Around the globe, Mercedes-Benz has a total of 16 vehicles available and that number doesn’t include Maybach or Smart. With so many sedans, coupes, SUVs, vans and supercars to choose from, it seems that there would be more than just one vehicle whose existence could be questioned. Why the CL, CLS , R and G-class offerings must be around is an entirely different article but one sedan has proven its worth time and time again.
Besides the two door cars, the S-Class has been Mercedes-Benz’s flagship since the 1950s and just like the BMW 7-Series it competes so heated with, the S is usually always the first to get the automaker’s latest technologies and features. For 2012, one of the biggest names in the luxury sedan segment is setting out to prove that with some added charm, German engineering can actually be more than just impressive but breathtaking as well. Enter the 2012 Mercedes-Benz S550.
It may be a 2012, but the current generation S-Class has been on the road for seven years now. Since the W221 chassis’ debut in 2005, it has seen some slight changes here and there with the biggest taking place in 09. A facelift brought our tester’s current look while under the hood, things are once again different from before. It may appear to be a seven-year old car, but it moves like a 2012 if not a rocket ship from the future.
There are six variations of the sedan: a hybrid, an all-new diesel, some middle ground and then two built by a grouping of lunatics Mercedes likes to call AMG. While one of those offerings produces the same amount of torque found in a heavy-duty diesel pickup truck, the regular grade S550 is just slightly more realistic. Its new V8 is paired to a Mercedes-built transmission that moves around a 206.5 inch long body on a 124.6 inch wheelbase. Those dimensions are right on par with its main competitors; two of which we tested last year: the Jaguar XJL and BMW 740iL.
To see and feel what all the fuse is about, we got behind the wheel of a 2012 S550. Of the non-assisted variants, this model is the base: superceded by the V12 S600, the nutty S63 AMG and even more hysterical S65 AMG. Base MSRP for our no-added-cost Iridum Silver tester is $94,500 and includes standard features such as navigation with an eight inch display, voice recognition, Harmon/Kardon stereo, satellite radio, power rear sunshade, adaptive Xenon headlamps, air suspension and torque vectoring brakes. But as anyone knows, no Mercedes leaves the showroom floor just standard and our tester was no exception. The special order Chestnut Premium Leather goes for $2,290, the power rear side window sunshade is $750 while the replacement, Bang & Olufsen sound system added $6,400 to the price tag. Other items such as the Active Body Control system, Premium Package (which adds a nonstandard back up camera), Driver Assistance Package, Rear Seat Package and AMG Sport Package added to the MSRP as well and at the end of the day, our tester carried a final asking price of $126,135. To put that into context, the 740iL we drove went for $89,000 while the Jaguar was just $84 grand.
So instead of buying a 740iL and a Honda Accord, what does one get for becoming a S550 owner? For starters, a lot more horsepower. Unlike the BMW’s 320 ponies or the non-supercharged Jag’s 385, the Merc puts down a Detroit like 429 horsepower and an even more impressive 516 lb-ft of torque. Those tire shredding numbers are produced by one heck of an engine. Built by Mercedes, this new unit replaces the 2011’s 5.5 liter naturally aspirated V8 with just 382 horsepower. It may be smaller with 4.7 liters of displacement, but direct injection, a 10.5:1 compression ratio and two turbochargers pumping in a max 12.9 lbs of boost more than make up for its shrunken size. Even though its EPA estimated fuel mileage in the city is an unchanged 15 mpg, the 2012’s new engine has earned the S550 two extra miles per gallon on the highway with an average now of 25 mpg. Its fuel economy figures are about on par with the Jags but there is still no matching the 740iL’s straight six at the pump. For true highway hypermilers, Mercedes-Benz now offers to U.S. buyers a S350 BlueTec diesel which can achieve up to 31 mpg on the highway.
Under the hood is where the S-Class best separates itself from the rest. While the base 7-Series is plenty quick and the Jaguar’s V8 is a muscle car’s heart wrapped in a silky English dress, the Merc is truly something else. The twin-turbo eight has completely transformed the base S to the point where it no longer feels “base”. The power put down to the ground is more than enough and you’ll never feel let down or even overshadowed by the S600’s V12. In all honesty, there is no real reason to buy the extra cylinders when the V8 is this good. Around town, power seemed to be available anywhere no mater what and we were never once let down by turbo lag or hesitation. All that ever occurred was blinding speed and smiles which grew greater the closer the throttle got to the firewall. With airplane like thrust comes smooth refinement that the Jaguar seems to lack while the seven speed automatic shifted with confidence and intelligence despite not having the letters “ZF” attached to it. It may come at a cost, but the S550’s drivetrain actually sets the sedan apart from its rivals.
Inside the S550, everything is utterly Mercedes-Benz. Where the BMW feels futuristic and the Jaguar feels put-together, the Merc feels classic. The layout, the feel, the colors and the overall style is very antiquarian and in a good way. Like the leather chair that’s older than you but still manages to be more comfortable than a Lazy Boy, the S-Class is classic, retro and cool. Set the satellite radio station to “40’s on 4” and you’ll never know you were in busy 2012 until you look down to see the speedometer resting around 120 mph. Little touches like the center analog clock and the ambient lighting do a fantastic job at making everything seem at ease. Once you’re done meditating amongst the wood grain, you can begin to explore the S550’s nifty bits that might just change your mood. Like BMW’s iDrive, the Merc uses a central knob to control the convince features and settings. And just like iDrive, the COMAND system is somewhat confusing at first and requires learning time so that its operations can become intuitive. After a while though, the device becomes fairly useful with just a few mix ups but it is by no means as slow as the unit from Jaguar. In the back, occupants will be just as pleased if not more by the S550’s comfort. Dual zone climate control complements the optional heated and cooled rear area that also features added cost power adjustments. Compared to the rest of its segment (especially when equipped like our Sports Package tester), the S550’s wide fenders, low stance, chiseled bumpers and big grille make the Merc appear to carry the heaviest punch.
German engineering can best be showcased by the automobiles that come out of the country. Precision, elegance, power and luxury have all be used to describe the majority of these highway bombers and no other nation in the world can match their level of vault-like feel. Even still, there has always been one German heavy hitter that seems to have been bitten by 1960’s Detroit. They may be some of the most technologically advanced vehicles on the planet, but there are some Mercedes-Benz offerings that hustle in a manner more suited for a 40-year-old muscle car. The S550 is one of those sedans and truth be told, that reason is why it is currently significant. It costs more than the majority of its rivals which pack the same amount of luxury and innovative features but none of them can accelerate like a Benz. And while it may seem expensive, our S-Class tester never failed to impress with technologies such as blind spot warnings and lane management. At the end of the day, you could save money by purchasing a 740iL but when you pull up next to a S550 at a red light, all you’ll see are Mercedes-Benz tail lights when the light turns green. It is the true hot-rod of the segment and with that, it carries a certain charm that is unmatched by anything else the industry has to offer. Of all the premium limos out there, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz S550 does the best job at mixing luxury with performance to produce nothing but smiles for years to come.
Photos: © Copyright 2012 Ossamah Shabbir