Seat Time: 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4Matic

August 25th, 2014 at 3:05pm

2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Seat Time is a chance for us to share our impressions of vehicles being tested in the Autoline Garage and at media previews from around the globe.

Reviewer: John McElroy
Manufacturer: Daimler AG
Make: Mercedes-Benz
Model: S550 4Matic
Type: Full-size, 4-door sedan
Competitors: BMW Alpina B7, Audi A8 L W12, Lexus LS 600h L
Price: As tested $121,345
Made in: Sindelfingen, Germany
Drivetrain: 4.6 L twin turbo V-8, 7-speed automatic
EPA Ratings: 16 city/26 highway/19 mpg combined

Final Impression:

2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class InteriorIf you are ever going to fully appreciate all the technologically packed into this Mercedes, you’d better be ready to earn a PhD in owner’s manual studies. This has got to be the most complicated machine to ever roll off an automotive assembly line. The good news is that you can just jump in this car and go, because the basics of everyday driving are simple enough for anyone to figure out the first time they sit behind the wheel. But if you want to get your money’s worth out of all the controls and functions, get ready to hit the books for some serious study sessions. And even at that you’ll probably need some refresher courses.

I was really looking forward to drive this car because I’m keenly interested in autonomous technology, and Mercedes is bragging that this car is at the bleeding edge. I think that I experienced the system they’re talking about, but I’m not sure. Was it the Distronic Plus with Steering Assist that I felt? Or was it the Active Lane Keeping Assist? Or the Active Blind Spot Assist? All I can tell you is that when driving on the highway with the cruise control on, if the car started to drift out of its lane it would brake hard, slow considerably and nudge back into place—a very disconcerting and unexpected act. Also, with Distronic engaged the steering feels very vague and uncertain at times, not what I’m used to from Mercedes. Was there a way to adjust it? Could it be that I was using it wrong? I don’t know becasuse there wasn’t an owner’s manual in the car! And while Mercedes did send me a Powerpoint presentation on all the technology, there was nothing that showed me how to get it to work properly. I spent hours playing with all the different controls and settings that I could find, but never felt that I really knew what was going on.

No matter, that didn’t stop me from driving and there are plenty of other aspects that make this one of the best sedans in the world. Getting inside and closing the door seals you in a cavernous, quiet, and luxurious cabin. You’re bedazzled by an array of gauges, knobs, switches and screens but the important ones fall readily to hand. And despite being a large sedan, its good turning radius, big greenhouse and camera-assisted visibility makes it easy to maneuver from the get-go.

On the open road this car is a dream. It rides beautifully well, even with the suspension set stiffly in sport mode. And the engine power is staggeringly impressive, so much so that foot-to-the-floor acceleration is almost scary. But you’ll never feel like this car is too much to control. Throw it into a corner and slam on the brakes and the car takes care of any bone-headed move with the most assiduous aplomb. Now that’s how I like automotive technology to work–invisibly.

Well, allmost invisibly. I have a rpoblem with the navigation system, too. It uses a humongous 12.3″ screen, but all that size tends to go to waste. When you zoom in to get more detail on the map it provides too much of a close-up, so much so that you cannot see upcoming roads until you’re almost on top of them. Zoom out and you lose too much detail, epscially if you’re on a secondary road. It simply disappears from the map entirely. I’ve used smaller screens that on other cars that work much, much better.

I sure wish I could have spent more time in this car. There was a lot more to discover, and a week-long test drive simply wasn’t long enough to dive as deep as I wanted to go. They say the average car is now 11 years old. I think that might be just enough time to figure this S-Class out.

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