It was 1995 when Mercedes-Benz and tuning partner AMG turned the first of what has become a string of highly prized super cars loose on American highways. That car was the C36, and the limited number produced were quickly gobbled up. And it’s been the same story with subsequent models from this dynamic duo, including the stealthy C43 sedan and the hard hitting CLK55 coupe. In fact the collaboration has been so successful that Mercedes now owns AMG and together they produce an AMG-tuned offering for every class, including the S class. But does the old AMG magic work on super size sedans too?
Well, let’s look at a few facts. What you have in this 2001 Mercedes-Benz S55 is a 4,186 pound luxury car equipped with just about every power doo-dad and posh accouterment known to man. It has enough interior space to ably provide limousine service for board meetings and prom weekends. It also sprints to 60 in under 6 seconds, 5.9 is the precise figure we got in our tests. And the quarter mile passed in 14.4 seconds at 100 MPH. That’s starting to sound pretty magical to us.
Sparking the magic is a 5.4 liter, SOHC, 24-valve V8. It’s the same one shared with the other “55s” in the Mercedes stable, but in the S55 it smoothly delivers a stout 354 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. They all utilize an AMG designed pressure cast aluminum block for foundation. With a balanced forged crankshaft and lightweight modular camshafts activating 3 valves per cylinder inside, topped by a dual resonance intake manifold. It also gets the S55 low emissions vehicle status.
Power comes on hard right from the get-go and the torque reaches its peak at an ideal 3000 rpm. The broad, flat torque curve nourishes the 5-speed, driver-adaptive automatic transmission Shifts, via full auto operation or Touch Shift manual mode, are smooth but still maintain enough crispness to ensure a minimal amount of power loss when gear changes occur. It’s pretty strong magic indeed.
It gets even stronger when you mix in the S55’s suspension components. Because they make up what Mercedes calls its Active Body Control suspension. This oft-explained set up, with its electro hydraulic controlled, servo-driven gas shocks, eliminates up to 68 percent of body roll. Or if your prefer, up to 95 percent by selecting the sport mode with the dash-mounted switch.
This fully independent system also uses upper and lower control arms and coil springs up front, and the by now familiar 5-link set up under the rear. But the ABC system negates the need for stabilizer bars. And as promised, it also negates just about every trace of body roll normally associated with our low speed slalom. Leaving the S55 feeling very balanced and poised. Our drivers liked the responsive steering and the “grippy” feel of the large 18 inch Z-rated tires.
For a two-ton 4-door with a truck-like 121.5 inch wheelbase, the S55 “feels almost nimble,” noted one staffer. But we can understand that some owners might feel the car is so massive that they may not feel comfortable pushing it hard. For those folks, there’s the reassurance of the ESP stability program and ASR traction control.
And there are the large 13 inch vented and drilled rotors at the corners that we found equally reassuring when bringing us down from 60 in a very stable and controlled 120 feet. Again the ABC suspension virtually eliminates unwanted body movement so rather than diving under heavy braking, the S55 feels as though it just squats in place. ABS and Brake Assist lend a hand too.
Inside the S55, you’ll get the same high zoot treatment found in the other S class models. That’s to say 14-way power adjustable seats with cooled and heated surfaces, electrically adjustable steering column, clear and legible gauge cluster, and in the center stack, where the available COMAND navigation screen shares duties with the Bose Premium audio system, there’s such a dizzying array of buttons and controls, less hardy souls will no doubt need to seek therapy.
On the safety side, the S55 offers more air bags than a congressional hearing, including a head protection curtain. While Tele Aid keeps emergency services at your fingertips. Rear seat accommodations are comfortable and as we noted, very spacious, with enough real room for 3 adult… wrestlers. And with 15.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity, the trunk will handle plenty of gear for all reasons and seasons.
The S55 carries an adult size price too. MSRP for the 2001 Mercedes-Benz S55 AMG sedan is $98,000 even. Factor in the destination charges and gas guzzler tax, and our as tested price comes to $99,645.
For years the Mercedes-Benz S class has defined what luxurious motoring is all about and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. But if the successful collaboration with partner AMG continues to flourish, the definition of luxury performance is going to change for good.
Engine: 5.4 Liter, Sohc, 24-valve V8
Torque: 391 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 5.9 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.4 Seconds @ 100 MPH
60-0 MPH: 120 Feet
EPA Mileage: 16 MPG City 22 MPG Highway