TEST: S500 W221

Christian gets to drive the new W221 S-Class S500
Well as promised, here is the review of the 2006 Mercedes S500 W221 S-Class. I came away completely blown away from driving this car. Its that good. I was hoping for some time with the car but a change of plans meant that the car had to be in Landshut earlier than expected so I would only be allowed to drive the car for 30 minutes max. Also, Mr. Schultz said that no automotive journalists in the world have yet driven this car: except for me! I feel so damn lucky!

Testdriving conditions werent ideal sadly. The weather was rainy and wet and lighting conditions were poor (for a photo shoot). Great. Everytime I drive a fun car, the weather turns sour (and when I drive not so interesting cars, the weather is nice and sunny!).
Lets get started. From an exterior point of view, the W221 is imposing without being in your face. Part of this I attribute to the fender flares, which give the car a muscular stance without ruining the elegance it possesses, IMO at least. As mentioned in my S-Class picture thread, the fender flares arent as big as they appear in the pictures.

I think most people will warm up to the W221 once theyre face-to-face with the car in real life. Trust me, its stunning looking. Compared to the W220 S-Class, the W221 appears sleeker and thinner from the front and side perspectives. The rear has the Maybach-look and is probably my least favorite aspect of the vehicle.

Its not as bad looking in real life as on the official DCX media pictures though. The 235/55 R17 tires and rims are the best combination for this car from a visual point of view. I really loved those rims (the 18″ rims arent as nice looking IMO).

The inside is just as gorgeous. Without doubt, the W221 has the best interior materials I have ever seen on any mainstream Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The woods, plastics and leather are all high quality and you correctly feel that youre sitting inside a premium vehicle. Chrome adorns much of the interior and adds to the luxury experience.

Best of all, Mercedes finally used silver-colored plastics on this interior rather than black. Silver plastics appear much more high quality than black IMO. But to reiterate it again, all interior materials used here were high quality. I couldnt detect any cheap materials. Panel gaps were very small which equally provided an impression that Mercedes got it right with this car.

The most controversial aspect of the interior, the cockpit design, isnt actually that bad. You read that right. I disliked the interior design big time, but once you sit behind the wheel and drive the car for a while, it doesnt come off as that offensive. Im still not completely won over, but its not that bad looking when you drive the car. The Savannabeige leather interior was gorgeous. I prefer lighter colors over darker ones for interiors.

Getting into the car, I noticed how the doors shut with a nice soft thud sound. Incidentally, the doors felt very heavy. Space wise, the W221 offers a lot of interior room. Being 6.4″, I was naturally at home in the big and roomy W221 interior. The ergonomics were well thought-out as well.

Everything important was within easy reach of the driver arms. The rear also appeared spacious and rear passengers still have vanity mirrors located in the inside roof. The km/h speed display is an LCD screen that shows an animated km/h speed gauge! Pretty fancy if you ask me.

Since I only had 30 minutes to drive the car, I didnt bother playing around with the screen controls in the little cave to the right of the speed gauges. I went straight to the testdrive.

This car was equipped with Keyless-Go among other gadgets. That silver button with the Engine Start / Stop button was the key to starting the brand new 5462cc 4-valve V8 engine under the hood. Using Keyless-Go was simple: simply press the brake pedal and then the button and the V8 fires up with a smooth hardly audible roar.

What struck me immediately was the refinement of the new V8 engine. Was it running? I asked myself this because I didnt hear or feel a thing. A glance at the RPM gauge tells me that the motor is indeed running, but very quietly. The previous 3-valve V8 impressed me and I thought that that was refinement: boy was I wrong.

The new 4-valve V8 blows the 3-valve V8 out of the water. Pressing the accelerator, I was curious to hear the engine. It responded with a nice muted roar. Refinement was the word here. This engine in the S-Class was obviously tuned for passenger comfort.

The column shift is operated in the same fashion as on the W164 M-Class. P is engaged by pressing the column shift inwards. I just had to pull it down into D and off I was to be the first automotive journalist () to drive the brand spanking new W221 S500 S-Class! The motor responded instantly and was still so smooth and quiet.

Those first few seconds behind the wheel of the car were amazing. I could feel it that Mercedes has a winner with this car. Everything was so smooth and felt so precision engineered.

With 30 minutes to drive the car, I didnt have much of a choice as to where I could test it. I had to use local roads around the dealership, which resemble a track with uphill and downhill curvy slopes and tons of curves. From my experience with the last W220 S-Class, I thought that this wouldnt be the strongpoint of the W221 S-Class.

I could not have been more wrong. First of all, the steering on the W221 is a fusion of light and weighted steering qualities. Its hard to describe but Ill put it this way: the steering was light, yet very responsive. With such qualities, the car would be perfect for chauffeuring VIPs around and taking corners in such a manor that the rear passengers didnt feel a thing (hence one reason why most MBs steering feel have traditionally been vague).

At the same time, the steering was so responsive that even sporty-minded drivers could have some fun driving this car. Vague was not a word that could be used to describe the steering feel. I was very impressed with this. Incidentally, all W221 S-Classes have the Parameterlenkung as standard.

This device ensures that at low speed, the steering feel is more direct while at higher speeds, steering becomes slightly more vague. Another detail you cant help but notice is how solid the car feels. In other words, like a tank.

The suspension was another amazing aspect of the car. Standard on all W221 S-Classes is Airmatic. I wasnt a fan of Airmatic in the W211 E-Class where I felt that there was little difference in comfort between an Airmatic W211 and a standard W211. In the W221 S-Class, it was a different story.

