By KBB.com Editors
While it's arguably the most technologically advanced sedan on the planet, the all-new ninth-generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class remains the embodiment of traditional luxury. In a vehicle that boasts sophisticated innovations like stop-and-go cruise control and infrared night vision, the passenger cabin is dominated not by buttons, knobs and switches, but by wood, leather and a palpable air of richness.You'll Like This Car If...
Whether you're drawn more toward tradition or technology, a turn behind the wheel of the S550 will have you singing its praises.You May Not Like This Car If...
Unlike several competitors, the S550 is available only in what amounts to a long-wheelbase configuration. So even if you're not interested in an exceptionally roomy backseat, you've no choice but to accept a compromise in parking-lot maneuverability. Also, the S550 does not yet offer a rear-seat entertainment system.What's Significant About This Car?
The all-new S550 improves upon the outgoing S500 with a more sculpted exterior, more elegant interior, more powerful V8 engine, roomier backseat and a host of impressive new technologies.Driving It Driving Impressions
Attack a sweeping turn and the 4300-pound, 17-foot-long S550 obeys like a much more svelte sports sedan. Turn onto a gravel-lined drive and Mercedes' newest flagship seems to float right over any unpleasantness. Experiencing the S550 at these extremes makes it easy to appreciate the everyday effectiveness of the car's sophisticated air suspension and adaptive damping systems. Inside, the experience is further refined by an LCD-based centralized control system that's the easiest and most intuitive we've used. Outward visibility is good, but any car that measures just a foot shorter than a Chevrolet Suburban and has a 40-foot turning circle can get cumbersome in tight parking lotsa minor quibble that may not concern you as much as it would your driver.Favorite Features
Stop-and-Go Cruise Control
With the S550's sophisticated adaptive cruise control system, even stop-and-go traffic can be negotiated without ever touching the pedals.
Night View System
An infrared-based night view system sees up to 500 feet ahead and projects a big, crystal-clear, black-and-white image on the gauge cluster.
The technological sophistication of the S550 is belied by a passenger cabin that's rich in wood and leather and light on switches and knobs. By extending the hooded gauge cluster to include the big LCD, designers were able to give the front of the cabin a clean, horizontal flow that's highlighted at night by a band of orange-tinted light falling from beneath the wood trim. By tracking the location of its passengers and the sun, the S550 can keep everyone comfortable by blowing more cool air on those sitting on the sunny side of the car. Passengers in back are also afforded the luxury of reclining seatbacks. All in all, the inside of a S550 is one of the nicest places you could spend a commute.Exterior
Slightly longer, wider and taller than the model it replaces, the S550 features a profile marked by a softly arching roof line and bulging fender flares. The front end features the car's most evolutionary styling, while the view from behind can bring to mind the S550's luxury-exotic Maybach cousins. Because the adaptive cruise control and parking sensors are now radar-based and not ultrasonic, the bumpers are free of the unsightly "buttons" that normally accompany such systems. Details to look for include body-color accent strips in the taillights.Notable Standard Equipment
In addition to a 382-horsepower V8 and seven-speed automatic transmission, every S550 includes an air suspension with adaptive dampers, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, moonroof, electric door-closing assists, heated seats, hard drive-based navigation system, 14-speaker DVD-Audio 5.1 surround sound system, six-CD changer, PCMCIA memory card slot for digital music, power rear sunshade and cruise control. Standard safety equipment includes front, front-side, rear-side and two-row side-curtain airbags, Pre-Safe anticipatory safety system, stability and traction controls and brake assist.Notable Optional Equipment
The S550's options list includes radar-based adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, infrared night view system, keyless unlock and start, park assist, rearview monitor, ventilated front seats, dynamic front seats with massage, electronic trunk closer, satellite radio, heated steering wheel, double-panel panoramic sunroof, power rear side window blinds, power reclining rear seats, heated and ventilated rear seats and independent dual-zone rear air conditioning. Full-time four-wheel drive will be available in the fall of 2006.Under the Hood
A new 5.5-liter V8 generates 80 more horsepower than the 5.0-liter unit in the outgoing S500, but according to Mercedes returns the same fuel economy. The seven-speed automatic transmission is able to skip up to three gears when downshifting for more responsive subsequent acceleration. Together, the new engine and transmission work to move the substantial S550 to 60-miles per hour in 5.4 secondsnearly a second quicker than its predecessor.
382 horsepower @ 6000 rpm
391 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 16/24
Although Mercedes claims a base S550 is priced about $2,500 lower than a comparably equipped S500, its $87,175 Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) is almost $9,000 more than that of its priciest competitor, the BMW 750Li. Given the S550's long list of desirable options, final transaction prices may easily climb past $90,000. The 2006 BMW 750Li and Audi A8L have base MSRPs of $76,495 and $72,810, respectively, while the standard-wheelbase versions of those vehicles run about $4,000 less (with about five or six inches less rear legroom). An all-new Lexus LS, also due for 2007, will likely remain the most affordable of the bunch. We expect Fair Purchase Prices for the S550 to reflect real-world transaction prices near MSRP.