S550: First Impressions

S550 rear extending way beyond a Kia Sorrento.

It's been about two months now with the luxo-barge, aka "White Whale", aka 2015 Mercedes-Benz S550. As good a time as any to gather some initial impressions. 

  • It's so quiet! Perhaps more than anything else, it's the quiet in the cabin that makes this car different from anything else I've ever driven. It has the deeply quiet feeling that I associate with acoustically treated conference rooms. Clearly, Mercedes engineers put real effort into the interior acoustics (for example, the car is much quieter when the cloth screen is rolled into place to cover the sunroof). You have to pay attention to determine whether the engine is on or not (quite a departure from all the piped-in fake engine noise that is all the rage in sports cars). 
  • It's so relaxing! The quiet, combined with all the leather and wood everywhere, defines the entire character of the car, delivering a relaxing vibe on every drive. This is not just a "living room on wheels"; it's a "fancy hotel suite living room on wheels." Sitting in this car makes your shoulders relax (and that's before the in-seat massage sets in). And there are a lot of features designed to maintain the general feeling of relaxation throughout the driving experience. 
  • It's fast...but who cares? This car does 0-60 mph in less than 5 seconds. That's particularly remarkable because it weighs more than 4,200 pounds (almost twice what my Miata weighs). But who cares? When driving this car, I never have the urge to drive fast. The whole experience is about chill cruising. Like a limo driver. Yes, it's nice to have ample power for passing, and yes, the car cruises happily on the freeway at high speeds. But everything about the experience is optimized for calm, not speed. 
  • It's big. Very big. The overall sedan shape fools you into under-estimating just how HUGE this thing is. It's 9 inches longer than a Tesla Model S. It's 17 inches longer than a Kia Sorrento SUV! It makes ample parking spaces feel cramped. It makes city streets feel tight. In its favor, however, is a surprisingly good turning radius, and the many cameras and sensors that help you navigate tight spots. Still, as a city dweller, I wish it were smaller! 
  • It's great in stop-and-go traffic. The autonomous driving features are surprisingly great for a 2015 car. In particular, the "Disctronic Plus" enhanced cruise control is something I use regularly on the highway, where it basically handles braking, accelerating, and straight-ahead steering for you. Never have I experienced a car that encourages "single finger driving" more. And it stop-and-go traffic, you can almost let the car drive itself (you do have to touch the accelerator after a complete stop, but that's it). Not having to shift your foot constantly from brake to accelerator while crawling in traffic makes a surprisingly difference in overall driver fatigue, at least for me.

I will do separate posts on some of my favorite luxury features, including the Burmester stereo, Disctronic Plus, Heads-up Display, and the Brake-Hold feature. The car really does over-deliver on features (many of which I will never use)!


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