More athletic and more athletic-looking than the mothership S-Class sedan, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz S550 Coupe replaces the CL-Class in the Benz family, and does it beautifully.
It takes all the CL's shortcomings and addresses them, then takes all the S-Class' advantages and leverages them even more. With a whisper-quiet ride, a strong engine, coherent handling and a sumptuous cabin, this is Benz back on top form and it will make life hard for big, fast coupes everywhere.
What Is It?
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz S550 Coupe uses last year's S-Class sedan as a basis to take over from the big, old CL as the Benz family's biggest coupe. Almost everything is new, from its active suspension to its interior to its impressive electronics package. It drips luxury from every pore but it's quick enough to double as a useful grand touring sports car when the moments take you.
The biggest carryovers are the 4.7-liter, twin-turbo V8 engine and the seven-speed automatic transmission, and even they've been upgraded. What it delivers is a full four-seat grand tourer with the ability to punch to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and ride like a limo while covering ground like a sports car.
What Trim Levels and Features Does It Offer?
The S-Class sedan has always had a two-door counterpart, but this is the first time Mercedes-Benz has acknowledged it by giving it the S-Class badge. While the rest of the world gets a choice of rear-drive and all-wheel drive for their S-Class coupes, the U.S. will only get the 4Matic all-wheel-drive version.
There is only one trim level, but in the traditional style of Mercedes-Benz, that interior can be adjusted, upgraded, personalized and massaged (literally, in the case of the front seats) to your wallet's content. The front seats are multi-adjustable electric numbers that come with the option of massage, heating and ventilation functions. The audio system is impressive in its base format, but tops out at an incredible Burmester system with 23 speakers. Adaptive cruise control is managed through the assistance of a stereo camera mounted behind the windshield.
There is also the chance to revel in the superb graphics of the S-Class' twin rectangular digital instrument screens, which seem more integrated and comfortable here than they do in the sedan and cover everything from the standard speedo and tach to navigation and entertainment and, for the first time in the S-Class, there's also an optional head-up display.
Another new option is Benz's Curve Tilting Function. It tilts the S-Class coupe into corners like a motorcycle, making occupants feel more secure by pushing cornering forces down into the seat rather than pushing the cornering forces across the body.
How Does It Feel From Behind the Wheel?
There have been disturbing signs in the last five years that perhaps Benz wasn't investing in engineering and quality the way its reputation suggested it should. The new C-Class started the visible reversal of that trend and the S-Class coupe steps it up again, delivering a grand touring package that feels wonderful, with an old-school grandeur that is a lot more integrated than the S-Class sedan.
For starters, it's a very easy car to be comfortable in, with perfectly placed pedals and multi-adjustable electric seats that deliver a brilliant compromise between comfort and support. The seatbelts are delivered to the driver and front passenger via stalks that extend automatically when the doors close so you don't have to negotiate tangles. The only issue with its electrically adjustable steering column (for reach and height) is that its controlling lever is a little difficult to find, wedged between the larger cruise control and indicator/wiper stalks.
The rear seats are long on legroom, just about right on headroom and very comfortable, with Benz deciding to design them as two individual seats rather than a three-seat bench.
The standard 4.7-liter V8 engine is a brilliant piece of work, delivering sheer power, instant around-town urgency and a style of acceleration that's probably more of a constant, unrelenting surge than it is a linear punch. It's an engine that is quiet unless you ask it for its opinion by either mashing the throttle or pushing the Sport button to open up its louder exhaust tract.
It's all managed with an all-wheel-drive system that behaves like an invisible hand of traction and a seven-speed automatic transmission that is slicker than it has been in the past. It can still be tricked into the occasional jerky upshift if the driver eases off the gas in Sport mode, but it is otherwise infallible.
The big car shrinks around you at speed, like all the best-sorted machines do, and doesn't make you pay any kind of price when you're cruising at low speed. It's easy to drive fast, easy to drive slow and just plain easy to be in.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
This is a car that has few natural rivals, and history has shown that an enormous number of CL-Class buyers have just kept rolling into whatever the next version of Benz's S-Class coupe happens to be called. This time around that happens to be "S550 coupe."
This, though, is the most convincing S-Class-based coupe in, well, forever, which puts some interesting thought games into motion.
Bentley's V8 version of the Continental GT is a reasonable place to start, with a twin-turbo V8 of its very own sitting up front and a similar four-seat layout inside. It has similar levels of success in treading the fine lines between luxury, comfort, performance and handling.
There's Aston Martin's Vanquish, which has the legs on the Benz for performance (the S63 AMG coupe is perhaps a closer rival) even if the German carries a far heavier weight of technology. Choose the DB9 and the German has the advantage almost everywhere.
BMW would like to put the 6 Series into the mix here, but the reality is that it's at least half a class below the S550 coupe, and though Ferrari's new California T is in the ballpark in a few areas, it's smaller inside and doesn't have the Benz's external footprint, either. Beside, a Mercedes-Benz badge implies a more solid-citizen persona than Ferrari usually cares to mix with.
Maserati's GranTurismo is probably the most natural fit, with a similar respect for the knees of the rear-seat occupants, but the Italian is now the oldest model in the Maserati lineup. It doesn't have the latest twin-turbo V8 of the Quattroporte, but uses the old naturally aspirated 4.7-liter V8 that trumps just about everything for emotion but doesn't have the flexibility of the Benz motor.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
It's a car that boasts cosseting luxury, high technology, easily accessible performance and entertaining handling in a disturbingly well integrated relationship. Its looks are killer, delivering drama and class simultaneously, and the cabin steps up to eradicate the few areas of criticism we had regarding the S-Class sedan. It's an S-Class sedan for people who like doing their own driving. And it's superb.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
The U.S. only gets the all-wheel-drive version, which rules out the accuracy of rear-drive, and there's no stick shift for the hard-core drivers. It also occupies a lot of road and, of course, there's always the faster S63 AMG coupe $40,000 above it.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.