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2016 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Expert Review

By Bill Jackson
Cars.com National
October 15, 2015

Editor's note: This review was written in July 2015 about the 2015 Mercedes-Benz S550. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2016, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.

The 2015 Mercedes-Benz S550 coupe is an opulent car that backs up its six-figure price with its blend of performance, comfort and stunning looks.

Just paying a lot for something doesn't necessarily mean your money will be well-spent. Other times, though, spending a lot of money can get you a markedly better experience than you would otherwise get.

So it is with Mercedes' newest luxury coupe.

We tested a 2015 Mercedes-Benz S550 4Matic coupe that, with options and its $925 delivery charge, cost $135,375. The S550 coupe competes with other luxury coupes such as the Bentley Continental GT and the BMW 6 Series. Compare them here. The S550 Coupe was introduced for the 2015 model year.

Exterior & Styling
While Mercedes calls the car a coupe version of the S-Class, it shares no sheet metal with the big S-Class sedan. It's better to think of the S550 coupe as the successor to the CL-Class luxury coupe that Mercedes sold as recently as the 2014 model year.

Whatever you consider it, the S550 coupe is a stunner. It's wide, low and long with an upright grille that calls to mind older Mercedes-Benz coupes, particularly the classic 300SL (you know, the one with gull-wing doors). It's a good look, both because it looks good and because it calls to mind the brand's heritage.

The pillarless side window design is also a plus. There's no structure between the A-pillars that flank the windshield and the pillars on either side of the rear window, and this really gives a graceful look to the coupe's profile.

Overall, the S550 coupe reminds you just how good-looking a coupe can be — and how gawky looking some four-door sedans with coupe styling can be.

How It Drives
The S550 shines at covering vast distances in comfort at highway (or faster) speeds. A lot of this comfort comes down to the car's standard Airmatic air suspension. That suspension is also offered as an option on other Mercedes-Benz models and features Comfort and Sport settings.

I've tested many Mercedes models with the air suspension, and in general I find it to work very well. On the S550 coupe, it absorbs every bump while still letting the car feel planted. It's not just that the ride is smooth, it's that you can be taking a turn at 45 mph and hit a bump and the car just makes a sound and keeps tracking through the turn. There's just such a turn on my drive home and, in other cars, it's always an adventure. In the S550, it's a non-event. This is true whether the suspension is set in Comfort or Sport.

In addition to the suspension, the engine and transmission can be adjusted to either Efficient or Sport. In Efficient, the car starts from a standstill in 2nd gear and shifts into upper gears quickly to save fuel. In Sport, the car starts in 1st and holds onto gears longer. Both work as advertised, and you do notice a difference between the two settings, though the engine will respond quickly if need be while the car is set to Efficient.

Sporty driving, though, is not the S550 coupe's forte. Specifically, quick, darting changes on twisty roads are not what it's best at, even with the suspension and engine set to Sport.

For buyers who want to scream through corners and have money to spend on an expensive coupe, there's also the 2016 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT. You can read our initial impressions of that car here. I think the presence of that road-scorching beast in the lineup helps the S550 coupe, because now it doesn't have to be all things to all people. Instead of trying to be both sporty and comfy, the S550 coupe can serve as the comfortable, heavy grand tourer.

Speaking of weight, another editor pointed out that the S550 coupe weighs roughly as much as a Ford F-150 we tested at the same time, which gives you an idea of how heavy this big coupe is. However, it's also worth noting that the S550 coupe has both more horsepower (449 vs. 385) and — more importantly — more torque (516 pounds-feet vs. 375) than the brutish pickup truck. So the Mercedes is heavy, but it's also got the muscle to move its mass.

The S550 coupe is EPA-estimated to get 16/24/19 mpg city/highway/combined. Premium gasoline is required.

But for all the power and big numbers, driving the S550 is more about spending hours behind the wheel and not feeling stressed or tired. Specs don't do it justice, because this is the area in which the S550 really excels.

In addition to the suspension, another — often overlooked — reason for this is that the S550 coupe does an excellent job of eliminating outside noises. As one reviewer put it, "I wish I could invite the S550 engineers over to my house for some home improvements."

