Driving the 2015 Mercedes-Benz S550 Coupe along one of my usual test loops, combining city streets, the freeway, twisty mountain roads and a scenic stretch of coastal highway, I enjoyed the incredibly smooth ride quality and able cornering, the low growl of the engine, and the high fidelity sounds coming from the 24-speaker Burmester audio system. The seats massaged me, and sound dampening created a serene space in the cabin. The S550 Coupe's climate system wafted freshening scents into the cabin air.
Outside waited a sunny day with many scenic locations that would provide a perfect background for the S550 Coupe's gorgeously-sculpted body.
But I couldn't bring myself to stop and take photos. The car made me feel too good, too happy to break up the current mood. It was like listening to your favorite song on an exquisite stereo system, which I was, and not wanting it to end. The S550 Coupe is one of the most comfortable cars I have driven, not in the sense of sitting in a really nice chair, but more like piloting a first-class suite that somehow follows your every intention with power and confidence.
As the name suggests, the S550 Coupe is the two-door version of Mercedes-Benz's flagship S-class. Rather than merely stripping two doors from the sedan, though, Mercedes-Benz designed a coupe that stands on its own. The S550 Coupe comes in 9 inches shorter in overall length and wheelbase than the sedan. The body shows a more svelte appearance, with a lower grille and a wonderful pillarless side graphic. The smaller dimensions do mean very compromised legroom for the two rear bucket seats, so don't expect to be running a limousine service with the S550 Coupe.
Despite the smaller dimensions, Mercedes-Benz reckons it has something special with the S550 Coupe, setting the US base price at $119,900, about $25,000 more than the S-class sedan. The example I drove, outfitted with premium audio, massage seats and driver assistance features, brought the total up to $149,575. Although it features the same driveline in the UK and Australia, Mercedes-Benz calls it the S500 Coupe in those markets, with base prices of £95,035 and AU$339,737, respectively.
Riding on air
Essential to the S550 Coupe's comfort, an air suspension supports the front and rear, delivering an incredibly smooth ride as it dampens the usual bumps and imperfections of the road. Surprisingly, this suspension doesn't make the car feel floaty, or let it wallow. Going over undulations in a road, the S550 Coupe's suspension prevents it from oscillating up and down.
And rather than offering many different drive settings, a button on the console made the choice simple, with either Comfort or Sport.
Sport proved a revelation in the S550 Coupe. Pushing it through a set of tight turns, the big car remained steady, even as I got the tires squealing. The suspension's Sport mode managed to keep the body level, although I could feel the weight, nearly 5,000 pounds, attempting to drag the sizable coupe sideways. As a likely helper, although impossible to tell from the driver's seat, Mercedes-Benz includes its 4Matic all-wheel-drive system as standard. Power shunted to the front wheels likely helped grip in the turns.
Another button on the console let me switch the driveline between Efficient and Sport modes. The former toned down the throttle response a bit, but not to such a degree that the car felt anemic. The S550 Coupe uses a 4.7-liter V-8 engine, with direct injection and a turbocharger for each bank of four cylinders. With 449 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, this car showed prompt throttle response in any mode.
Efficient certainly doesn't mean frugal in this case, either, as the EPA fuel economy comes in at 16 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. My average hit the middle of that range, at 19.6 mpg. I wouldn't expect to get better than 20 mpg on a regular basis.
That highway figure looks pretty good for a car this heavy with this much power, and that is largely due to the seven-speed automatic transmission. In the S550 Coupe, and most other Mercedes-Benz models, there is no traditional shifter. I used a stalk on the steering column to choose drive, reverse and park. Steering-wheel-mounted paddles let me choose gears sequentially, but the system wasn't designed to stay in manual mode. When I left off shifting, on a straight, for instance, automatic shifting took over.
Although Mercedes-Benz employs a good amount of sound-deadening material around the cabin, including double-glazed side windows, I still heard a low snarl from the engine when I accelerated. I couldn't help feeling that Mercedes-Benz engineered the car precisely so that engine note came through in the cabin, rewarding its buyers with a sense of power.
Big screens times two
Along with inspiring engine noises, a beautifully designed dashboard sweeps across the cabin. And it houses two very long LCDs, one for the instrument cluster and one for infotainment. Unlike in BMW cars, there is no split-screen function on the S550 Coupe's infotainment display, so you are looking at full-screen maps, stereo and phone information.