificing much in the way of performance with the S550, which practically rockets from zero to 60 in a stunning 5.4 seconds. That's less than a second slower than the M5. Throw in features like active body control, which helps keep the vehicle firmly planted in tight corners, and those awesome massaging seats, and you've got the ultimate grand touring car.
SHE: Given the way you drive, I'm just glad the S550 comes with eight standard air bags. It also has that sophisticated Pre-Safe system that anticipates an impending crash and prepares the vehicle to better protect the occupants. That's almost beyond world-class safety. Too bad it's way beyond the reach of nearly everyone.
HE: But that's just one of the things that makes the S550 so special. Which is not to say that it couldn't stand some improvement. I'm hoping at some point that those wacky German engineers will figure out a way to cram all those whiz-bang features and functions into the vehicle without forcing you to use their hopelessly complex joystick controllers. BMW calls theirs iDrive. Mercedes calls theirs COMAND. I call 'em confusing and unsafe, because they force you to take your eyes off the road to figure out even the most basic functions.
SHE: If it weren't so heavy, so expensive and so thirsty, I'd be inclined, like you, to give the S550 five stars. But that won't happen until they put the owner's manual on a diet.
2007 Mercedes-Benz S550
Type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, 5-passenger sedan Price: Base, $86,175 (inc. $775 destination charge); as tested, $103,895 Engine: 5.5-liter V-8; 382 hp; 391 lb-ft torque EPA fuel economy: 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway Where built: Sindelfingen, Germany Estimated 12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan: $2,914
Likes: Best-in-class ride comfort. Air suspension. Powerful, quick engine. Smooth, seven-speed transmission that's easy to shift manually. $1,800 massaging seats. $3,900 active body control.
Dislikes: $1,000 gas-guzzler tax. Complex COMAND controller makes you take your eyes off the road. Some very expensive extras, such as $2,850 Distronic.
Likes: Striking, modern exterior. Five-star safety features, including eight air bags. Ambient "waterfall" interior lighting at night. Beautiful workmanship. Tele-Aid emergency communications system. Convenience items such as $1,250 power trunk open/close, $1,120 adjustable rear seats.
Dislikes: Thirsty. So complex it requires a co-pilot. 700-page "operator's manual" only adds to the confusion. Navigation system is not intuitive. $17,000 worth of options makes it ridiculously expensive. Cabin is expensive-looking, but too heavy on black.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Mike Hanley||Cars.com National||February 23, 2006|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||April 8, 2007|
|Royal Ford||Boston.com||February 3, 2007|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit Newspapers||May 3, 2006|
|Mark Glover||The Sacramento Bee||April 21, 2006|
|Matt Nauman||TheMercuryNews.com||March 3, 2006|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||February 26, 2006|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||February 18, 2006|
|Dan Neil||Los Angeles Times||February 15, 2006|
|Anita Lienert||The Detroit Newspapers||January 25, 2006|
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