There’s no such thing as the perfect car, even when it costs $131,400.
I tested the 2017 Mercedes-Benz S550 Cabriolet recently and it felt like I was being transported to another realm of existence, one where everything is covered in leather, there’s a faint smell of basil, and you don’t notice potholes in the road, which is astounding.
The car has a 4.7-liter 449-horsepower engine that roars to life with even a soft tap on the gas. The 0-60 rating is 4.6 seconds, but that specification doesn’t account for the fact that there are speakers everywhere (behind the front headrests, in the doors, on top of the trunk). You can do whatever you want with those 4.6 seconds, but listening to the new Broods album at full volume is what I spent it on. If other sporty cars can jump up to 60 that fast, they don’t do it in this much style.
And the faint smell? There’s a canister in the glove box which you can swap out with different fragrances. That’s not my thing but I can see how it might prove valuable if you carry around a bunch of sweaty teenagers all pumped up on synth rock and staring at the leather. Ironically, people stared inside the car and out.
At one stoplight, another teen laughed and asked about the color (it’s a brown-black-purple color hybrid as mysterious as the twin turbos). The mom then told me “not to mind him” and smiled back, knowing I was in a cocoon of luxury and didn’t want to be bothered. Curiously enough, the exact same scenario happened later that day.
Why do people love this convertible so much? For most of us, it is so unobtainable, a fixture of fascination. It glides like it uses different air. It seems to hover. When you drive one, you wonder if the road changed so that it doesn’t have as many divots and gravel, obstructions that would normally bother lesser cars.
The seats are hand-crafted, the suspension can lift up for better ground clearance, there’s a group of Mercedes-Benz assistants who drive behind you and comb your hair when you stop at a stoplight after driving at high speeds around corners (not really).
When I had to give the car back a couple of days sooner than expected, I felt a bit of remorse. I wanted to take one more hairpin turn as a way to rediscover my misspent youth.
There’s some interesting tech involved to create this experience. First, you should know that Mercedes is not playing catch-up with Tesla. The adaptive cruise control and automated steering, which they call Distronic Plus, is meant to augment. If you have driven a Tesla Model S, you know the safety features are more like driving an iPhone.
They are more obvious. On the S550, the sensors are there to aid the driver, someone who wants to take corners faster and burst from the starting block so that you hear the exhaust. I’ve tested Ludicrous mode in a Model S and it is fantastic in terms of propelling you through thin air like an electrified Bugatti, but the S550 feels heavy and hungry, the engine has thrust and power. It’s meant to excite. I want all of the safety features, but I like driving. It’s a more rewarding punch.
Lane-keeping is also there to assist. Mercedes has always avoided saying anything about hands-free driving, and I tested the car in a variety of settings, from heavy traffic to country roads. The sensors make it easier and safer to drive. You don’t go hands-free. It’s as though the engineers know that autonomous driving will never happen until cars connect to each other and the road around you, so it might as well be an assist feature for years to come.
What else? There are tiny perks you barely notice until you think about them. In heavy wind, the car can adjust itself on the road to assist you again rather then getting pushed around like a budget car. There’s a camera that shows you vehicles in front of you and any pedestrians at night. In a crash, a roll-bar would pop up in a third of a second. The headlamps use a camera to determine brightness based on whether there are other cars around.
Yes, it costs $131,400 for all of this tech. If you add Broods or maybe the new Savior Adore as your soundtrack, it suddenly transports you into another realm. Danke, Mercedes.