2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC
2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

Photo Gallery: 2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC

In the rarified world of premium German luxury sedans, it’s fair to make the assumption that the car with the most toys wins. Since BMW introduced its complicated and contentious iDrive driver/vehicle interface in the 2001 7-Series sedan, the other players in this arena (read Mercedes-Benz and Audi) have been laying on the techno-trickery like there’s no tomorrow.

Ironically, most of the people who buy these cars are not particularly tech-savvy, being more interested in throwing their golf clubs in the trunk and heading to the links rather than spending a week reading the owner’s manual.

Nonetheless, the march of progress continues.

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is generally perceived as the grand daddy of this crowd, and with last year’s launch of the all-new 2007 edition, the automaker has escalated the power, refinement and gizmo count considerably – but this time with an eye on user-friendliness.

Perhaps the Teutonic titans are realizing technology is meant to serve the master, not vex her.

The 2007 S-Class has a new 5461 cc DOHC 32-valve V8 (up from 5.0-litres) that makes a robust 382 hp at 6000 r.p.m. and 391 lb.-ft. of torque from 2800-4800 r.p.m. Hooked up to a seven-speed 7G-TRONIC transmission, this is one refined powertrain. Shifts are barely perceptible. With this much effortless urge, so are ultra-legal velocities. Mercedes claims a zero to 100 km/h dash of just 5.6 seconds.

2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC
2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC. Click image to enlarge

Best to keep an eye on the large central analogue speedometer that is really a very convincing display on a multi-function TFT (thin film transistor) screen. Just to keep you guessing, the gauges on either side are real.

My tester was a Carneol Red Metallic S550 4MATIC (base price $122,000), which features Mercedes’ fourth-generation permanent all-wheel-drive system. 4MATIC works in concert with the anti-lock brakes and Electronic Traction System (4-ETS) to detect and control wheel spin by applying brake pressure to individual wheels. Like everything with this car, it seamlessly integrates into the whole.

From the outside, the new S-Class cuts an elegant and stately profile, thoroughly in keeping with its station in the automotive hierarchy. It is conservative, yet possesses some lovely organic design details like the exaggerated arches over the fenders and a swooping rear roof-line.

2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC
2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC. Click image to enlarge

And lookee here that trunk looks somewhat familiar. It seems Chris Bangle’s much maligned “bustle butt” treatment that created such a flap when it debuted on the latest BMW 7-series has now made its way over to M-B’s big sedan.

Of course, the primary mission of the S550 is to coddle its occupants in sybaritic splendour, and here, the big Benz excels. If God is in the details, then the S550 must have a direct line to the Big Guy himself. The design, materials and workmanship of this interior are exquisite.

I’d like to go on record as saying these heated and ventilated seats are the most comfortable I’ve ever had the pleasure of plunking my butt into. Along with the usual myriad seat adjustments, there are eight individual air bladders that, when adjusted via a nifty display on the centre screen and some central knob twirling, ensure a long and lasting embrace. Had I the wherewithal, I’d furnish my house with these puppies.

2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC
2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC. Click image to enlarge

The 600 watt, 14 speaker Harmon/Kardon LOGIC7 5.1 surround sound system makes a pretty good case for home installation too. But before really enjoying it, you have to familiarize yourself with COMAND – Mercedes’ latest and “simplified” version of its Cockpit Management and Data System.

The ergonomics of COMAND are much improved, with a hi-definition central eight-inch colour display that can be angled toward driver or passenger, and a control knob that is right at the fingertips when resting your hand on the special padded cushion.

It doesn’t take long to negotiate through the various screens and menus which can take you into the deeper parameters of THERMOTRONIC climate control, audio, navigation, seat heating and ambient lighting. Yes, it takes some time to learn this, but many are “set and forget” functions, and for the basic HVAC settings there are dash-mounted controls.

My main concern with these interfaces is the distracting number of steps usually required to change radio bands and stations. It invariably involves scrolling through a station list because there are no preset buttons.

LINGUATRONIC to the rescue (they do like their capital letters at M-B) – probably on your third evening, while curled up in front of the fire with the 738-page S550 owner’s manual, you’ll come across the chapter on voice control.

2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC
2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC. Click image to enlarge

It’s dead simple and very effective. Press the Voice Control button on the steering wheel and say “radio”; press again and say “FM”. From there, just call out the frequency numbers (“ninety-nine point one” ie) and it jumps to the station. Controlling the navigation, telephone and address book via the Voice Control is equally straight forward, with the system giving prompts as you go.