Here, the Airmatic suspension felt plush, yet sporty and harder at the same time. If you thought things couldnt get any better, well they did. The suspension was also very quiet. Some of the roads here were a little rough, but I couldnt feel them while driving the car. I could see the roads ahead of me, but inside the car, it felt as if I was floating over them.

Remarkable. Its easy to see that this car is very comfortable and sporty at the same time. Sporty was a word I would never have used with the S-Class: except the W221!
Now, excellent steering feel and a superbly tuned suspension made for a fun S500. On the W220, you could take curves but always had to fear the body roll and the a little to light steering. Not the case with the W221. The S500 felt solid and well placed on roads and was enjoyable to drive on these roads.

Even in tight curves, the excellent steering feel and suspension gave me a feeling of control over the car and I managed to take corners easily, even at higher speeds. Thats how easy the car was to drive. I would never have expected this from an S-Class but the W221 just showed me what Mercedes has done to the car: made it sportier while still being comfortable and luxurious at the same time. Damn!

Even better, the seats were comfortable and soft, but this S500 had the optional Multikontursitze option: in English, pumps pump air into certain regions of the seats depending on how the car is being trashed around in curves. An easily taken curve means the pumps pump less air and at a slower rate into parts of the seat.

A quickly taken curve sees air being pumped at record speeds into air chambers underneath the leather seats to help prevent the driver from sliding around. Ive never experience this before and I have to say, I love it. That device was hell of cool and pretty useful and made for a more enjoyable drive when pushing the car.

I was very excited to push the big V8 engine under the hood. Road conditions were wet and damp so I had to be careful not to overdo it. Luckily, there were a few straight roads in the area where I could push the thing. The first time I did a kickdown, the rear wheels spun like crazy on the wet roads but ESP and ASR quickly corrected the cars traction and I found myself being slammed back into the seats as the car gained speed with ferocious power.

Those were 388-horsepower and 530 Nm (391 lb/ft) of torque at work right there. Holy sh*t was all I could stammer (in English by the way). Mercedes claims a 5.4 second 0-62 mph time: it felt so much faster and it probably is since Mercedes is so conservative with their 0-60 times.

Midrange power was phenomenally quick, no wonder with all that power and a 7-speed gearbox. Whenever I could, I hammered the car experiencing the push and pull of that V8 engine. It didnt feel as if the engine was moving a 1940 kg heavy car. I took a couple of acceleration videos but they dont look as brutal as the acceleration was while I was behind the wheel. Its pretty damn fast alright: and this is just the S500.

An S600 and the AMG version should be monsters! Not to mention the S600 CDI if it comes out!

The 7Gtronic 7-speed automatic transmission was (as usual), flawless. I couldnt feel or hear it shift nor did I get the impression as if it was in the wrong gear at any time. Mercedes does make damn good automatics, you have to admit that. Even the steering wheel gear change buttons were not needed since the transmission was doing such a good job.

But I had to try them for the sake of trying them. Controlling seven gears is a little tricky but you get used to it after awhile. For the most part though, I let the 7Gtronic do all the shifting.

Other things I noticed during the drive. The V8 engine is very quiet at all speeds (except kickdowns). Id say this thing can rival the Lexus V8 easily for smoothness, refinement and noise levels (based on what Ive read about the LS, never driven one) as well as the supposed comfort of the LS. Mercedes appeared to really have done their homework with this car.

Its great and a hell lot of fun to drive around in. Sadly, I couldnt take it into town because of the time restraint but when passing small farms etc., people stared. Especially with a 20ish year old looking kid behind the wheel! Mr. Schultz had taken the car home on Sunday and he told me that he had tried it out on the Autobahn.

Apparently, this car had its speed limiter removed (very likely since this is a Werkswagen, an official factory demo car for dealerships from DCX themselves!) because Mr. Schultz told me he was able to max it out somewhere in the 260-270 km/h (163-169 mph) range. Mr. Schultz drives a W220 S320 CDI as his company car but I rode with him in a W220 S320 (pre-facelift) as he topped the car out at 240 km/h (150 mph) on the Autobahn one time. And he still said Damn this thing is slow Well, he likes to speed.

Anyway, Mr. Schultz stated that at those high speeds, the W221 S500 felt even more solid and well placed than the W220. Ive driven the same W220 S320 on the Autobahn at speeds well past 200 km/h (125 mph) and it felt like rock: I can only imagine how the W221 S500 must have felt like but I easily believe him since on local roads here, it handled and drove like a dream and all the while felt safe. PRESAFE is standard on the W221 by the way.

So after 30 minutes (ok, a little longer than 30 minutes since I am such a badass! ) of experiencing the new W221 S-Class, this is all I can say: HOLY CRAP! WHAT A CAR! I remember the first time I saw it in pictures and how repulsed I was about the new S-Class. But over a short period of time, the design grew on me and I have in general come to like the W221 S-Class. Id still style the interior and rear a little differently, but overall, its a damn fine car that has stayed true to Mercedes qualities like comfort but with a little more sport and soul injected into it. Great car.

I was truly impressed with the S500 from a sporty driving and relaxed driving point of view. Too bad I only had 30 minutes behind the wheel, the new W221 S-Class is addicting and I was hoping for more time behind the wheel. I even offered Mr. Schultz that I myself would bring the car to Landshut just so I could drive it a bit more.

Sadly, someone was already on their way to pick the car up. Once again, what a truly magnificent automobile. Its sporty and luxurious at the same time and the sporty drive doesnt sacrifice comfort. And we all know how hard it is to achieve a balance between those two ideals. Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, Lexus LS and Jaguar XJ, WATCH OUT.

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