2011 Mercedes-Benz S550: A Winner in Many Books
- September 25, 2011
- Awards, Mercedes-Benz, On The Road: Driving Impressions
- Posted by Dave Sullivan
- 1 Comment
The flagship sedan market today probably has the most competitive set of entries we’ve seen in years. The Audi A8, Jaguar XJ, BMW 7 Series, Lexus LS460 and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class all are eager to showcase just what the brand is about today and where technology is going in the next few years. They all have their own unique way to navigate between iPod playlists and the nearest Chipotle on the navigation screen. Some are better than others. Some have better audio systems than others. Some have more powerful powerful engines or sportier suspension tunings. Some just make people drool more than others. Once you dig in and realize how well respected the S-Class is around the world and look at the 2011 S550, you begin to understand what the hype is all about.
Just after the turn of this century, Mercedes-Benz was struggling to overcome a lot of bad press about quality concerns. Much of that had to do with technology that was being crammed into their cars. Maybe they were a little ahead of their time, nevertheless, they weren’t about to stand still. Mercedes-Benz rapidly turned things around and we no longer hear about these types of events. In fact, the S-Class won AutoPacific’s 2011 Vehicle Satisfaction Award, scoring the highest overall satisfaction rating amongst 74,000+ 2011 model year new car buyers. No, this isn’t a quality measure but is a look at just how satisfied people are with their vehicle overall. When the S-Class was measured against all other cars. it scored the best rating when looking at 48 different attributes that are important to buyers. So, not only has Mercedes-Benz fixed the quality concerns, the S-Class delivers more satisfaction to buyers than any other luxury flagship available during the 2011 model year, including the Audi A8 and BMW 7-Series.
So, let’s take a deeper look at the 2011 S550 to see just what makes the S-Class a benchmark amongst so many other choices. For 2011 MY, the S550 was powered by a 5.5L V8 mated to a seven-speed automatic. While the 5.5L V8 won’t (problem solved for 2012 MY) win you any races, it provided smooth and linear power with some of the most extensive noise insulation materials I have seen, or should I say not heard. The engine noise hardly lets a V8 growl into the cabin. Along with the double-paned glass, thick carpeting, and hushed climate control fan, it’s clear that the S550 was meant for quiet and comfortable cruising. The cabin reminds me of an acoustic chamber but also moves down the road at 70 MPH with great aplomb. It feels like it could double as a bank vault. It’s solid and confident.
That is, until you discover the Logic 7 audio system. The Logic 7 audio system is the crème de la crème of Harman Kardon audio systems. No surprise that it is found in the S550. It may not have the same specs as the $6,400 B&O system, but it costs significantly less. It plays DVD-A discs in discrete 5.1 surround sound and even two-channel audio comes to life. The Logic7 is loud enough to damage your ears, clean enough to hear parts of music you have never heard before, and provides a good value if the B&O seems a bit pricey at over 5% of the cost of the car. So much for a quiet cabin.
My favorite part of evaluating a vehicle is to go over the interior and exterior with keen eye to look for unsightly gaps, grained pieces of plastic that don’t match, sheetmetal that has gaps or misfits, and leather that has imperfections or scars. The 2011 S550 had terrific fit and finish. I took a picture of one area of the car that is difficult to achieve perfection. The area where the door panel meets the instrument panel is a very difficult fitment. Often the doors can be hung too high or low. The instrument panel may be a few millimeters off due to the amount of fasteners and weight holding it up. Take a look at this seam where the door and the instrument panel meet up. It is perfectly lined up. The thread color, pattern and grain of the plastics all match. The attention to craftsmanship and materials is apparent in every piece of stamped steel, wood trim, and plastic graining.
I have to give some credit when credit is due. This was my first experience with COMAND. I’ve used MMI, iDrive, that little mouse deal in the RX350, MyLincoln Touch, etc. I was able to understand COMAND in under a minute. Sure, it doesn’t have the snazzy graphics that Audi has with their newest MMI but it is far simpler to operate while you’re driving. It’s my favorite human machine interface. It doesn’t require a class at a dealer to operate it. It can be used with hands of all sizes. It’s a very simple design that impressed me when I was prepared to be underwhelmed, like I have been with many of the others. You don’t have to go a few levels of information down to accomplish what you want either. If you’re scrolling through your music and you get to the end of the list, the COMAND controller actually stops moving. No one else is doing haptic feedback quite like this. The volume is controlled by something I can only describe as a thimble wheel. It’s super fast and a nice change from other volume adjustments methods.
While I was expecting the S550 to be showing some age as it is currently the oldest luxury flagship model, I came across pleasantly surprised. A tasteful blend of luxury, comfort, and technology that has matured gracefully. Like an aged bottle of Château Malescot St. Exupéry or a pound of Caciocavallo Podolico, the S-Class is one of the finer things in life that needs to be sampled to be fully appreciated. Once sampled, you’ll find it really is one of the most satisfying cars on the road today, as shown in the 2011 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards. The S-Class won’t fool anyone into thinking you’re driving a stretched out C-Class because it oozes with grace and respect on the open road with unique looks and a wheelbase to make everyone want to see just who is in the backseat. Drivers or those sitting in the backseat have arrived in one of the finer things in life with the 2011 S-Class.