2010 Mercedes-Benz S550
2010 Mercedes-Benz S550. Click image to enlarge
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By Jil McIntosh

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2010 Mercedes-Benz S-Class

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a busy place. Six models wear the S-Class badge, somewhat surprising for such a pricey level; they may not go out the showroom door as often as the C-Class models do, but those with means have a wide selection of choices. Of all the choices, my tester sat just about mid-pack: the S550 4MATIC, which starts at $123,500.

That gets you a 5.5-litre V8, producing 382 horsepower and 391 lb-ft of torque, and only with the 4MATIC all-wheel drive system. The company went from two lengths to one when the model was redesigned for 2007, but it’s longer than the extended-wheelbase version used to be, with the exception of the short-wheelbase S450 4MATIC. There’s enough rear-seat room for it to function as a chauffeured limousine, which no doubt is a common service for it.

2010 Mercedes-Benz S550
2010 Mercedes-Benz S550. Click image to enlarge

The other models range from the S450 4MATIC, with 4.6-litre V8 at $108,000, to the 6.0-litre twin-turbo S65 AMG at $234,000. The big news for 2010 is a new V6-powered mild hybrid, the S400 Hybrid, at $105,900. Of all the models, the S550 seems like a “best buy”: although that’s pretty much a moot point at this level, the level of luxury and features is substantial, and even if you add the $6,100 Premium Package, as was on my tester, you’re still $57,400 under the next-level-up S600.

Sure, the S600, at $187,000, gives you a 510-horsepower twin-turbo V12 and a few other features, but for everyday driving, the S550’s combination of performance and luxury is right on the mark. It doesn’t feel fast, just powerful, and while it doesn’t have the visceral, talk-to-the-pavement steering feel of BMW, it’s more communicative than Lexus LS460. In a word, it’s nice, and not simply because it’s expensive.

It’s also a handsome beast: a mild facelift for 2010 revises the front and rear end, puts LED lighting fore and aft, and gives it new exterior mirrors – which are still too small and make it difficult to properly check the blind spots. The most prominent styling feature is a set of exaggerated wheel arches, which give it a ripped, muscular look somewhat reminiscent of Mazda’s rotary RX-8. Purists, including me, appreciate the stand-up hood ornament, a throwback to the days when luxury vehicles announced their presence “up front.” At the rear, twin rectangular exhaust tips tuck up under the fascia, which is styled so that it flows back from the rear wheel arches.

2010 Mercedes-Benz S550
2010 Mercedes-Benz S550
2010 Mercedes-Benz S550. Click image to enlarge

There are also some changes to the interior: the COMAND system – Cockpit Management and Data System, the joystick-controlled computer screen that accesses numerous vehicle functions – has been updated; there are ports for a USB device and SD card; and while not added to my tester, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system can be installed for an extra $3,200, a package which also adds power-adjustable rear seats.

The list of standard features on the S550 is a long one; highlights include a premium Harman/Kardon surround sound stereo, power rear sunshade, parking sensors, walnut wood trim, bi-xenon headlamps that swivel on turns and automatically control the high-beams if desired, rain-sensing wipers, 12-way power leather seats, heated steering wheel (one of my favourite treats on cold winter days) with power tilt and telescopic adjustment, parking sensors and guidance, and Attention Assist. That feature, standard on all S-Class models, uses a series of sensors that watch for steering errors that are common to drowsy drivers: most will slowly veer off course, and then make a quick correction when they realize their error. If the car senses this, it will send a warning that it’s time to think about pulling over and getting some shut-eye.

The interior is a balanced mix of leather and wood; the heated steering wheel only applies warmth to the leather-wrapped sections, pretty much forcing you to keep your hands at the correct nine-and-three on frosty days. Comfort is the name of the game here: everything is oversized, including the wide foot-wells, the cushiony seats and the centre console armrest, which cleverly uses a two-way hinge so that it can be opened for either the driver or the passenger to have easy access to the storage within. The optional multi-contour seats on my tester could be set several ways; my favourite is a setting that inflates and deflates the side bolsters on turns, to hold the body in the correct position in hard cornering. Both chairs have it, but it can be turned off individually, which worked well since my husband didn’t like it when his passenger seat grabbed hold of him. You can also dial in just how huggy the seats get when they’re functioning.

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