Mercedes does allow some engine noise to come into the cabin when the car is pushed, and it's a good, snarling sound with a nice, muscular note when the car shifts gears. It's especially gratifying when you learn the sound is all natural, as opposed to the fake, stereo-augmented sounds that are becoming more common in the market.

Interior
If you're claustrophobic, this is the car to help set your mind at ease. The S550 coupe is the brightest, most open-feeling car I've ever been in, short of a convertible. That's partly because the S550 coupe has a large moonroof that extends well toward the rear of the car. The more I drove it, though, the more I realized the open feeling was down to the coupe's "pillarless" design.

Where other cars have a structure (a B-pillar) between the windshield and rear-roof pillars, the S550 coupe has just a thin strip of weatherproofing where the front and rear side windows meet. It's amazing how much this opens up the interior and gives you a truly panoramic view. Taken with that massive moonroof, I often felt like I was gliding along in a glass-canopied car of the future.

Yet all is not excellent when it comes to visibility: The A-pillars block views of pedestrians badly. This is due more to the angle of the pillars than to their width, but on more than one occasion I found myself having to work to peer around the pillar to be absolutely certain nobody was there.

Aside from that, the S550 coupe inspires confidence. Within a few moments, I felt I knew exactly where the front, sides and rear of the car were. I was ready to make the tight squeezes and sharp turns that are the norm in downtown Chicago, where we're based. That's a significant benefit when you're driving a coupe that's longer and almost as wide as a midsize Mercedes-Benz ML350 SUV.

In terms of quality, the S550's interior is quite good. Our test model came with an optional designo leather package that suited the car, even though its white color wouldn't be my preference. It's worth noting that the package costs an extra $3,250, but even if money were no object I think I'd still be tempted to see what the standard interior covering looked like.

Beyond that, there was real wood trim that managed to look good because the graining was subtle, and the glossy finish suited a luxury car. Too often, there are too many knots and grains in the wood, almost as if the automaker feels compelled to shout, "Yes, this is real wood!" Far better to have the material look good and actually feel like wood in my book, and that's what Mercedes has done.

The S550 is a comfortable car to sit in up front. There's plenty of room, and I was able to find a suitable driving position quite quickly. That's not always the case for me in coupes. Our test model also had power seats that offered massage and active bolstering — meaning that when you turn into a corner, air bladders in the seat inflate to hold you in position.

I tried both systems and found the active bolstering to be an odd, unsettling sensation, so I switched it off. The massage function — and the range of massages it offers — I used extensively in my test. They were definitely effective. They turned the last 15 minutes of a grinding, stop-and-go, three-hour drive into a pleasurable, de-stressing experience.

While I might not spend the money on the designo leather, I could easily see spending the $3,500 you'll have to pay to add the package with the massaging seats.

It's worth noting that the S550 has rear seats and, in a pinch, we hauled an adult back there — but not without the front-seat passenger giving up a significant amount of space. It's really a car for two people.

Other editors and I noticed that when we had the seat positioned properly for our driving, the top of the steering wheel blocked the top of the gauge cluster, making it impossible to read the speedometer at highway speeds. Fortunately, the S550 had a head-up display (included in the $3,500 option package with the massaging seats), but without spending that extra money the gauges would be hard to read. That, also, could have been done better.

Notable interior options on our test model included the designo leather package ($3,250), plus a heated steering wheel, heated center armrest and heated front and rear seats ($1,990).

Ergonomics & Electronics
Most of what Mercedes stuffs into the S550 coupe here is quite good. The sole exception is the Comand system's touch-sensitive controller, which is very sensitive and located in just such a place that it often responds to your touch when you don't want it to. It has its useful features — notably the way it allows you to pull up your music source no matter what screen you're on — but overall I found the touch-sensitive area frustrating.

Likewise, the Comand system used to have sections along the bottom and top of the screen that allowed you to easily switch between, say, navigation and music. That's now gone, and you must first nudge the rotary controller to make those sections show up, which means you also stand a good chance of hitting the touch-sensitive portion when you don't mean to. I think this could be better.

