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. The attention to detail in the Mercedes S-Class is more intense than ever.
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.
The S550 basics include all the features made standard in recent years. There's leather upholstery; dual power front seats; power locks, windows, and mirrors; a sunroof; a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel; and an AM/FM/CD/HD/XM audio system with USB ports, Bluetooth connectivity, and an SD card slot. A hard-drive navigation system is standard as well, and it includes Zagat travel information plus dedicated space for music storage.
Also on the standard-features list are active multi-contour front seats; Keyless Go; parking sensors and a rearview camera; a wood and leather steering wheel; ambient lighting; and a power trunk lid closer. A heated steering wheel, a panoramic sunroof, and a power rear sunshade will be available.
To inform and entertain
The core of the Mercedes infotainment world, the COMAND system, still governs the S-Class' audio, navigation, phone, and climate systems, and some ancillary controls. Some shortcuts for back-seat passengers and for mobile-app connectivity have begun to break down COMAND's grip.
An example: to reduce the number of buttons, COMAND has required that you go into screen-based submenus to access some features, like the multi-contour seats. Now there's an app for the back seats. Yes, the seats have their own app, which lets passengers dial in bolstering and lumbar and other functions without spinning COMAND's rotating knob or summoning it through voice controls.
American-market cars also have mbrace2, a mobile-connectivity suite that enables audio streaming from Pandora, Facebook posting, and other data services via smartphones, such as read-back of email or text messages.
Audio playback comes through a standard 10-speaker Harman audio system, but most S-Class owners will want to opt into the Burmester sound systems, one with surround sound and one with 24 speakers, 3D surround sound, and a $6,400 pricetag. The sound quality is awe-inspiring, as are the details, down to the landau bars incised in the brushed-aluminum speaker grilles, and the way the tweeters rotate in and out of their housings when powered on or off.
All infotainment functions are displayed, along with digitally rendered gauges, on the twin 12.3-inch TFT screens implanted into the S-Class' cockpit. The gorgeous displays split driving information off to the left screen, and navigation and infotainment displays to the right. On the right, the screen itself can be toggled for a triptych display of navigation, audio, and direction in a flyover-style readout.
Of all the distinctive interior treatments offered with the new S-Class, the First Class Rear Suite is the one that pitches the S-Class from its executive-luxury roots into the Bentley and Rolls-Royce atmosphere. A pair of power-reclining chairs can be lowered, raised, pumped up, warmed, cooled, and be-desked in all the ways passengers are used to seeing in a first-class airline seat.
Separated by a console carried through from the front, the first-class option includes a pair of fold-out work tables tucked into the console, cooled cupholders, and a built-in phone dock--in conjunction with the in-car data services, it's a place you can get reasonable work done, even from an iPad, while the twin screens mounted in the front headrests play DVDs.
When it's time to relax, the first-class seats have their own "hot stone" massage--a panel of 14 air bladders inflates and deflates in massage patterns--to be enjoyed while the seat bottoms can be cooled. The armrests are warmed, and the side bolsters can be cinched. The front passenger seat can be lowered without a headrest to create a sort of rolling chaise longue, or kept upright and its fold-out footrest used instead.
And true enough, the S-Class has its own scent. The built-in atomizer lies in the glovebox, and holds one of four Mercedes-developed scents, or one from the owner's boudoir. It's timed and limited so that passengers won't be desensitized to the smell, and so the interior of the car never clings to the perfume.