Mercedes S-Class

When it comes to premium luxury sedans, the Mercedes S-Class has always been the 800-pound gorilla—or more accurately in its latest incarnation, the 4,465-pound king of the hill. It's not that the competition hasn't tried to topple the S-Class, but the all-new '07 model shows just how difficult it is for the likes of the BMW 7 Series, Audi A8 and even the all-new Lexus LS460 to overcome the industry benchmark.

The ninth-generation sedan is bigger in almost every dimension. Its styling is, arguably, the most controversial in S-Class history. Mercedes designers were clearly influenced by the car group's $335,250 Maybach flagship, but they've also taken some cues from archrival BMW. (Note the high rear deck lid, which yields both better aerodynamics and almost a cubic foot more of trunk space.) Bold fender flares, front and back, complete the distinctive package.

The Maybach touch can be seen both inside and out. The S-Class has always been lavishly appointed and the 2007 version is even more elegant, with a sense of openness that stands in contrast to the cockpit style of Bimmer's 7 Series. To get that living room feel, Mercedes used furniture as inspiration.

The previous S-Class had a complex electronic control console, dubbed COMAND, that was quirky and difficult to master. The new sedan introduces a more manageable user interface that is distinctly more intuitive than BMW's notorious iDrive. The three rings that surround the main instrument cluster are well laid out, with the center circle housing a slick, high-resolution video screen that is the automotive equivalent of the so-called glass cockpit in modern jetliners. Its uses include servng as the display for an optional infrared camera, which will scan for hidden obstacles.

Infotainment equipment, performance features and safety devices aimed at the high-tech junkie range from the 600-watt, 13-channel harman/kardon multimedia player to Pre-Safe, which can predict an imminent accident by detecting severe skidding motion and take steps to either steer clear or minimize injuries.

Of the variety of S-Class models, Americans will get the S550, S600 and the adrenaline-laced, 604-horsepower S65 AMG. All three models deliver a more sporty, dynamic ride than the outgoing S-Class, with a variety of chassis and power-train systems constantly adapting to driver input and road conditions. For long trips, there's even a massage function for the seats—if you can figure out how to access the controls through the updated COMAND system.

While the competition continues to push, there's little reason to believe Mercedes' S-Class will be toppled any time soon.

Visit www.mercedes.com.

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