We got the new S-Class from Mercedes-Benz into our offices a couple of days ago, and it's promising to be one of the most luxurious cars we've seen. Similar to thewe reviewed previously, the S550 is a very expensive ($105,000) executive cruiser that works just as well owner- or chauffer-driven. The rear seats are power adjustable and have plenty of legroom, but also as with the 750Li, anyone that likes driving will have a lot of fun behind the wheel. The ride on the S550 is sublime--it smoothes over San Francisco's notoriously rough pavement in a way I haven't felt in any other vehicle. It shoots off the line without hesitation when the accelerator is stomped and seems to hold the corners well, although I haven't pushed it hard yet. On one rainy day, I hit the accelerator hard off the line and got a little wheel spin before the traction control settled in and made the tires stay on the asphalt. With modern traction-control systems, it seems to be a trade-off between immediate launch, with traction issues getting taken care of as they come up or an immediate hesitation while the car lets the wheels come up to speed more slowly, as on some of the Audis we've reviewed.
That rainy day I mentioned was also a good test of the rain-sensitive wipers, which worked extraordinarily well. Once drops started hitting the windshield, I turned the wiper knob to its first position. During the course of my drive, the rain varied from heavy to none (all within the space of an hour), and the wipers always acted appropriately. As for the car's systems interface, Mercedes-Benz uses what it calls COMAND, a single knob on the center console with associated hard buttons. COMAND is what iDrive should have been. I found it in every way much more intuitive than iDrive, while still offering the same types of motion. The knob can be turned or pushed around like a joystick, as with the iDrive knob, which suggests the software part of the interface is better with COMAND. The LCD, set into the center dash, has the usual functions, such as navigation, climate, entertainment, and telephone. But Mercedes-Benz continues to be stubborn in its cell phone integration; the car has Bluetooth, but you can't use it to make calls. Bluetooth is only used to transfer address entries from a laptop or phone to the car's database. Phone integration requires a cradle specific to the model of phone, which sits in the center console. This system offers better security but less convenience since you have to take the phone out of your pocket and put it in the cradle.
Other niceties on this car include a display between the tach and speedo, controlled from the steering wheel, which shows information about navigation, trip info, telephone, and entertainment. The stereo in this car sounds very good. The speakers produce a crisp sound that retains its quality into the upper volumes. I adjusted the DSP to put the sweet spot right on the driver's seat but wasn't impressed as the driver's door speakers took up most of the volume duties and sounded blaring. It was better with the DSP oriented to the center of the car. A six-disc CD changer is hidden under a panel in the center stack, but I saw no evidence of an auxiliary audio or iPod jack. Mercedes-Benz can be a bit proprietary when it comes to interacting with other devices. For the last word in luxury, this car has massage units built into the front seats, with the practical idea that they will keep drivers from getting sore over long road trips. Leave it to the Germans to make decadence sound practical.