Part of what makes this so frustrating is that, once you're in the menu you want to be in, the Comand system works quickly and is intuitive. Changing everything from the interior ambient lighting to the seat's support settings is quite easy; it's just that you may need a healthy amount of patience to get to the menu you need.

Fortunately, Mercedes offers buttons in the center console that allow you to shortcut to some settings, including the seats, navigation, vehicle settings and so forth. This was very well-done.

Overall, Comand is like any other automakers' multimedia/control screen in that it has its quirks. I don't rank it at the head of the class, but I find it superior to the systems from Lexus and Cadillac.

Cargo & Storage
The S550 coupe offers a large trunk that would be suitable for two people — even heavy-packing people — to take a long vacation.

Inside the cabin, again, the S550 coupe offers enough storage for two people, as the center console is large for a vehicle in this class.

Safety
As is often the case with low-volume luxury cars, the Mercedes-Benz S550 coupe has not been crash-tested by our preferred organization, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Further, while the S-Class sedan has been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the coupe we drove has not been.

There was a large complement of safety options on our test model, most grouped under Mercedes' $2,800 Driver Assistance Package. That package includes adaptive cruise control — branded Distronic Plus with Steering Assist — which can help keep the car centered in its lane on straight roads, maintain a set distance between the S550 and a car ahead, and bring the car to a complete stop. It also includes a blind spot monitoring system that can guide the car back into your lane if you attempt to merge into an occupied lane; a lane-keeping system that vibrates the steering wheel and can use the brakes to "steer" the car back into your lane if you stray; braking that scans the road ahead and can recognize pedestrians and apply the brakes at speeds less than 35 mph (branded Pre-Safe Brake with Pedestrian Recognition); and a system that scans the road and alerts drivers if it senses an impending collision at speeds of 45 mph or less (that one's called BAS Plus with Cross-Traffic Assist).

The lane warning and lane-keeping systems kicked in a few times during my test. When the S550 coupe warns that you're straying from your lane, there's a slight vibration through the steering wheel, as if you're running over the reflectors that often line roads. If you don't correct your course and the active system kicks in; the vibrations become more severe and you feel the car tug itself back into the lane. It's obtrusive — you'll notice it — but because this is a safety system alerting you to something you're doing wrong, I don't mind that. Bear in mind, though, the system works only on straight roads; I found it wouldn't kick in when there was even the slightest bend in the road.

In addition to those safety features, we also had the aforementioned $3,500 Premium Package that included the massaging seats, head-up display and a surround-view camera that provided numerous views — including a 360-degree overhead view — when parking. I found the cameras fun to use when pulling into the many tight spaces that make up Chicago. But as I said, I found visibility in the car to be good. I didn't need to rely on the cameras, but they were nice to have as backup. Our tester also had Mercedes' Night View Assist Plus that cost $2,260, though I was unable to test that system.

Browse the S550's entire list of safety features here.

Value in Its Class
When you consider the $135,375 price of our S550 coupe test model, "value" with this car clearly means value relative to the class. It's not a synonym for low price, because this thing ain't cheap.

Still, I really believe it lives up to the price it commands. Not only did I think it was very good-looking, it turned heads during my test drive, and that's unusual for any car we test. Its ride over Chicago's horrid roads was, simply, unbelievably good. And its ability to cover hundreds of miles in silence, while offering a panoramic view of the world as it whips by, is unparalleled. Another reviewer summed it up this way: "[It] feels more like driving a boutique luxury automaker's one-off concept car than something you can get serviced around the corner at a local Mercedes dealership." I don't disagree.

My quibble is that I really would want to spend the full $135,000 for the loaded version I drove, rather than opt for the "base" model at $120,825.

We can only test what they give us, but I can't help thinking that our inability to see the tops of the gauges would be much more annoying without the optional head-up display. And wouldn't that three-hour grind have been much more stressful without the optional massaging seats? Getting those features means spending thousands of dollars more to get the ultimate experience the S550 coupe can offer.

When all is said and done, though, if you can afford the cost and options you'll get a beautiful, impressive ride that belongs in the highest class of luxury cars.

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*MSRP and Invoice prices displayed do not include applicable gas taxes or destination charges.