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If there's a top to the luxury-sedan ladder, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has long laid claim to it—especially if you value technology, engineering, and some of the most advanced active safety and occupant protection in the world, perhaps over lavish, hand-crafted displays of wealth and 'bespoke' exclusivity.
The S-Class remains one of the best flagship luxury sedans in the world, alongside the likes of the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, Jaguar XJ, and yes, even the Tesla Model S. This past model year marked the introduction of a completely new, sixth-generation S-Class, and in keeping with tradition, the S-Class was first launched in just one guise: the S550, with a twin-turbo V-8. Since then, a high-performance S63 AMG 4Matic model; and now for 2015, the lineup gets wider yet with the introduction of flagship S600 and S65 AMG models.
And now it's not just a sedan. With the retirement of the CL-Series, a new 2015 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe breaks onto the market, flaunting a striking profile and a unique roofline compared to the sedan. Details are familiar but bolder, with arching character lines that look crisper, and a tauter, more horizontal look to the rear styling. In front, the S-Class Coupe gets details that are much like those of the Sedans, with a more upright, broad-set grille, angular full-LED headlamps (which can host 47 Swarovski crystals), and large air intakes.
Inside, the Coupe and Sedan are more in sync, although they're not identical. We'd say it's the same design in the Coupe, only mapped to a slimmer form. In both cases, it's radically different than the layout of the previous, fifth-generation S-Class, with a clean, twin-tier horizontal look adorned with high-contrast materials, round vents, and considerably more brightwork.
For now, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz S-Class includes two versions. The base S550 has a twin-turbocharged 4.6-liter V-8 engine, teamed to a seven-speed automatic with paddle shift controls and a choice of rear- or all-wheel drive (4Matic) for sedans, or all-wheel-drive only for coupes. It's the epitome of a luxury-flagship powertrain, an effortless performer, in tandem with the standard air suspension. The tour de force here remains the available stereo camera that predicts the road surface ahead of the S-Class, giving it adaptive control over the ride quality in a way that works so well (provided it's in Comfort mode) that it feels rather magical.
Those with a penchant for speed as well as supreme luxury will appreciate that the S63 AMG is now joining the lineup. It 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 is a sedan and coupe combo that can reach triple-digit territory with shocking ease (0-60 mph in just 3.9 seconds), and a car that you'll love to drive as much as to be driven in. The new S-Class Coupe in particular emphasizes driving enjoyment, though its luxury-first nature dissuades you from sports car-style shenanigans.
And speaking of being driven, the First Class Rear Suite option for sedan models 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. If anything, the finishes used in the S-Class 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.
Otherwise, from its personal relationship with the driver to the emotional attachment it inspires in its owners (there's even a scent dispenser), the S-Class is playing to win, and to inspire a little more charm this time to counter the stoicism we can count on it to have, generation after another. Inside, this new approach is most evident, and it takes a real cynic to find fault with the Mercedes-Benz S Class' passenger comforts. You'll find superb front seats, easy access for those in back, and a fillip of first-class accoutrements to go with occasionally fiddly ergonomics.
No U.S. agency has crash-tested a sixth-generation S-Class yet, but with Mercedes' long-standing reputation for occupant protection (it maintains a very low fatality and injury rate, according to the insurance industry) and advanced safety features, it should again be a standout for safety, especially in light of its newest technology. From blind spots to surround-views, their are camera and/or radar sensors for everything, it seems. And the adaptive cruise control can steer its way along in stop-and-go traffic, or order a stop from a brisk pace when it senses a pedestrian or an animal in the road.
The businesslike way the S-Class goes about its chauffeur duties hasn't gone missing, but it's been massaged with a nurturing take on luxury. The whole Mercedes lineup has become less and less clinical, ever since its failed marriage to Chrysler; the new S-Class' pillowed, scented, remote-controlled, app-enabled, silver-graced cabin is its most sensually appealing ever. 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.