My tester was fitted with the optional $3200 Distronic Plus proximity control system. Using a radar sensor behind the grill, this advanced cruise control maintains a safe following distance even in stop and go traffic. When activated, a nifty graphic within the speedometer shows the vehicle ahead, distance to vehicle, the set threshold distance (which is adjustable) and your vehicle.

It took a great leap of faith to set the cruise at 110 km/h and then head out on my evening commute from Oakville to Toronto with the intention of touching neither the gas nor the brake. Granted, this was rather extreme, but I had to be sure Distronic Plus works as advertised.

When the traffic slowed to a crawl or came to a complete stop, so did I, with Distronic Plus dutifully maintaining a safe distance from the car in front. Quite creepy, actually. When traffic opened up, the big sedan surged ahead with a little more aggression than seemed prudent. Enough of that experiment. Distronic Plus is of course designed for highway cruising, and in that environment it works beautifully.

2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC
2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC. Click image to enlarge

Also on this tester was the $2500 optional Night View Assist, which uses an infrared camera mounted at the top of the windscreen to read the road ahead. The image is projected on the TFT display, replacing the speedometer. Your speed is shown via a bar graph below the image.

This gizmo I’m not too sure of. The sharp black and white image does clearly illuminate the road beyond the reach of the bi-xenon headlights, but you can’t, or certainly shouldn’t, drive the car staring at the screen. So as an early warming system it doesn’t strike me as being particularly effective. As a way-cool feature that impresses your friends, it’s very effective.

Being a Mercedes-Benz, passenger safety is of paramount concern, and all 2007 S-Class vehicles feature eight airbags and an enhanced version of PRE-SAFE – a system that furthers the science of electronic automotive safety.

If the Distronic sensor detects an impending crash, the front passenger seats are instantly adjusted to the upright position, the side bolsters inflated, the sunroof and side windows are closed, and the seat belts tightened.

2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC
2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC. Click image to enlarge

In the event something does go horribly wrong, POST-SAFE shuts off the engine and fuel supply, activates the hazard lights, and lowers the windows slightly for oxygen supply.

Also gracing my tester’s option list was a rear view camera ($900), panoramic sunroof ($1400), Premium Rear Seat Package ($2300) and S-Class Premium Package ($6500) that adds leather/burl walnut steering wheel, rear window blinds, those wonderful multi-contour front seats, heated rear seats, electronic trunk closure and KEYLESS GO. These brought the bottom line to $139,250.

Other available options for the S550 4MATIC are the $7000 AMG Sport Package and $700 Drive Dynamic seats that have, count ’em, 15 air bladders, allowing for several massage functions and side bolsters that instantly inflate when cornering.

Mercedes mission with this new S-Class was to create a premium driver’s environment that reduces stress. They’ve done a masterful job in this regard. The multi-zone climate control, with seven sensors and a total of 21 air vents, is infinitely adjustable and diffuses the heat with nary a pesky draught to be felt. If you want a good blast, it can be dialed up.

On the highway, the car wafts along in tomb-like silence, floating on the AIRMATIC air suspension which reads the road and adjusts firmness accordingly. Calling on the Blue Tooth, navigation or the sound system is just a matter of pressing the Voice Control button, and the S550 becomes a slave to your every whim.

2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC
2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC. Click image to enlarge

And if you ever feel a burning desire to annoy your riding partner, the seat controls on the driver’s door can be switched to adjust the passenger chair. Man, these guys think of everything.

Dynamically, the S550 doesn’t offer the same intimate connection with the road as the BMW 7-Series, but this is not a bad thing. It’s just that the S-Class has its own style. My only real gripe concerns the rear-view mirrors which are too small.

The Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC is an impressive piece of kit, requiring little effort from the driver and passengers to reap the benefits of its extraordinary technology.

Although if you were to ask me what my favourite part of the car is, I’d be tempted to say the lovely rectangular analogue clock.


Pricing: 2007 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC

  • Base price: $122,000
  • Options: $16,800 (Distronic Plus Package, $3200; Premium Rear Seating Package, $2300; S-Class Premium Package, $6500; rear view camera, $900; Night View Assist, $2500; Panoramic sunroof, $1400)
  • Freight: $1,795
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Price as tested: $140,695 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives


Specifications

  • Click here for complete specifications


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  • Buyer’s Guide: 2007 BMW 7-Series
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2007 Jaguar XJ
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2007 Lexus LS460


Crash test results


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