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2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC Luxury Sedan Review

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
April 14, 2014
9 min. Reading Time

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is an important car not just for the German luxury kingpin, but also for the rest of the automotive industry as it discovers just how much catch-up it will have to play in order to draw even with this paragon of progress.  The Mercedes-Benz S-Class has always served as rolling notice that the technological bar has been raised, and after its complete redesign for 2014 it's safe to say that the new S550 4MATIC continues this proud tradition. 

In fact, it would seem that the fresh generation of S-Class pushes past the limits of what is humanly possible and establishes firm footing for the semi-autonomous driving technologies that have been percolating on the options lists of a number of modern automobiles.  The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC isn't completely defined by its computer-assisted take on tomorrow's driving habits - it's far too comprehensive a model for that - but it's steps ahead of rivals like the Audi A8, the BMW 7 Series, and the Jaguar XJ when it comes to formulating the next stage of full-size luxury sedan evolution.

2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC Review: Models and Prices

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class comes in a single, long-wheelbase configuration that for now is offered exclusively in two trim levels.  The base S550 model retails for $92,900 and includes features such as LED headlights, running lights, and tail lights, automatic windshield wipers, self-closing trunk and doors, heated power front seats, dual automatic climate controls, leather upholstery, a rearview camera, an air suspension system, LED lighting throughout the interior of the car, the COMAND vehicle interface, Bluetooth connectivity, a navigation system, a power rear sunshade, a surround sound audio system from Burmester, a hard drive for storing digital music files, a Wi-Fi hotspot in the car, and the mbrace2 telematics feature.

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG (MSRP $139,500) represents the next rung on the S-Class ladder, and it adds a much more powerful engine, a tuned suspension system, a strengthened drivetrain, and of course the requisite flashy body kit.

My tester was a 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC that featured optional all-wheel drive as well as the Premium 1 package (massaging and ventilated front seats, additional seat heating options, active parking assistance, side window blinds, keyless ignition and entry), the Surround View system (360 degree cameras for parking and low-speed operation), and the Drive Assistance package (Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control, additional safety features).  The total MSRP for the vehicle I drove came to $101,300.


2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC Review: Design

  • The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC has been completely redesigned.

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC features much more compelling exterior styling than the model it replaces.  Whereas the previous generation S-Class was somewhat conservative looking, the 2014 edition is sleek and low-slung, evoking power and majesty even when it's standing still.  The stubby trunk no longer feels like an afterthought, and the counterbalance of the car's stretched-out hood now seems natural.  A wide front fascia and toothsome grille are framed by LED headlights that are themselves paired with LED running lights, while LED taillights add a modern touch to the car's trunk surround.  The S550 4MATIC definitely has a commanding presence regardless of what it's parked beside, and that's an important quality in an executive sedan.  My all-black tester featured a thin line of chrome above the rocker panels to help break up its slab sides, and similarly restrained brightwork can be found across the deck lid as well as ringing the windows.

The 2014 S-Class interior pushes you right into the deep-end of what ultra-luxury passenger compartments have to offer.  Even though the trim on the dash and door panels is 'MB Tex' and not actual leather, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference: everything feels soft and high end regardless of where you put your fingers.  The dashboard speaks to the openness of the car's cabin with the way it stretches, uncomplicated, from one side of the vehicle to the other.  There are no gimmicks or call-outs inside the Mercedes-Benz to distract you from its well-practiced elegance, and a minimum of buttons intrude on its wooden landscape.  Even the small analog clock snuggled between four oval air vents on the center stack feels in its right place.  There may be some who turn their nose up at several of the more aggressive interior LED lighting schemes that can be selected, but purists should be pleased with the two paler 'dawn' and 'daylight' settings which do an excellent job of mimicking natural illumination.


2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC Review: Comfort and Cargo

  • The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC has been completely redesigned.

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC makes a luxury statement in a manner that can only described as 'palatial.'  One doesn't so much enter this car as make an entrance, what with its enormous door openings, its wide, well-padded seats, and cathedral-esque headroom.  The additional inches offered by the American-spec long wheelbase translate into rear accommodations that could transport any number of farm animals without inducing claustrophobia.  The well-heeled can even order various packages that conspire to add a foot rest to the right side rear of the S-Class, as well as massaging, reclining, heated, and cooled thrones.  There are even available folding tables for anyone who needs to get a little bit of work done while being chauffeured to the airport.

