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Test Drive: 2012 Mercedes-Benz S550 4Matic

Maybe it was the Black Friday madness, but the 2012 Mercedes-Benz S550 4Matic had me thinking about economics. I’ve spent roughly half my salary on a new car in the past, but my test S550 has a sticker price of roughly $118,000. Do people who make $240,000 a year splurge on a big-bodied Benz? If not, perhaps better financial sense is the reason they make more money than me. Or maybe there’s just a ridiculously-awesome S-Class sale each year that I don’t know about.

Speaking of sales, my fiancé and I share a common hatred for crowded stores and shopping malls, but the lure of a good deal got us out of the house on midnight after Thanksgiving. It was a decision we regretted immediately. Still, the drive back in the S550 was unbelievably serene. We cruised up I-395 with the Beta Band playing over the stereo, and she commented that she felt like a movie character because the sound was so clear and the S550 was so comfortable and quiet.

Comfort is something that the S-Class does right. In addition to this S550, I’ve road-tripped the S-Class Hybrid and had a brief opportunity to drive the new S350 Bluetec. Of the three, the S550 was the most impressive. Outfitted with the optional multi-contour front seats and rear seats that are heated, ventilated and power-adjustable, there isn’t a bad place to sit inside the S550.

The only thing that felt like a tacked-on afterthought was the optional heated steering wheel. Mercedes puts a wooden steering wheel in the S-Class, but if you get it, only the two leather swatches on the outside of the wheel will heat up. To warm your digits, you’ve got to keep your hands on the leather at exactly 3 and 9 o’clock – a position that I don’t find comfortable.

Behind the wheel, the S550 exudes the comfortable driving dynamics you’d expect from a super luxury car. I kept the adjustable suspension in sport mode virtually the entire time and never thought the S550’s ride was harsh or jarring, but it’s not as sporty as the Audi A8. The steering is super light if you’re idling through parking lots but firms up nicely with speed. The S550’s brakes, however, were not the most confidence-inspiring. During quick stops, they required more pedal pressure than I would’ve liked.

Despite weighing almost 5,000 pounds, the S550 really moves when you put the pedal down, thanks to its smaller 4.7-liter twin-turbo V8 engine, which is new for 2012. With 429 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, the new car has 47 more horsepower and 125 more pound-feet of torque than the 2011 S550. It’s also more fuel-efficient, as the EPA reports it gets 1 additional mpg in the city and 3 more mpg on the highway.

I won’t be buying a new S-Class any time soon (unless Kohl’s puts them on sale at 80 percent off), but with the 2012 S550’s additional power, I’d think twice before buying a 2011 model.

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