Over the river and through the woods, to Grandma's house we went, on a sleigh that costs more than $100,000. It also puts out almost 400 horsepower, and has adjustable seats that will massage your back, expand outward to hold your torso in corners, and blow hot or cool air on your backside depending on climate demands.
But first, let's consider the look of today's test car, the 2007 Mercedes-Benz S550. The German automaker's cars were once Teutonic: square up front, square on the sides, square in the rear. That didn't seem to hurt sales until competitors like BMW, Audi, and -- notably -- Lexus started to become sleeker.
So the Mercedes has now been stretched out and given a profile with softer corners. I like it.
Inside the S550, there is so much wood, so much leather, and so much stitching.
Also consider the standard fare on this vehicle: a 5.5-liter, V-8 engine that purrs even as it grunts out 391 lb.-ft. of torque. You could tow a horse trailer.
The seven-speed automatic transmission is setting an industry standard, mostly because you can't feel what it's up to -- the car glides through the gears, whisper quiet, a remarkable feat considering how much torque tug and horsepower is involved.
Toss in the standard leather and wood appointments, the 14-way adjustable seats, navigation, multi zone climate control, and a 14-speaker sound system, and you're already driving in thin air.
Then add enough room for a cross-country romp with legs fully extended up front and in the rear, an air-induced suspension system, and safety features that surround you with air bags and guide the car with electronic stability control. For a car this size, the safety systems provide incredible stopping power.
But one of the things I found most amazing about the S550 (don't try this at home, folks) was how easily it accelerated to 80 miles per hour. We don't need speeding tickets at this address, so I backed off rapidly. But you can understand why German business executives travel to meetings on the autobahn instead of driving to the airport to catch flights.
Why fly the skies when you can fly the macadam?
The Mercedes-Benz people have also delivered a "computer mouse" control at center-seat that even I could figure out. And that is no small challenge. Basically, the mouse (push, turn, select) activates functions that appear on a screen. You can use the control knob to regulate the audio, seat, navigation, telephone, and other functions.
And in a replication of efficiencies that others ought to copy, Mercedes-Benz engineers have elected to let many of those functions be executed with more familiar dashboard knobs or steering wheel controls.
One useless feature, however, is the cruise control/distance setting. This failure owed not to the system itself but to driving in Massachusetts.
Here's how it works: Put the car on cruise control at a safe highway speed. Set the gap you want to remain safely behind the vehicle in front of you -- several car lengths when driving at highway speeds.
In Massachusetts, if you leave a safe gap between your car and the one ahead, some idiot will fill it. Since the system decelerates each time the gap gets too narrow, the car will automatically back off. Good luck on your commute.
But if you are going to commute, the S550 is a comfortable and safe way to do it. As long as you can afford the price.
Royal Ford can be reached at email@example.com.
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