Those who have been relegated to the front of the S-Class have little to envy rear seat riders, as Mercedes-Benz has also worked wonders with its forward buckets.  If you can't be bothered to fine-tune the front seats for your next track day, fear not, as the active multicontour feature will automatically inflate and deflate the necessary bolsters in harmony with the associated g-forces.  You also get six different massage settings - including a heated option - which is useful for surprising your passenger with unwanted ministrations to their lower lumbar region mid-way through a road trip.

Trunk space is predictably generous for such a large car, checking in at just over 16 cubic feet.  In real world terms, the cargo area was sufficiently deep for me to stack a pair of 18-inch rims with mounted tires one on top of the other for transportation to my garage.


2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC Review: Features and Controls

  • The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC has been completely redesigned.

Mercedes-Benz has streamlined the control surfaces presented by the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC, particularly on the dash where a long, thin bow of toggles serve as the only real hard switches to interrupt the wood grain trim that dominates the front of the car.  A COMAND dial sits on the console, surrounded by several flat buttons that interact with the various drive control systems and suspension features offered by the sedan, while a huge, 12.3-inch widescreen LCD take up significant real estate at the top of what could loosely be considered the car's floating stack.

When the car is off, this LCD unit seems to be paired with an almost identical screen immediately to its left, but with the ignition in the on position it becomes clear that one serves as the sedan's gauge cluster while the other represents the COMAND interface's main place of business.  The S-Class cluster isn’t nearly as configurable as similar units available from Cadillac and Jeep, but the COMAND graphics and logic have been improved over lesser versions of the system found in other Mercedes-Benz models.  It's still a bit awkward to have to use the rotary controller for most functions, but there's a small numeric touch pad sitting just above the dial that allows you to take shortcuts once you've figured things out.

I have a couple of specific complaints about the S-Class' controls.  The stalk for the vehicle's cruise control feature is buried to the left of the steering wheel, to the point where I couldn't see it at all while making adjustments.  This is problematic, given that the adaptive cruise is more configurable than a standard unit.  A bigger nuisance was the behavior of the car's key.  Roughly one out of every three times I attempted to start the vehicle using the push button on the dash I was given a 'key not found' message on the gauge cluster.  This was despite the fact that the key was sitting in my pocket each and every time.  There were two ways out of this dilemma: hit the lock, then unlock buttons, then push 'Start' again, or remove the start button entirely, insert the key into the dash, and turn it like a traditional key.  The second strategy was actually suggested to me by the car itself at one point.  Either way, it's completely unacceptable behavior from a luxury automobile with fewer than 500 miles on the clock, especially one that costs over $100,000.


2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC Review: Safety and Ratings

  • The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC gains a number of new active safety features.

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC that I drove came with the Driver Assistance package, which includes adaptive cruise control (Distronic Plus with steering assist), a pedestrian detection system (Pre-Safe Brake), an active blind spot warning system, and an active lane keeping assistance feature.  This is on top of the standard number of airbags as well as electronic traction control and stability control.

Distronic Plus is a unique feature in that it combines several systems already available in other cars - automated steering to stay between the lines, full-range start and stop cruise control, automatic braking - in one single, streamlined system.  With three different radar emitters crammed into the front fascia, as well as a pair of stereoscopic cameras mounted high in the windshield, Distronic Plus is capable of actually following the vehicle in front of the S-Class with very little intervention required on the part of the driver.  This means during rush hour traffic you don't need to have your hands on the wheel at all - the S550 4MATIC will automatically keep up with the flow of the cars around you, come to a complete stop if necessary, and steer the car so that it stays in its lane and a safe distance from all other vehicles around it.

Yes, Mercedes-Benz expects you to pay attention and keep your hands attached to the steering wheel - you'll get a digital scolding on the dash if they are away for too long - and yes, you have to let the system know it's time to move forward again by tapping the gas gently if you have been sitting for a predetermined amount of time.  Still, it's an impressive suite of features that worked for me even when facing a heavy nighttime rainstorm at highway speeds.  The technology isn't perfect, as I actually had to keep the car from following a hatchback in front of me that suddenly changed lanes in a bumper-to-bumper situation, but realistically you should be paying attention at all times regardless of whether the feature is engaged.  I am also wary of the pedestrian detection system, as I have seen this Mercedes-Benz feature function flawlessly, braking the car in time to prevent a collision, and I have also seen it fail to notice an obstacle in its path.

