looks like an overpriced Kia kinda sorta
The S-Class is Mercedes-Benz's top sedan, the big dog, the car that gives lesser models — such as the entry CLA — their cachet.
It is hugely powerful, massively expensive and one of the biggest cars on the road.
It is a car that begs for sarcasm, ribbing, dismissive remarks because of its excesses.
M-B redesigned the supersize sedan for the 2014 model year, which began last fall for the car company. The result is a machine that's worth a sly covet.
You can reasonably argue that any car with a starting price of about $94,000 should pluck the strings of desire. Still, Test Drive has wheeled around in some pretty pricey machines that did not deliver the gratification that their window-stickers implied.
The S550 does.
The S-Class lineup has dropped the gas-electric hybrid and diesel versions, which had been the lowest-price models.
But the S550, now the base model, starts $3,005 less than its 2013 price, and the S63 AMG go-fast version is $1,405 less.
The new car is lighter due to aluminum body panels, which weigh less than steel, and it has generally better mileage ratings and higher engine-power ratings.
But here's our favorite attribute: Despite its size, complexity, opulence and muscle-car-plus power, it makes a sweet daily driver. After a short learning curve, you can operate most features quickly (if not always logically) and ramble about as if you were driving a normal car.
Many big cars and trucks are daunting behind the wheel, mainly because their size makes them hard to park, unpleasant to maneuver in thick traffic and because they often come with an array of gadgets that can be tricky to master.
The S550 seems to skip that, as does its high-performance AMG version, the S63.
No cheating the laws of physics, of course. No matter how agile it feels, it's nevertheless 17-plus feet long, which is 2 feet more than the midsize family sedans that make up the biggest slice of car sales.
But it's more than a foot shorter than a full-size crew-cab pickup, so if that's your normal ride you'd think the S550 is a tidy size.
M-B says the S-Class buyer averages 62 years old, is almost certainly a man (83% of buyers), married (87%), has a college degree (81%) and enjoys a median income of $324,000.
Buyers of the AMG, M-B likes to say — with only slight exaggeration — are half as old and twice as rich: 40s and $500,000 to $600,000 yearly income.
The test cars were a $122,895 S550 4Matic (M-B's term for all-wheel drive), and a $161,935 S63 AMG 4Matic.
Both had the latest thing — optional Night View Assist Plus ($2,260). Developed by Autoliv, it uses two infrared cameras up front to spot and alert you to pesky deer, weaving pedestrians and the like. One camera sees down the road and the other is a high-resolution unit for crisp images when you get closer.
The system displays a red rectangle around the person or animal of concern, and if you get very close and the critter's not scampering away, a bright light comes on to shock the person or animal into attentive escape.
You can keep night vision turned off if you find it unsettling or distracting.
On our first night it spied and highlighted a dog walker in an alley we assumed was deserted.
But the black-and-white display is between the speedometer and tachometer on the dashboard, so the driver has to look down to watch the picture. Seems like a natural system for head-up display in the windshield, but M-B believes the image quality wouldn't be sufficient.
Cameras on many of today's cars look behind and, sometimes, to the side, to help you park. A system that looks forward is slightly disorienting, and acclimating to it takes some time. Just don't drive around staring at the night-vision screen, or you'll miss more obvious obstacles and wish you'd have had your eyes up.
Also of note ...
The S550 was easier to like than the more-powerful S63 AMG, which had a coarser feel and was more intrusive when it went through the automatic stop/start cycle that automakers use to save fuel.
Seats are max comfortable — once you find the control that lets you disable the silliness, such as side bolsters that press in on your thorax to keep you in place during those daredevil, 8-mph turns in parking lots.
The rear seat has so much leg and knee space that it's hard to imagine backbenchers feeling crowded, even with NBA players sitting ahead of them. The outboard seats also power recline and slide (part of the $2,600 Warmth and Comfort package).
There are three safety belts back there, but the middle slot is too skinny for humans.
Heating elements in the armrests and console lid (more of that Warmth and Comfort package) can be activated to complement the configurable seat heaters, if you so set the system.
So-comfy headrests, thanks to detachable pillows from that Comfort package.
The easy-going driving feel can be made more taut via separate "sport settings," one for the chassis, another for the transmission.
Climate control can pump in a scent you choose from among several bottles. We oppose any artificial smells not related to petroleum or leather (and would sign a petition demanding that department store perfume counters be closed as clean-air threats).
Stubby electronic gearshift on the steering column, used across M-B models, continues to feel unnatural, non-intuitive.
Except for the optional night vision, and perhaps the heated armrests, it's hard to find shout-worthy features on the S-Class. But that's proper. A car as well-executed as the 2014 S-Class also should be so remarkably well-integrated.