2015 S550 Final Assessment: Let Me Get That For You


The time has come to sum up my one year of #SClassLife in the 2015 S550 sedan. 

Final mileage tally = 7,441 miles. I'm actually kind of surprised that we put that many miles on it. Ultimately, I think that comes down to Jennifer's surprising affinity for it, plus one long road trip to San Diego and back. 

Overall impressions? Let me offer you three:

  • Let me get that for you. That's basically how I'd sum up the S550. From the soft-close doors to powered trunk lid to the 360 degree overhead camera to the self-parking feature to the Disctronic+ self-driving system, the whole vibe is aimed at minimizing the effort of driving. It makes long drives far less tiring. 

  • It's a sleeper. The S550 is reads to most people as "just another Mercedes sedan" and thus is effectively invisible (at least in San Francisco, where every third car seems to be a Mercedes). In my year of ownership, I think only two people ever commented on the car, which was a stark contrast to the Porsche and the Corvette. 

  • So. Much. Tech. The sheer quantity of high tech gadgetry in the S550 never ceased to amaze me. Perfect for someone who can digest and internalize a spectacular array of options that can be activated, defeated, and adjusted ad infinitum. Engine modes, suspension modes, heads-up display height and brightness, adaptive cruise follow-distance, myriad seat features, reverse tilt side-window modes, so many audio adjustments, interior lighting colors and brightness, exterior accent lighting options, trackpad input, voice recognition, climate control options, interior perfume settings. And that's not even mentioning the entire infotainment/navigation rabbit hole of menus and options. Sure, you can ignore or deactivate most of it, but then you're missing out on a lot of what makes this car special.  

What will I miss? Primarily three things: 

  • The Quiet. This is the thing I will miss most. The amazing quiet, the sense of isolation from the outside world -- this is the car's ace-in-the-hole. It's the key to the overall feeling of luxury. It's also a crucial part of why a multi-hour drive is far less draining than in any other car I've owned. 

  • The Stereo. As I've written before, the stereo system in this car is remarkable. I'll likely never hear its like again. 

  • The Materials. When everything you can touch is leather, wood, or metal, it makes a real difference. Yes, if you look carefully, you can find a few bits of plastic hidden away inside the door handles. But believe me, this interior is on a different level from any other car I've owned. The leather in the S-Class, for example, is way nicer than what my 2002 Porsche 911 came with (if only it were in red!). And I will definitely miss the wood steering wheel

What won't I miss? 

  • The Size. The S550 is surprisingly huge. It's more than 10 inches longer than a Tesla Model S. It's 3 inches longer than a Honda Odyssey. Basically the same length as a Lincoln Navigator of the same vintage. That said, the turning radius is surprisingly tight, and the car doesn't feel as large to drive as it actually is. But when you're fitting into city parking spaces, you quickly realize that you've got the same footprint as a large SUV. Thank god for all the cameras, including the 360 overhead view. 

  • The Cost. As I've already detailed, the S550 has been, by far, the most expensive car to own of any discussed on this blog. Even setting aside depreciation, the maintenance costs are punishing, even by German car standards. If this car were a long-term vehicle for me, I'd budget $200/month in maintenance costs and be grateful if I had anything left over at the end of the year. 

  • The Anxiety. For a relatively late-model car, S550 ownership inspired a surprising amount of anxiety. First, there's all the tech gadgets, any of which might break at any moment. While I didn't have any electronics failures, the sound of dozens of actuator motors whirring to life whenever you turn the ignition should make anyone nervous. And I learned to fear potholes, thanks to the fragility of the 20" wheels (many owners move to the 19" wheels to reduce noise and risk of damage).  

Overall, I really enjoyed driving this car. It taught me what the modern "luxo-barge" segment has to offer. But, wow, I can't say that the experience was the worth the surprisingly steep cost of ownership, which equaled as much in one year as my 2018 Mazda Miata cost to buy new. 

Lesson learned! No more German luxury cars! 


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