Mercedes-Benz hasn't flat-out advertised that the S-Class drives itself, but there are certainly some situations, such as the ones I have described above, where it does so.  I'd classify the S550 4MATIC as a 'semi-autonomous' car, one that's bridging the gap between traditional driving aides and systems that are capable of taking over for a human brain.  It's a laudable accomplishment, and one that none of the automaker's immediate competitors can match.

2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC Crash-Test Ratings: Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS have crash tested the 2014 S-Class.


2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC Review: Engines and Fuel Economy

  • The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC features a revised version of last year's V-8 engine.

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC features a 4.7-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8 that produces 449 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque - mild, but still appreciable increases over the similarly-sized engine found in the 2013 edition.  Rear-wheel drive versions of the car offer fuel mileage of 17-mpg in city driving and 25-mpg on the highway, but the EPA subtracts one mile per gallon from the city figure and actually adds an additional mile per gallon to the highway number for all-wheel drive models like the one I drove (I saw 17-mpg combined during my time with the car).  A seven-speed automatic transmission is standard across the board.


2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC Review: Driving Impressions

Driving the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC is the perfect illustration of what it means to be wealthy to the degree that the vagaries of the outside world have little effect on your day-to-day.  Think of the S-Class as a luxury insulator, a car charged with the task of attenuating rough pavement, bleeping horns, noisy children on the sidewalk, and even the rumblings of Nature herself.  In this respect it performs admirably: with the air suspension set to Comfort and the windows sealed, the S550 4MATIC is a veritable ballistic missile submarine, running silent and deep through the inter-city ocean.

Switch the car to Sport mode - both transmission and suspension - and you end up with a little bit less than what this word would seem to promise.  Throttle response is sharper, and the car's undercarriage transmits more of the chatter that indicates you are indeed connected to a road surface of some kind, but there's really no joy to be had in throwing the S550 4MATIC through a corner with evil intent.  Steering for the full-size sedan betrays the lack of feedback associated with an electrically-assisted system, and the car's weight protests against too much too-and-fro action.

This is entirely as it should be, however, for it's the S63 AMG edition of the S-Class that is meant to lay waste to secondary roads in a bucolic country setting.  The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC is much better suited as a trans-sonic express sled that connects highway destinations with the full authority of its near-450 horsepower engine.  Traveling at super-legal speeds in the S-Class is the adrenaline equivalent of sipping a fruity drink under a tropical sky, as power is doled out instantly and with little drama with the right foot planted.  Around town the S550 4MATIC feels big - because it is - but as long as one pilots it as though at the helm of a yacht (with a focus on foresight and planning), there's really no stress associated with tighter confines.


2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC Review: Final Thoughts

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC is a product that sells itself.  Those who can afford one will almost certainly buy one, and I have no doubt that the redesigned flagship will soon be decorating valet stations all over the country.  Luxury vehicles like the S-Class don't serve a need so much as suggest one: you may not have known that had to have an S550 in your garage until you've had the chance to get behind the wheel and see what you have been missing.  At the other end of the spectrum are those who dare not sully their hands with the common duties of driving and instead employ a professional to ferry them from critical meeting to important flight.  These ladies and gentlemen will be equally well served by the S550 4MATIC's many charms.

For the rest of us, it's the technology that really matters.  The adaptive cruise control's self-steering prowess has already influenced more affordable models from Mercedes-Benz like the 2015 C-Class, and it puts pressure on other automakers - whether building luxury cars or not - to step up their game.  The S-Class is a rolling proof-of-concept that autonomous driving is a possibility, and in some cases, a desirable probability.


2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC Review: Pros and Cons


  • Improved styling
  • Huge, sumptuous interior
  • Excellent V-8 power delivery
  • Class-leading safety and autonomous driving technology


  • Expensive
  • Not as engaging to drive as rivals like the Jaguar XJ
  • Autonomous technologies still not perfect
  • COMAND system is better, but still needs improvement


Mercedes-BenzCanada supplied the vehicle for this review.



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