FIRST IMPRESSIONS: What would your “first impression” be if you went on a blind date with Catherine Zeta-Jones? Or George Clooney? Same thing with the ’09 Mercedes-Benz S550. Little changed from 2008, the new 550 is an uber-luxury sedan that’s sleek, powerful, and luxurious. It’s got about everything you’d want in a car, in other words—unless you’re a card-carrying member of the Environmental Defense Fund.
At first blush, I noticed how sharp-looking the S550 was, from the front and the sides as well as the rear. How upscale its interior seemed, all plush leather and burl walnut wood. I also saw how much space the back seat afforded, and how useful the car’s rear-view camera turned out to be. Backing blind into onrushing traffic in Preston Center, the camera let me “see” behind and around the parked SUV that was blocking my view.
BOTTOM LINE: I can’t imagine wanting much more juice—and comfort—than you get in the S550. It’s even got a massage-like feature built into the driver’s seat, whereby little air chambers fill up and deflate, supporting your back in hard turns. And, there will be hard turns. The 550’s pairing of the V-8 with a 7-speed transmission generates a whopping 382 horses and 391 pound-feet of torque, hurtling the sedan from 0 to 60 in less than 5.5 seconds.
While the 550’s ride is quick and smooth, though, it’s also a little soft—not nearly as athletic as the rival BMW 750i. And the so-called COMAND knob—which controls a variety of interior systems, from the radio to the GPS—seemed unnecessarily complicated. Our test car was also outfitted with some pretty expensive add-ons, including a panorama sunroof ($1,050), a sport package ($5,690), and a premium package ($4,990).
TO BUY OR NOT TO BUY: Options like those pushed the S550’s sticker well past $111,000. But if this Mercedes gets your motor running—and you’ve got the dough—I say go for it. You don’t want to be taking Catherine Zeta out in a beat-up Sentra.