One of the very first driving experiences I had ever had was in a Mercedes S430. It was my grandfather's and I remember it was fast. The only thing I had driven before that was a 318ti, which was a slow POS, so imagine the excitement of a big ole honkin' German V8 in front of my pre-pubescent body. Stop. Straight acceleration. Stop. Rinse and repeat. Fourteen years later (ugh, showing my age) the 2014 S-Class is still the same fast brute that is evolving faster than its astounding straight-line speed.
Once you plop your derrière in the totally redesigned and engineered cabin of the sixth generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class, you are instantly greeted with stimulation of every known sense. It's almost overwhelming at first, like jumping into a jumbo jet and being told to navigate JFK airspace because, well, there's an awful lot this car can do. Maybe it's because there are 24-plus inches of high-definition screen staring you in the face controlling everything from connecting to the Internet and checking weather to checking progress of the optional Distronic Plus cruise control. Calling it a mobile office would be a misnomer; the S550 feels like NASA central command on crack.
You're gonna want to and go ahead and shell out $6,400 clams for the optional Burmester High-End 3D sound system, because even if you're one of the minority actually driving this car (most customers will probably be driven in the luxurious back seats, which we'll get to) the sound is on another level. Throw on some Wu-Tang Gravel Pit and sit back—trust us.
On the wish list would be a massage chair that really dug into your back. While, yes, it's a damn pleasure to have a chair that massages you and your passenger while you drive, we want the kind of massage that you have to pay extra for. (Get your mind out of the gutter.) Yes we're complaining about massaging seats, because that's what you have to do with a car of this caliber. And when you're lounging in the back of the S550, the distance between driver and occupant feels like you're in another solar system. Oftentimes if the music is at a decibel higher than conversation level, you feel the need to shout because your voice will get lost in the cavernous interior. All the fixins of dignitary transport vehicle can be tailored to your luxury level, like massaging chairs, power footrests, refrigerator, and optional entertainment system. The list of standard and optional features is almost endless, hell, Mercedes' "design" interior program is basically like getting a bespoke suit made. It's almost too much. Almost.
The car even has a cabin fragrance system. At first it does seem gimmicky, but once you're in a car with four dudes on their way to a wedding, you'll be thanking the stars there are things stronger than last night's General Tso's entering your nostrils. For some reason (guys listen up), girls love it. Maybe it's their infatuation with Yankee Candle fragrances, but as a man who likes to drive fast, I'm okay with the fact they're distracted. Plus, it's not 1998 anymore and "New Car Scent" isn't in style and hanging from your rear-view mirror isn't cool, so grow up.
At the core of the S-Class is a new aluminum hybrid bodyshell that cuts down on weight and increases rigidity, while keeping the vault-like feeling intact and the chassis mobile. The Airmatic suspension, which is standard fare, keeps the car relatively calm when you start to hustle on the road. You won't mistake this for a C-Class, though; the S550 is a big car and still feels like it. Leave the tight corners for another day, but feel free to stomp on that go pedal on the highway. Instead of the car undulating with the road, it feels as if the road moves with the car. With proper driving, you can own the road with the S-Class, and even once pushed past "legal" limits, the composure tends to increase whereas other big sedans might feel a bit floaty. This car really begs for the autobahn.
Cranking out a hearty 449 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque—at a very low 1,800rpm—there's no problem pushing this two-plus ton sedan from meeting to meeting at a very fast pace. Turbo lag has become a thing of the past and you will only hear a faint hint of the motor when the windows are down. For 2014 Mercedes has really muffled all sounds for an extremely whisper quiet ride. Only until the S63 and S65 become available will you actually want to hear that V8 and V12, respectively, open up.
Cars are becoming very smart, and Mercedes has been one of them for quite a long time. With systems that include "Collision Prevention Assist Plus," "Distronic Plus," "Active Night View Assist Plus," and "Magic Body Control," there are a lot of active and passive systems, most of which you'll have no idea are working or what they might do until you get used to the car. Sure, there are some annoying features like the overly sensitive blind-spot system, but the assimilation between man and machine is quite transparent in the S-Class.
Overall, the experience of the Mercedes S-Class is an ever-evolving derivative of the generation before it. Driving one a decade later, there were still hints of those times I would excessively burn gas in my grandfather's ride. Though much matured and finessed, the general authoritative feeling of the S-Class has remained, and it's that character which makes the memory remain.
Efficiency: 16/26/19 mpg (city/highway/combined)
0-60 MPH: 4.8 seconds (mnfr. claim)
Top Speed: 130 mph (limited)
Horsepower: 449 horsepower @ 5,250-5,550 rpm Torque: 516 lb-ft @ 1,800-3,500 rpm
Cost: $95,900 (base)/ $127,745 (as tested)