Test Drive: '14 Mercedes-Benz flagship S-Class all-new

Test Drive: '14 Mercedes-Benz flagship S-Class all-new

October 12th, 2013 by Mark Kennedy in Business Diary

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the car company's new flagship sedan.

Photo by Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

Model: 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550V

Exterior color: Iridium Silver

Interior color: Black (Nappa Leather)

Engine: 4.7-liter, bi-turbo V-8

Horsepower: 455

Transmission: seven-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 25 mpg highway, 17 mpg city

Dealer: Long of Chattanooga, Mercedes-Benz

Price (as tested): $123,575

Last week, we examined the starter Mercedes-Benz - the new, reasonably-priced CLA-class sedan with a base MSRP of under $30,000. (About the cost of a VW Passat TDI.)

This week we flip to the other end of the Mercedes-Benz fleet to test drive the luxurious S-Class, which we discovered is a really a spa on wheels. We're talking back massages and aromatherapy here, folks.

For those looking for bragging rights at the country club, the S-Class delivers about three tons of serious status. Long of Chattanooga Mercedes-Benz sales manager Allan Long gave us a thorough demo of the new wonder car earlier this week.

Owners of the previous generation S-Class -- a fine car in its own right -- may nonetheless be tempted to trade up because of all the revolutionary mechanical and aesthetic upgrades in the new flagship sedan. With its generous burl walnut inlays, heated arm-rests and available reclining back seats, the S-Class makes a case for itself as the most comfortable mass production passenger car in the world.

You can dazzle your friends with a description of the new Magic Body Control system that aims a camera at the road ahead to prepare the car's air suspension for potholes. (There's also a camera pointed aft that braces the car with the parking brake and seat-belt tensioners if it senses a rear-end collision is imminent.)

Or take your friends on a test drive to experience front seats that feature six different "hot stone" massage settings, from "mobilizing massage" to "active workout."

Or activate the S550V's aromatherapy system that transforms a canister of fragrance in the glove compartment into an energizing cabin experience. (This, I can report, is a step up from the pine-scented plastic Christmas tree that I sometimes use in my personal motor car.)

STYLING AND FEATURES

Where to begin? The ninth-generation S-Class has subtle but attractive sheet metal changes that distinguish it from the previous model. The grille is more vertical and slightly larger than before. The rear trunk lid is a bit more sculpted. Our Iridium Silver test car comes with 20-inch multi-spoke AMG wheels mated to low-profile Goodyear Eagle radials for a ready-for-the-autobahn look. Every exterior light is LED.

The passenger doors have a unique "soft-close" feature. Position the doors about an inch away from flush and they gently close themselves. Imagine using this noise-reducing feature as you refuel with a child snoozing in the back seat.

The most fetching features of the S-Class however are the cabin furnishings. For example, there are seven colors of ambient light you can adjust to fit your mood. Our test car came equipped with a rear-seat entertainment package that includes dual 12-inch, Wi-Fi compatible flat screens on the front seat-backs. Front and back seats are heated and ventilated. The steering wheel and all the armrests are heated, as well.

Still, the show-stopping feature of the S550V, in my book, are the mechanical front seat bolsters that gently cradle the left or right side of your rib cage, depending on which way the car is turning. On our twisting mountain roads, this feature gives the Mercedes an organic quality, as if the car is actually alive and devoted to your every comfort.

DRIVING EXPERIENCE

If all the creature features aren't enough, the Mercedes S-Class is at base a perfect blend of power and luxury. Our test car is powered by a 4.7-liter, eight-cylinder, bi-turbo engine that makes a lusty 455 horsepower.

In case some of the spa-like features of the S-Class make it seem a bit feminine, remember that this is a car that could cruise at 120 mph on German autobahns without breathing heavy.

There are two driving modes, eco and sport. In eco mode fuel economy is improved, and sport mode offers a stiffer ride with no throttle dampening.

On a test drive on a winding, lake-side road, the S-Class showed off its superb cabin isolation. That fact that a 6,000-pound automobile can actually feel light on its feat is amazing.

BOTTOM LINE

Mercedes redesigns its flagship, the S-Class, only about once a decade, so the new car is a big deal to the luxury brand. Long said Mercedes enthusiasts have been lining up to order the new car, proving that the economy -- at least at some echelons -- is doing quite nicely, thank you.

Our test car bases for $92,900, but several luxury and technology packages push the bottom line to $123,575. Fuel economy is 25 miles per gallon highway, 17 miles per gallon city.

A long wheelbase version of the S-Class and a performance AMG model are also in the pipeline.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.