In a former life, I flew on company jets for trade shows and factory visits. There was nothing better than returning to the airport at the end of a long day, with many miles still ahead, and seeing the plane sitting on the tarmac with its strobes flashing, stairway down, and cabin aglow. You could envision those comfy leather chairs as the captain welcomed you aboard. It was like coming home.
It’s much the same with the Mercedes S550. No matter where you’ve been or where you’re going, seeing the S550 sitting in the driveway is a welcome sight. Its big chrome grille topped with a three-pointed star is as familiar as an airplane’s wings, but the streamlined sedan travels in new directions with 20” machined alloys, all-LED lighting, and body sculpting that recalls fenders of classic Mercedes. It will always be handsome.
My husband and I sometimes argue about who will drive and who will sit in the back seat with our daughter. There was no such argument with the S550. He wanted to lounge in the back and I wasn’t giving up the driver’s seat to anyone.
It does feel like home when you look over that long hood and see the chrome star. Front seats are heated and cooled with massagers, adjustable lumbar, customizable heat zones, and dynamic side bolsters that adjust during spirited driving. Spoiled rear passengers enjoy heated/cooled reclining massage seats, power sunshades, and panorama roof. I just wanted to push my head into the pillowed headrests and warm with the heated armrests. The heated leather and wood steering wheel with lower “chauffer grip” is pure art.
While luxurious, interiors are dominated by twin LCD screens. Use the knurled aluminum joywheel and center screen to select infotainment functions. The driver’s screen projects instruments, trip computer, and night vision camera when activated. Use further console buttons to optimize powertrain and suspension performance for Comfort and Sport. I prefer Sport mode for the powertrain and Comfort for the suspension.
“S550” implies a 5.5-liter V8, but that’s more inspiration than fact. Instead, Mercedes installs a 4.6-liter biturbo V8 that delivers 449 horsepower and 516 lb.-ft. of torque –routed to the road through 4MATIC all-wheel-drive. For a big car, 16/26-MPG city/hwy seems garishly frugal. Step into the throttle and you’ll get whooshed back into your seat as the hood rises and the car gathers speed expeditiously.
There’s nothing like driving a Mercedes-Benz. Despite intense capability in cornering and acceleration, the S550 is a luxury car. Even in Sport mode, it wafts down the Interstate with a damped, heavy float that is characteristic of the brand’s sedans. Still, it feels at home lounging beyond triple digits in the left lane (where permitted). Come off a bridge, and the suspension just plants it.
To experience the future, set the cruise control. Using radar, it automatically keeps a pre-set distance from vehicles in front of you, but that’s not the cool part. The S550 also has a self-centering system that uses cameras to read the lane lines and gently steer the car – even around curves. Sensors in the steering wheel require you to keep hands on the wheel, but you can loosen your grip and let the car cruise while tweaking the wheel as needed. It’s like having a co-pilot.
A private jet is not about prestige – it’s about having uncompromised access to travel. Late one evening, my family and I returned to the S550 for a drive to Indianapolis. One touch of the door handle drenched the cabin in ambient lighting, welcoming us aboard. We settled in, set navigation, and cranked the Burmester audio system. It felt like home. Pay a base price of $95,900, or $122,895 as tested, and you’ll think you bought a home.
2015 Mercedes-Benz S550
Five-passenger, AWD sedan
Powertrain: 449hp 4.6-liter TTV8, 7-spd. auto transmission
Suspension f/r: Electronic Ind/Ind
Wheels: 20”/20” alloy f/r
Brakes: disc/disc fr/rr
Must-have features: Comfort, Performance
Top speed: 155 mph (elect. limited)
Fuel economy: 16/26 mpg city/hwy
Assembly: Sindelfingen, Germany
Base/As-tested price: $99,900/$122,895