And it's relatively easy to learn how to operate.
Another wrinkle is a strip of ambient lighting in the cockpit that starts on the left door, goes all the way across the lower part of the dash, under the wood trim panel, and all the way back on the right door, creating a continuous ribbon of light that can be adjusted through five brightness levels by using the 'Vehicle' portion of the COMAND system.
Interior environment is controlled by a switch panel at the center of the dash, with four vents and an air conditioning system that is vertically layered and capable of focused, medium, or diffuse air distribution throughout the car, with two zones in front and two in the rear, each with its own controls.
The transmission shifter operates like the one in the M-Class and R-Class SUVs: A tiny stalk on the right side of the column features up, down and in positions for Reverse, Neutral, Drive and Park modes, and all models come with three-mode shifting including Manual, Sport and Comfort shifting using the steering wheel paddles on the reverse side of the spokes, left for downshifts, right for upshifts.
The CD/DVD system loads behind a panel under the environmental controls, and contains a slot for loading a PCM/CIA memory card to an internal hard-drive that will play up to 1,550 songs through the Harmon/Kardon 5.1 Logic 7 600-watt, 14-speaker surround sound system.
The COMAND system uses a large, deeply hooded and high-mounted 16:9 ratio full-color display screen, with a console-mounted knob that twists and pushes to change categories and change settings.
The driver's door panel is packed with controls for windows and mirrors, including a folding function, and in this case they fumbled.
A beautiful touch in a beautifully organized, visually exciting interior.
And finally, the clock is placed at the epicenter of the instrument panel so that it's classic analog design that looks like a fine wristwatch, with bright trim and bright hands, can be seen by everyone in the car.
Everything is done with the twist-and-push controller that operates like the BMW iDrive or Audi MMI systems, only better.
It's far easier to use and understand, even without resorting to reading the manual, and far more intuitive than the BMW and Audi systems.
It's that easy.
Oh, and that thing that looks like a folded-up wood-grained, chrome-edged cellular telephone, on the console just behind the COMAND interface, is exactly that: a telephone dialer.
Select the vehicle systems and the display changes to a silhouette drawing of the car where you can customize 10 different settings to your preferences as easily as using a point-and-shoot camera.
The COMAND system, located at the center of the dash, is used to operate the radio, telephone, entertainment system, navigation system, and vehicle systems.
The Mercedes S-Class boasts one of the most beautiful interior executions on the market today.
The steering wheel makes the audio and other functions easy to use, with a pair of round controls in the spokes that can do up/down and left/right function selection and change, such as radio station, CD or MP3 track, volume, and muting.
The switches that select the left or right mirror to be adjusted or folded are so tiny that the average driver will probably hit both at once until he or she is used to it (they each light up with a red jewel to show you which side you're adjusting).
The system is compatible with Apple iPod.
We prefer the brushed metal finish.
We solved all of the mysteries of a complicated luxury car's switch layout and control system without looking in the owner's manual.
While we liked the brushed metallic interior panels very much, we didn't like the chrome tip on the shifter handle, because it's bright and glares like crazy on a sunny day.
Both five and-seven-speed transmissions upshift and downshift with the speed of a lightning bolt, with no hesitation whatever, regardless of shift mode.
It's also quiet.
The Airmatic air suspension system is tuned to give a far sportier and yet flatter ride than the previous S-Class could offer.
The AMG lineup starts with the S63 AMG with a 6.2-liter V8 that makes 518 horsepower at 6800 rpm and 465 lb.-ft.
The Brake Assist Plus brakes are, in a word, spectacular in their stopping power and stopping distance performance.
All that power shows up in a staggering 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds for the S600.
And, remember, this is a huge, heavy, fully-equipped luxury car.
At continuous cruising speeds up to 125 mph, the S-Class is very, very quiet.
Mercedes-Benz officials say they spent an inordinate amount of time and money using human volunteers on the quiet aspects of the car, and called in some of the experts from the Maybach ultra-luxury car team.
of torque at 2000 rpm.
of torque at 5200 rpm.
Power (and money) have a lot to do with choosing among the Mercedes S-Class models.
The 5.5-liter biturbo V12 that powers the S600 is rated at 510 horsepower at 5000 rpm and 612 pound-feet of torque at 1900 rpm.
The Adaptive Damping System shock absorbers and the steering effort and feel are also tuned toward the sporty end of the spectrum with no dartiness, just a nice, progressive feel.
The Automatic Body Control active suspension option cuts body roll significantly, and you can really feel it working when you throw the car into a fast, sweeping downhill curve like those we experienced on our Swiss-Italian test drive.
The S550 comes with a 5.5-liter V8 engine that comes alive to the tune of 382 horsepower at 6000 rpm, with torque rated at 391 pound-feet at 2800 rpm.
The S65 AMG features a 6.0-liter version of the S600's V12 and significantly more power, to the tune of 604 horsepower at 4800 rpm and 738 lb.-ft.
The transmission is designed to upshift at redline to protect the engine.
There are 170 individual pieces of sound and noise control equipment, including a patented front floor panel that cuts both noise and vibration.
With this system, the brake lights go to full brightness and pulsate in the event of a panic stop.
A wide variety of wheel designs and sizes is available to suit each model, with a number of optional wheel and tire combinations.
The S-Class design features exaggerated fender flares front and rear, an upright grille, headlamps and tail lamps, the latter with thick body-colored horizontal bars running through them and tied together by a lower body molding.
To keep weight down, the hood, decklid, door skins, and much of the door interiors are made of aluminum alloys, while the main body shell is made of high-strength steel.
A side benefit is a huge trunk opening for easy loading.
Exterior Features The 2009 Mercedes-Benz S-Class has not changed substantially since the current generation was launched for the 2007 model year.
New for 2009 are the S550?s 18-inch rims with seven twin spokes, replacing last year?s nine-single-spoke motif.
Nineteen-inch wheels are optional, with either nine double spokes or (as part of the AMG package) a star-like five spokes; both come with 255/40R19 front and 275/40R19 rear tires.
That was done for exactly the same aerodynamic reasons as on the BMW, to give the air rushing over the long, long roof panel a good place to separate cleanly from the body without excessive drag.
The decklid opening is not contained within the rear fenders, but instead extends out to the side of the body, with a distinctly raised position that looks a bit like the rear end of a 7 Series BMW.
The S600 starts with a beautiful five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheel with 255/45R18 front and 275/45R18 rear tires; a new 19-inch nine-twin-spoke alloy wheel is available for the staggered 255/40-275/40 tire combination.
Those looking for a more aggressive style may wish to add the optional AMG Sport package and get the big AMG wheels, a revised front bumper with lower intakes and lamps, a restyled rear bumper, exaggerated side sills, and twin dual-outlet chrome exhaust tips.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from the Swiss Alps.
It's lightning quick, 130 mph fast (limited by electronics, not power), much sportier than we expected, quiet as a winter night in Wyoming, and comfortable enough for the famous Bangor to Tijuana run twice a week for a month.
The safety achievements alone would be reason enough to buy this car, but when you throw in the dramatic looks, the power and the performance, the case is made.
There isn't a better luxury car for the price produced anywhere in the world.