Some cars, as great as they are, just beg the question as to why they even exist.
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a no-brainer. For decades now, the S-Class has been the go-to luxury sedan to serve as the traditional status symbol for bankers, real estate moguls, royalty and high rollers. With the arsenal of Mercedes’ research and development behind it, it is the launching pad for new technologies every generation, and has a level of luxury most will find hard to comprehend.
But what we have here is a new middle ground in the S-Class lineup, between the base S 400 twin-turbo V6 and S 550 V8 model (with the sporty AMG models on another level entirely), the S 550e plug-in hybrid for the well-funded and environmentally conscientious CEO. That’s a pretty small demographic to target with a vehicle whose development surely cost the company more than a bushel of Apple shares.
Then again, anyone considering a base powertrain in their S-Class may well consider their time more precious than their money, and to this end the S 550e has a secret weapon: green plates. Full electric vehicles and some plug-in hybrids qualify for green plates here in Ontario and in many other jurisdictions, so any exec commuting in from the suburbs might well appreciate the time savings over the equivalent gas-powered S-Class.
Because whether running on pure gas or hybrid, the S-Class is a vehicle worth every bit of its myth, and as far as I’m concerned, it can do no wrong. You could likely say that about every vehicle in this class, from the fellow German BMW 7 Series and Audi A8 to the Jaguar XJ or Lexus LS, these flagship sedans are all spacious, comfortable, capable and competent with varying degrees of sportiness, technology, flair and reliability. No doubt each of the others appeals to fans of its brand, but the S-Class to some degree transcends even its respected brand and serves as the standard of luxury flagships the world round.
And if there is one thing that makes it worthy of that status, it is the interior. Short of the exotics from Roll-Royce and Bentley, the S-Class features a cabin of unquestionable quality, taste and craftsmanship, with leather, wood, metal and quality plastics coming together in harmony and ergonomic excellence. Except for that damned shifter. We hate that thing, and the ‘Distronic’ adaptive cruise wand –on the left side and below and behind the turn signal stalk – isn’t much better. The steering wheel is a luscious, curvy affair with creamy leather wrapped around wood nestled on its inner rim and various controls at your fingertips. The armrests and seats are covered in more leather and the seats are heated and cooled and have an available massage function that helps relieve the strain of any drive.
Alternate power showdown: Comparison Test: 2015 BMW 740Ld vs Audi A8 TDI
Ahead of the armrest is a control centre for cabin and vehicle functions, displayed on the more central of the two 12-inch info screens, while another resides in the gauge cluster with vital driving stats and corollary information. There are seemingly dozens of options for audio sources, all of them played to the highest quality of the material itself through Burmester amplifier and speakers in our test car. If there’s a better automotive sound system out there, I haven’t heard it, and the speaker covers are gorgeous as well.