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Valentine One Radar Detector

Eric
05-08-2007, 12:20 PM
An uber-luxury car like the Mercedes S550 is not quite what it used to be.

Marketplace realities demand much more.

Just as four and even five-hundred horsepower performance cars are now almost commonplace, the trickling down of formerly ultra-exclusive luxury features and amenities to more modestly priced cars has raised the bar at the top of the automotive food chain considerably. To stand out at $85k - let alone justify that kind of bar tab - requires a Great Leap Forward.

So, what exactly does your $85,750 get you at the Mercedes store?

First and foremost - size.

The S550 is a physically impressive car. It weighs nearly 4,500 lbs. at the curb and extends 205 inches from bow to stern. It rides on a limo-like 124.6-inch wheelbase - which is more than two inches longer overall than even the "stretched" version of the new Lexus LS460 sedan and nearly a foot longer (and several hundred pounds heavier) than any of the other Japanese-brand "full-size" luxury sedans.

Of course, it's dirty pool to stack up an S-Class against budget-priced, mass-market luxury cars.

What were you expecting for fifty (or even sixty) grand, after all?

To put the Benz in perspective, it's necessary to ascend to the next level.

BMW's 750i is a direct competitor - but it's kind of stubby at just 194.8 inches long. And it rides on a much shorter 117.7 inch wheelbase. So what? Well, size matters in more ways than one. The Benz's long wheelbase is an inherent advantage when it comes to ride quality and smoothness. And there's no arguing with the extra five inches of rear seat legroom you get in the S550 - 42.3 inches vs. 37.2 for the Beemer.

Even if you upgrade to the long-wheelbase version of the 7-Series (the $78,900 750Li) you still come up short. It's only 203.9 inches long overall, rides on a shorter 123.2-inch wheelbase - and has just barely more back seat legroom (43.4 inches) than the S550. It's also considerably less powerful than the big Benz - with a smaller, 4.8 liter 360 horsepower V-8 under its hood vs. the S550's 5.5 liter, 382 horsepower V-8.

Further, the current BMW 7-Series is an older design that's beginning to show its age. For instance, it comes with a six-speed transmission vs. the more up-to-date (and efficient) seven-speed gearbox used in the Benz. And it doesn't offer state-of-the-art technology like the S-Class's amazing Distronic Plus active cruise control system - which can bring the car to a near-stop, automatically, then resume the previously set speed - all without the driver touching either gas or brake. (It takes a while to get used to this; but in time, you come to trust the technology - and that the car will, indeed, slow all by itself and not pile into the car ahead.)

Other S-Class technological high points include infra-red guided Night View Assist, Dynamic Multicontour sport seats with 11 air chamber/auto-inflating bolsters that snug you in place during hard cornering - and built-in massagers (as well as heaters) to smooth out the kinks in your back after a long day at the office.

And the other contenders?

Audi's A8 is very sleek, elegant machine - and more technologically up-to-date than the current BMW 7-series. It offers a comparable ultra-luxury experience - as well as standard all-wheel-drive. But even in long-wheelbase form (204.4 inches overall) it's still not as much car as the hulking S550. And its standard engine - a 4.2 liter, 350 horsepower V-8 - simply can't match the 18-inch biceps of the big Benz.

The Jaguar XJ-series sedan is as stately as they come - and in long wheelbase L form, it's also the only uber-luxury sedan that's larger than the S550 - stretching fully 205.3 inches from its grille to its rear bumper. But the L's standard 4.2 liter V-8 musters a not-so-splendid 300 horsepower - kind of shaky in a market where V-6 luxury sedans like Acura's RL offer the same amount of power for $30,000 less. And it's simply not competitive with the 382 horsepower Mercedes - which can achieve 60 mph in 5.4 seconds.

Jaguar does offer an engine upgrade in the form of a supercharged version of the 4.2 liter V-8 that develops a very credible 400 horsepower - which is 18 more than the S550. However, this engine is part of an aggressively tuned R sport package that includes a firm-riding suspension which sacrifices ride quality and plushness to the help the car corner better. Also, the only way to get the more potent engine in a long-wheelbase XJ is to order the Super V-8 package - which pushes the Jag's MSRP to $91,335 - about five grand higher than the base price of the S550. Lastly, all XJs (including the Super V-8) are rear-drive only - while the S-Class offers 4-Matic all-wheel-drive as well as rear-wheel drive.

The deeper you get into the specs., the more it becomes clear that Mercedes has established a new high water mark with this latest S-Class.

The car has presence, power - and more toys than its competitors.

And despite being laden with some very impressive technology, using that technology is not an exercise in aggravation - as it can be with BMW's aneurism-inducing iDrive "mouse" interface.

There are even some thoughtful old-timey touches - such as the rotary wheel on the center console that's ergonomically located just where your index finger falls when your right hand's resting on the console. It lets you adjust the stereo's volume in a very natural, tactile fashion. Also, on a purely aesthetic level, Benz has done a masterful job of combining art deco styling cues with absolutely decadent leather and beautiful, hand-polished wood inserts to create a cabin that blends Old World elegance with the absolute zenith of modern high-tech.

The only not-so-great design is the LCD display for the GPS/audio/climate control - which can be difficult to read in bright sunlight. But you can still adjust the temperature/fan speed and so on via conventional "tap up, tap down" switches mounted underneath the LCD display. So while you might not be able to see, at a glance, what the exact temperature setting happens to be at that particular moment - you can still easily make adjustments without squinting at the LCD display.

Bottom line: This latest S-Class is a beautiful car that commands respect - and which is clearly, obviously, a cut above the merely luxurious.

Today's market demands nothing less.

END

swamprat
06-17-2007, 12:49 AM
That's the first time on the forum that you've said good things abuot a Benz!

Eric
06-17-2007, 09:12 AM
That's the first time on the forum that you've said good things abuot a Benz!


Their older stuff (SL/gullwing series, SSK, etc.) was often magnificent.

A few years back, I had a big black S-Class sedan; I printed out Hitler's personal standard and mounted it on the right fender and drove around like that for awhile...