Test Drive: Mercedes-Benz 2015 S550 4MATIC Coupe

© Mercedes Benz

The elegant new two-door brings a jolt of energy to an off-season jaunt through Rhode Island’s storied Watch Hill.

What’s bad news for a beach day—rain, wind, and cold—makes for the perfect afternoon cocooned inside the new 2015 Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC Coupe, a luxury car that wants to bring a sense of refinement to the notion of sporty driving.

That’s how I’m spending this chilly afternoon driving through Watch Hill, Rhode Island—a tiny but swanky village overlooking Block Island Sound, full of large Victorian-era “cottages” originally built by old-money families like the Vanderbilts. Quiet in the off-season, the beautiful Ocean House hotel (1 Bluff Ave.; 401-584-7000), recently rebuilt in Victorian style with splendid views, is virtually empty. There’s no one here but the ghosts of Hollywood celebrities like Clark Gable and Frank Sinatra, who once frequented Watch Hill. No doubt they retired at the end of a relaxing day to the Olympia Tea Room, a local restaurant and watering hole since 1916.

Dreaming of the past, I drive inland along country roads toward the college town of Amherst, across state lines in Massachusetts. While the Mercedes-Benz S550 four-door sedan might encourage you to hire a chauffeur, if only to enjoy a rear-seat massage while listening to the enveloping Burmester sound system, the similarly equipped two-door coupe begs you to get behind the wheel. This invitation is in the sleek car’s design: The S550 Coupe is as elegant in appearance as its four-door brethren, with a muscular bump over the rear-axle that hints at the dynamic driving experience afforded by the 4.7-liter V8 engine with 449 horsepower under the hood. (A S63 AMG version starts at $160,900 and ups engine power to 557 horsepower, while a S65 model with a 621-horsepower V12 engine starts at $230,900.)

Country roads are often winding (as many songwriters have observed) and the stretch to Amherst is no exception. With a new active curve tilting technology that lets you lean into a bend like a motorcyclist—with much less drama—these twisty situations might be where the S550 Coupe is most impressive.

The rain is steadily increasing, threatening to turn the drive into a boating trip, but the S550 Coupe’s all-wheel-drive handles the slick roads and flooded intersections with unswerving aplomb. Amherst is a lovely town straight out of an Ivy League catalog, but its charms were more than a little damp upon arrival. I plot my return toward the Olympia Tea Room, anticipating the comforts of an off-season beverage by the sea. I imagine the LED headlights on the S550 Coupe—which automatically adjust their range at night for changing traffic conditions—twinkle at the thought.

$119,900; mbusa.com.