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The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is, for many, the benchmark of the full-size luxury segment. Mercedes says it's the best car in the world. Competing for buyers with such formidable cars as the BMW 7-Series, Audi A8, Tesla Model S, and Jaguar XJ, the S-Class's reign is anything but guaranteed--though the latest generation is unquestionably the best S-Class yet.
All of these cars deserve both attention and adulation, but the S-Class's approach to the business leaves no room for doubt: it's playing to win. The newest S-Class backs up its claim with attention to the most minute details, from its personal relationship with the driver to the emotional attachment it inspires in its owners--even if they're firmly committed to the back seat. The new S-Class even provides its own scent to strengthen the bond.
A strong, elegant new shape is the start. The S-Class has rarely been the high-water mark of Mercedes design; it's passed through its past three generations from leaden, to graceful, to highly surfaced, but it's never been the definitive statement of style and theme. It's finally ready for a close-up, divorced from the overly busy intersection of lines and swells at the rear quarters, endowed with the kind of cabin that rewards the eyes and fingertips along with the brain. The cool, clinical stereotype of the German luxury sedan couldn't be further from the truth in this case.
For the time being, the S-Class rolls with just a single drivetrain. None of the niche offerings in the S-Class family carry over into 2014, at least at launch--not the V-12s, not the turbodiesel six, and not the hybrid. The sole engine and transmission combination is the twin-turbocharged 4.6-liter V-8 engine that was new last year, teamed to a seven-speed automatic with paddle shift controls and a choice of rear- or all-wheel drive. It's an effortless performer, in tandem with the standard air suspension. The tour de force here is an available stereo camera that predicts the road surface ahead of the S-Class, giving it adaptive control over the ride quality to a degree engineers have been daydreaming of since the 1980s. It works superbly well, as long as the S550 is in comfort mode.
It takes a real cynic to find fault with the Mercedes-Benz S Class' passenger comforts. The 2014 S550 has spacious accommodations, superb front seats, easy access for those in back, and a fillip of first-class accoutrements to go with occasionally fiddly ergonomics. The First Class Rear Suite option is just that--as close as you'll come to the front of the plane while you're riding in the back of the car. And if anything, its finishes are more beautifully crafted than ever. The tiny knobs that control its round vents aren't as sensually pleasing as the chrome pulls on a Bentley, but the quilted leather dash and silver-toned trim are as glamorous as anything Mercedes has ever made.
For those with a penchant for speed as well as supreme luxury, there's the S63 AMG. Re-imagined by the brand's in-house performance division, the S63 AMG gets most of the S-Class's standard bag of tricks, plus a few of its own, including a force-of-nature 577-horsepower, 664-pound-foot twin-turbo 5.5-liter V-8 engine and rear-biased 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The result? A car you'll love to drive as much as to be driven in, and one that can stretch its legs into triple-digit territory with shocking ease.
There's no crash data yet, but with Mercedes' long-standing reputation for occupant protection and advanced safety features, the S-Class should be a standout for safety, especially in light of its newest technology. There are cameras and sensors for everything, it seems, from blind spots to surround-views. The adaptive cruise control can steer its way along in stop-and-go traffic, and the car can stop itself from a brisk pace when it senses a pedestrian or an animal in the road.
If you'd thought the race to out-coddle, out-soothe the wealthiest of passengers in ultra-luxury sedans was over, you'd be wrong. There's a bit more room inside than before--all U.S. cars are a longer-wheelbase variety--and every cubic inch is filled with systems to nurture passengers. It's fitted with reclining rear seats, airline-style work trays, dual TFT screens for the driver and the car's infotainment systems, and it's enabled for mobile-app connectivity. The seats have a warm-stone massage mode; Burmester sound systems are a pricey but achingly gorgeous upgrade. And, finally, the S-Class has its own scent--one of four perfumes designed for it is atomized into the cabin from a hidden glovebox compartment, on a schedule that doesn't desensitize the nose or permanently odor the cabin.
Is it over the top? For drivers who want to be passengers in the best car in the world, there may be no such thing.
The 2014 S550 goes on sale in September, as a rear-driver. All-wheel-drive models arrive in November, alongside an AMG edition, with a plug-in hybrid model due to be unveiled at this fall's auto shows.
- Attention to minute details
- Forceful V-8 engine
- Available all-wheel drive
- More safety features than ever
- A true first-class seating experience
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- Only one engine choice, for now
- Steering lacks feedback