Mercedes-Benz S550

By Jonathan Spira on 15 August 2008
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What was the first production car to come standard with electronic ABS (anti-lock braking) and an airbag?  The Mercedes S-Class of course.  Today, the 2008 Mercedes S-Class represents a combination of luxury and handling that safely transports driver and passengers with a menu of Mercedes safety innovations such as the crumple zone, safety steering wheel, and seat belt tensioner.  It was all new in 2007 and little changed for 2008.S550-IMG_4132

The car’s muscular stance makes its Autobahn prowess clear; once inside, bathed in soft indirect lighting and even softer leather, the seduction has begun.  Doors close softly on their own, numerous massage settings invigorate, side bolsters grab the driver during heavy cornering, and the Distronic radar-based cruise control fully stops and starts the car in traffic (“look Mom, no pedals”).

Keyless Go is an $1,100 option that allows the driver to keep the key fob in his pocket. Once seated, a touch of the start/stop button gets one going.  The main instrument cluster is a glass cockpit; the speedometer and tachometer may look convincing but this allows other vehicle systems, including night vision, to magically appear on the LCD panel when needed.  When satellite navigation is in use, navigation instructions appear there as well.

Mercedes’ COMAND cockpit controller system is similar to what BMW first introduced in 2002 with iDrive, although I found it less intuitive than the newer iDrive systems.  The display can rotate a few degrees towards the driver or passenger, a nice touch.  It’s placed directly in the driver’s field of vision so that it can be glanced at without unduly distracting the driver.  COMAND manages multiple vehicle functions including the rear sunshade, interior ambient lighting, seat massage, and so on.  Owners should be prepared to spend time getting to know the system, including extensive voice commands, but it’s time well spent.

Mercedes placed a variety of buttons around the COMAND controller (which is located on the center console) that cover a variety of functions.  Unfortunately, their placement requires the driver to actually look down in order to determine which one to press.

The 5.5-liter V-8 delivers 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque, with 0-60 mph in 5.4 seconds.

The S-Class is actually a very relaxing car to drive.  You can even choose from several massage settings via the COMAND system.  Active Body Control practically eliminates body roll and adds to enhanced ride comfort, even over streets that normal would jar the senses.

Safety has always been paramount at Mercedes and the S-Class is no exception.  The Distronic system’s radar sensors allow the car to prepare for an impending collision, causing the seats to move to optimize air-bag effectiveness and hold their occupants more tightly.   Windows and sunroof are also closed automatically if an impact is anticipated.  The brake system is prepressurized if an emergency stop is thought to be imminent.  In worst case, if an accident does occur, Mercedes TeleAid will call for help.

–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.

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