A funny thing happened on the way to the self-driving car: The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 sedan evolved into the best Mercedes-Benz ever built. We recently had a chance to sample the all-new S-Class on our home turf in Southern California, and the big Mercedes sedan showed off at every turn, on every straightaway, and over every surface we exposed it to.

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The S550 is not petite, and occupants can lounge around easily in any seat -- front or rear. At the same time, however, the car slips through traffic like a fiber-optic pulse, quickly and silently, with a full dose of zip delivered anywhere in the rev range. Where Mercedes AMG models have begun to drive racier but with more sharp edges to cut yourself on, the new S550 is all Mercedes-Benz: smooth and elegant in every situation, flat-out brilliant under pressure in and out of corners, and effortless in stops with massive brakes that are other-worldly good at absorbing speed.

Oh, that hardware! And oh, that software!

Producing 449-horsepower and meteoric torque-power (read: acceleration), the S550's 4.6-liter biturbo V8 engine deserves a lot of the blame for ruining you for any other luxury car. It shares that blame with a liquid-smooth 7-speed automatic transmission whose steering-column-mounted shift paddles possess a shift program that rivals the lightning-quick shifts of the oft-praised AMG automatic gearbox.

While it starts its pricing life at around $94,000 (including destination), our test S550 came loaded with $6,350 worth of designo custom leather and wood (which made an exquisite interior even exquisiter), plus several thousands in convenience, sport and safety packages (add at your discretion). The $4,450 stereoscopic-camera enhanced "Magic Body Control" system option did, however, shock us with its ability to make the neighborhood's 3-foot-across/3-inch-high speed bumps unnoticeable as we flowed over them. Next evolution: driverless transport.

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But all that's the option-packed $121,725 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 sedan. The under-$100k model with the standard Airmatic air suspension, leather upholstery, a 13-speaker choir-of-angels Burmester surround-sound audio system, and the (finally!) super-user-friendly COMAND infotainment interface are all the S-Class -- all the luxury car, really -- that mere mortals with superhero incomes really need.

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