With apologies to the aggressive and undeniably attractive Mercedes-AMG GT, the brand-new successor to the supercar throne vacated by the dearly departed gullwinged SLS, the S-Class Coupe as seen in the images scattered through these pages is particularly evocative, with flowing lines from front to plunging rear that somehow recall early pre-war streamlining while still coming across as thoroughly modern and completely refined. It's a shape that will get noticed in traffic, generating gentle nods of approval, subtle stares and longer-than-normal glances from those with discerning automotive tastes, without attracting the kind of pre-teen attention garnered by less practical, though similarly expensive, machinery.
Considering the shapely bodywork parked before me set against the shockingly beautiful autumn colors of Rhode Island and the sweet, salty smell of ocean tides, the actual driving dynamics of the S550 Coupe I was about to experience seemed, for a brief moment, to be superfluous to the experience at hand. That is, it felt that way until slipping into what may be the most comfortable and accommodating driver's seat ever made, a move affording me the chance to revel in the cabin's almost overwhelming embrace of accoutrements and technology.
Pressing the bare aluminum starter button, the S550 Coupe's 4.7-liter biturbo V8 spins to life. Somewhat amazingly, considering the stable of 449 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque it produces, it's nearly impossible to know if the engine is idling or not, at least without stealing a glance at the tachometer.
The S-Class Coupe is pushing my limits of sensory comprehension. And I haven't even shifted out of Park.
Confirmed: It's alive. For a moment, at least. I turn off the standard stop/start technology, which somehow lends an alien silence to the proceedings when its electronic brains decide emitting hydrocarbons into the crisp autumn air isn't necessary, bringing the engine back online. There's a gentle comfort and reassurance in the almost white-noise sound and feel of the big V8 burbling ahead.
With so much technology packed into the S550's sumptuous Designo-spec cabin, there is only so much my meager little mind can take in at once. Ahead lies enough LCD real estate to quench the needs of a graphic artist. The steering wheel, center stack and console are festooned with switches galore, and acronyms that may as well read ABC-123 for all I know about what they stand for and accomplish, the new S-Class Coupe is pushing my limits of sensory comprehension. And I haven't even shifted out of Park.
I take a moment to get acquainted with the buttons, knobs and levers actually required to drive, and make a mental note to investigate the non-essential bits later in the day. After setting the door-mounted, seat-shaped adjustments to put myself in the proper angle of attack behind the wheel, I flick the little column-mounted drive selector downward into D, and I'm off.
Two button presses have the chassis and drivetrain set into Sport, and the audible brap of the turbocharged V8 begins filtering through.
For the first 15 miles or so, I leave both the adjustable suspension and transmission tuning in Comfort (apparently translated as Controlled Efficiency in German) mode. Things are properly serene; quiet without feeling dull. I could drive like this all day, but I won't. Two button presses have the chassis and drivetrain set into Sport, and the audible brap of the turbocharged V8 begins filtering through. The S550's soundtrack is happily unencumbered by any fake engine notes pumped into the cabin, something that can't be said of some competitors. However, there is a dual-stage, solenoid-operated exhaust system, and the more aggressive transmission and throttle tuning keeps the engine spinning at higher revs. It's a lovely sound – as is the rich, full sonic experience of the Burmester audio system – albeit one muted somewhat by enough sound deadening material to silence a Michael Bay summer flick. Taking it all in, it's hard not to realize that the S-Class Coupe really has to be all things to all people.
It's asking a lot of engineers, no matter how talented or dedicated, to produce an automobile equally at home shuttling dignitaries to black-tie events as it is hurtling an enthusiast down a sinewy stretch of tree-lined blacktop, and yet the S550 is eminently capable of both seemingly disparate missions. It is, above all else and even considering the $119,900 asking price (before any options), an impressive achievement.
And so I choose to slow down and enjoy the drive, rather than looking forward to the feeling of having conquered the road. Familiarizing myself with just a few of the car's array of driver-centric technologies, I settle into the heated and ventilated seat and enjoy an athletic massage, which is more vigorous in this latest Benz than in past examples I've sampled. If that's not to your liking, consider the optional hot stone massage routine. Or visit a chiropractor. Your tenseness won't have been caused by the S550 – all textures and hues of leather and wood are very attractive and of the highest quality, and there's nary a surface that hasn't been treated to some sort of soft-touch coating. The deep red quilted interior of the 2015 Edition 1 (seen in these images) is particularly attractive, and is set off nicely by the difficult-to-photograph Magnetite black metallic exterior paint and Swarovski crystal-embellished headlamps. Also, be sure to take a look at the metallized ash wood trim that strikes me as a reasonable $800 option.
I choose to slow down and enjoy the drive, rather than looking forward to the feeling of having conquered the road.
While a touchscreen interface may be more easily mastered, Mercedes' use of a joystick and touchpad surface right where the driver's hand falls on the center console is relatively easy to use, and it keeps fingerprints from smudging the massive LCD screen that makes up half the dash surface. The other half is also LCD, and it's the bit that sits directly in front of the driver, displaying digital versions of classic analog gauges. If we're honest, the jewel-like clusters of past S-Class and CL-Class models were far prettier, but going digital allows the German automaker a massive canvas with which to present everything from speed, navigation directions and the various readouts of the car's many user-customizable driving modes to a view straight ahead using the car's available night-vision cameras. For 2015, Night View Assist Plus alerts both the driver and any living beings in the car's path alike with flashing lights and high-pitch warning beeps.
