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A STAR IS BORN AGAIN

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sat, Jun 10, 2006

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

THREE-POINTED STARDOM By HAROLD OSMER

When you start drifting toward the high end of modern automobiles, you are entering Mercedes-Benz territory. Should you continue onward, that path will lead you to the Mercedes-Benz S550. Simply stated, the S550 is an executive sedan. Its tight outward appearance belies the spacious interior. Four people sit in relative luxury surrounded by full leather upholstery, hand-polished wood trim highlights, and adjustable seats for all. Four-zone climate controls allow each passenger to control their own airflow and comfort level.

This ninth generation S550 is powered by a 5.5-liter gasoline engine rated at 382 horsepower and 391 lb-ft of torque. Detecting shift points of the 7-speed electronic Driver Adaptive automatic transmission is a fruitless endeavor. Mercedes engineers have done a wonderful job in making the S550 as smooth as a car can be. Tipping the scales with a curb weight of 4,465 pounds usually leads to a sluggish vehicle. Not so with the S550. Its seven forward gears bring the car up to speed with minimal effort while holding a tall set in reserve for highway cruising. EPA estimates put the S550 at 16mpg city and 24mpg highway equating to roughly 500 miles worth of freeway driving between fill ups.

My first drive in the S550 saw me overreaching a pair of neighborhood stop signs by about half a car length. First thought: brakes are bad. After the second such stop, it occurred to me that my driving style had to adapt. This car has such a smooth application of power that I was unaware of its mass and, therefore, its speed. No harm, no foul, as they say, but whenever a car can sneak up like that, there's some serious engineering going on. Once attuned to the weight, I began searching for ways to explore the drawbacks. I found none. Mercedes engineers have done a fine job of incorporating their AIRMATIC suspension, power assisted steering, and the aforementioned smooth drivetrain into an enjoyable driver's car.

Large 255/45 R18 wheels are mounted up with vented disk brakes front and rear. An Electronic Stability Program senses brake pedal pressure, wheel slip, and speed to assist with braking under panic conditions. Driving with integrated traction control is helpful when traversing slippery roads, but can prove troublesome when you start feeling sporty. The S550's traction control took over twice on my local twisty road and bumped the adrenaline line to uncomfortable levels. Some time at a Mercedes driving school could cure this. This is not a sports car and is certainly not easy to drive one-handed in city traffic. To assist, hands-free cell phone operation is part of the onboard COMAND communication system. Steering wheel mounted fingertip radio, shift control, and cruise control features are easy to use.

A knurled wheel resides at the front of the center console. It is just under your right fingertips when your arm is resting naturally, giving you manual control of the COMAND system. Radio (SAT, FM, AM,CD), navigation, and car systems monitoring information are available via a center mounted, eye-level screen. I found this system very frustrating. The controls were simple and responsive, but the controlling software kept me from getting to the features I wanted, causing me to shut it off from time to time - rather than risk running another stop sign. A few hours of familiarization would remedy the situation. If you are ready to spend the money for an S550, do yourself a favor and spend a few hours with a Mercedes representative getting familiar with this remarkable car. The rewards are many. The S550 is fine luxury sedan of executive caliber. Its ride is as smooth as one can imagine while remaining agile enough to negotiate the most interesting roads.

SIDEBAR COMMENT The previous-generation S-Class established the luxury sedan benchmark for years to come. Inside and out, its design was widely imitated. In recent years, however, it was getting a bit long-in-the-tooth. With the new S-Class, Mercedes-Benz once again firmly plants itself at the head of the luxury sedan pack. The side profile of the new S-Class is particularly striking (expect to see the wheel well sculpturing copied by others, as well as the trick ambient interior light running horizontally on the beltline). Also noteworthy is the sound system in this new Mercedes, which is outstanding. 600 watts and 14 speakers drive the Harman/Kardon Logic 7 5.1 surround system in the new Benz. - Roy Nakano SUMMARY JUDGMENT The S550 will have the competition once again reaching for the three-pointed star. The S-Class is back in the saddle again. For more information about Mercedes-Benz products, go to www.mbusa.com.

SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 Sedan Price: Base $85,400. As tested $103,895. Standard equipment: GPS navigation system, leather upholstery, 14-speaker 600 watt Harmon Kardon sound system, memory card slot, interior ambient lighting, bi0xenon headlamps, hands free communication system, infrared reflective/noise insulating glass, 8-airbag safety restraint system, much more... Options include: Dynamic rear view monitor ($750), 8-way power adjustable rear seats ($1,120), Distronic PLUS radar based proximity system ($2,850), power side window sun blinds ($700), Active Body Control ($3,900), Four-Zone climate control ($1,200) Engine type: 5.5 Liter 32 valve V8 Horsepower: 382 @ 6000 rpm Torque: 391 lb.-ft @ 4400 rpm Drive configuration: Rear wheel drive Transmission type: 7-speed Automatic, electronically actuated, steering wheel mounted shift buttons Suspension: Front: Four-link air suspension, antilift control, gas shock absorbers, stabilizer, anti-dive system Rear: Multilink independent air suspension, antisquat system Wheels and tires: 18-inch nine spoke alloy wheels 18 x 8.5 aluminum wheels, P225/45 R18 All Season Brakes: 4-wheel vented disks 13.8-inch disk w/4-piston calipers front 12.6-inch disk single piston rear Steering: Power assisted, speed sensitive rack-and-pinion steering Overall length/wheelbase: 205 inches/124.6 inches Overall width: 73.7 inches Overall height: 58 inches EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 16/24. 93 octane recommended

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