S is for Supercar: We test the Mercedes S Class

Sections: Chassis, Powertrain

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The 2014 Mercedes S550 in front of Orange County Choppers

The 2014 Mercedes S550 in front of Orange County Choppers.  Kind of that nice juxtaposition of old-school performance meets new-school tech. (Brett Solomon photo)

This is it: The culmination of the best technology in an internal combustion (or possibly even electric, to throw Tesla in the ring) vehicle today.

Although the car’s last engineering touches were probably signed-off going on two years ago, right now there is nothing on the street that can compare with the sheer engineering horsepower and technology in the new Mercedes S Class.

First, a little on the vehicle itself: Even though it is called the S550, Mercedes dropped the first-two-digits-in-the-nomenclature-equals-the-displacement years ago. So even in this ‘base’ model of the S world, you still get a 4.6-liter V8 with two turbos. The result is 449 horsepower and 516 ft-lbs of torque. I found the drive-by-wire throttle linkage to be a bit stiff for my taste, but all you have to do is press the pedal to the carpet, and it’s a wrap for the guy next to you in the stoplight drag race, short of a nuclear-weapons grade Porsche, Italian supercar, or the even-more-potent S63. Turbos have that effect.

The proportions are just right, as it screams comfortable luxury, with performance thrown in. The design can immediately be distinguished as an S Class, but still stands apart from the high-end livery drivers in NYC who drive last year’s model. As the flagship, Mercedes wanted to not only have it be the most sophisticated ride in the lineup, but also the most comfortable. The interior leatherwork is gorgeous, with Nappa pleated leather covering both the seats and perforated leather covering the dashboard and door panels.

The technology runs from the absolutely clever and game-changing Distronic Plus with Active Steering to the gimmicky scent-enhancingaromatherapy module. Different fragrances can be placed in the glove compartment receptacle. One nice touch is every single light on the vehicle is LED. In other words, from the time the vehicle is produced until it hits the scrapyard twenty years from now, the user should never have to replace a lightbulb by running down to Pep Boys for a replacement with a filament in-hand.

As a fuel-conserving trick, the engine will shut off at a stoplight and then fire back up.  In some vehicles you can really feel the shudder, but in the S Class, the changeover is about as unobtrusive you could expect from waking the V8 beast underhood.

Over the next days we’ll be delving into some of the minutiae of the tech within the S — where the buff books sign out. Clearly, the uber-feature is Distronic Plus with Steering Assist. Yes, the S Class can drive itself for short periods of time. We’ll get into it soon. Stay tuned.

Disclosure: Mercedes-Benz provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.


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