WardsAuto editors drove a lot of luxury cars this year and lot of vehicles loaded with advanced technology, but none combined the two as seamlessly as the Mercedes S550.
Hundreds of LEDs illuminate the cabin in blue, red or white for a variety of moods, providing a stunning first impression. Plus, the car can drive itself for brief periods if you are distracted or stuck in traffic, and it gives a spa-quality back massage. It’s hard to imagine any car delivering more, and yet it does.
In fact, no other car interior on Earth combines aesthetics, technology and safety like the new Mercedes S-Class.
The buttery smooth armrests and console top are heated, adding another delicious sensation (along with the heated steering wheel and seats) on a chilly day. The air-purification system with ionizer and dual-activated charcoal filters eliminates every malodorous particle from the pristine cabin air, but it also offers a choice of four fragrances to further isolate you from the cold, cruel world outside.
And even though the car is ready at any speed to temporarily take over driving duties, if you are interested in playing a more active role, it offers huge, flat-screen displays up front for the instrument cluster and lots of other information related to driver, passengers or its multitude of active-safety systems.
Even so, none of the new technology appears out of place with the overall old-school charm of the interior, which favors a pleasantly relaxed design language influenced by classic British coachbuilders. Round, retro-styled air vents with antique pull-type controls dominate the instrument panel and center console, along with a large swath of cross-hatched leather that flows from the IP through to the rear doors.
In a nod to the Chinese market, where owners frequently are driven by chauffeurs, the rear seats are especially plush. They recline 43.5 degrees, the largest backrest inclination in the luxury segment. Pillowed head restraints add yet another level of comfort.
Fortunately, Mercedes’ class-leading massaging system is available wherever you choose to sit. While seats that massage are common in high-end luxury cars, the new S550 takes it to a new level that uses 14 separately actuated air cushions to knead back muscles at various levels of vigor.
Bentley uses a similar system, but Mercedes has added another touch: air bladders in the middle are equipped with heating elements that deliver a sensation that mimics hot stones soothing your back, like they do in a fancy spa.
“Probably the most technically advanced vehicle I’ve ever driven, while being beautiful, comfortable and user friendly,” sums up one judge.
“Hands down, best interior I’ve ever experienced,” raves another.
Considering the number of ultra-luxury cars we drove this year, that’s saying a lot.