A full-color head-up display can mimic much of the information presented in the main gauge cluster, which means navigation directions can be seen in one place while audio or climate control functions can be displayed elsewhere. The only real issue I encounter in the S550 Coupe is that my somewhat long-torso build forces me to cut the very tops of the gauges out of view when the steering wheel is set at a proper angle. Other than that, ergonomic complaints are nil, and it'd be hard to believe anyone who said they couldn't get comfortable in the front seats of Benz's new flagship. In the rear, the confines are expectedly tighter, but it's still possible to find enough space, even with the front seat set with someone my size to drive comfortably. The S Coupe is a proper four-passenger vehicle, with two well-defined buckets in back.
The run to 60 takes a scant 4.5 seconds, and behind-bars speed happens in a jiffy.
All S-Class Coupes boast the automaker's 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. Despite the presence of 449 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, I find it impossible to break traction from a dead stop. Considering the car's mature, upper-crust demeanor, this isn't a demerit. As much as I love to drive tail-out around the bends in a high-power coupe, such uncivilized tactics are completely out of character in the S550 Coupe. Instead, there's an abundance of traction, even with the accelerator pinned to the floor. The run to 60 miles per hour takes a scant 4.5 seconds, and while the limited top speed stands at a modest 130 mph, the S550 Coupe has no trouble getting to that behind-bars figure in a jiffy.
Steering feel is better than expected of such a big coupe, tightening up nicely as speeds increase. Braking, too, is confident and free of drama, thanks to huge internally vented discs at all four corners. At the limits of adhesion, the Coupe remains graceful as it scrubs off speed, easily controllable and confident. It's difficult to keep tabs on how fast the car is moving at times, so absolute is the lack of interior din and complete the feeling of solidity in the cockpit, but I'd judge its capabilities as more than sufficient for anything short of actual racetrack duties. Of course, there are AMG models for those kinds of antics, anyway.
Its capabilities are more than sufficient for anything short of racetrack duties. Of course, there are AMG models for those kinds of antics, anyway.
The S550's cool composure can be attributed, at least in part, to its standard Airmatic suspension and the aforementioned 4Matic drivetrain. Coupled with an ingot-stiff chassis and standard 19-inch wheels with 245/45 tires up front and 275/40s in the rear, the 4,707-pound coupe rides on the compliant side of firm – even when kept in Sport mode instead of Comfort – and in either case, traditional Mercedes-Benz descriptors like "bank vault" and "anvil" most certainly apply. The feeling of safety is further backed up by all the technologies that make up Mercedes' so-called Intelligent Drive system, including pedestrian detection, steering and brake assist, cross-traffic assist, lane-keeping assist, adaptive high-beams and Collision Prevention Assist Plus that can autonomously stop the vehicle before an imminent impact.
Active Body Control technology that allows the car to lean into corners will be a late addition to the 2015 S-Class Coupe lineup. I was therefore unable to test the system's merits, which sees the chassis leaning into corners like a motorcyclist, but I can say with confidence that I never felt as if its handling lacked in any way. In any case, we look forward to sampling Active Body Control when it becomes available as standard equipment on the V12-powered S65 AMG Coupe.
At what point does a car become so good that its successor has nothing to improve upon? I don't know – and Mercedes isn't there yet – but this 2015 S-Class Coupe is as close to daily-driving automotive perfection as you're going to find in a showroom this year. Some items, such as the system that ionizes the air inside the cabin while injecting various driver-selectable scents, will certainly sound unnecessary to the general car-buying public, but it's somehow fitting for the type of driver who actually has the wherewithal to shell out for a top-level Mercedes coupe.
This car is tasked with setting the bar from Mercedes-Benz that other automakers are challenged to meet. And it's a high bar, indeed.
According to Bart Herring, general manager of product management for Mercedes-Benz USA, the S-Class Coupe is designed by the automaker to "represent the pinnacle of automotive engineering at the time that it was built." While that description doesn't necessarily mean it's the best car for sale at any price in the world, it does mean the S550 Coupe is tasked with setting the bar from Mercedes-Benz that other automakers are challenged to meet. And it's a high bar, indeed. For what it's worth, Mercedes identifies the Bentley Continental GT, Rolls-Royce Wraith, Aston Martin DB9 and Vanquish, Maserati Gran Turismo MC and BMW 6 Series as the main competitors for its standard-bearing two-door.
Mercedes is happy to proclaim that the S-Class Coupe buyer is the most affluent of all its customers, and that the car, on average, is one of four sharing space in what we can only assume is an impeccably kept garage. An interesting stat, I think, but perhaps most telling is this: Out of the four cars owned by this lucky individual who can seemingly buy whatever he or she pleases, the S-Class Coupe is the vehicle that accumulates miles at the highest rate.