New Wheels


It's no secret that I hated my Toyota Prius with an unbridled passion. That car was the source of so much frustration; I couldn't stand the thought of driving it - I hated walking out and seeing it each morning, and I loathed commuting home in it each night.

It was noisy, it rode rough, it didn't have heated seats, the brakes were terrible, the electronic dash controls were abysmal, the GPS was completely worthless, and so on. The only redeeming factors were the decent fuel economy (around 40mpg), the sound system, and the fact that as a hatchback, it held a ton of stuff. I also liked not caring about it - I never washed or detailed it.

So, a few months ago, I got the itch to start looking for a new car. The Prius had 125,000 miles on it, and things were starting to show their age. I had to replace one of the water pumps (the car has 5 water pumps!!), and I did some other general maintenance on it. I noticed the engine was getting noisy - lots of valvetrain clatter... which is a common trait in Toyota engines due to an internal oil distribution issue. I had always used full synthetic oil with quality filters, changed every 5k miles...

I figured that now was the time to get serious about finding a new car, so I set my sights on a few different car models: Audi A6, Audi A7, Audi S4, and Mercedes-Benz E350. I also considered a Porsche Cayenne or the VW Touareg SUVs, along with the Audi Q7, but I didn't need such a beastly vehicle, and trying to park said beast in my tiny garage would've been a challenge.

Lots of searching, looking, testing later, and I decided that the Mercedes was the way to go. Unfortunately, the Madison area dealer didn't have much selection, and their prices were insane, compared to what the Chicago area dealers were offering. So, I started looking in Chicago, when I stumbled across the vehicle I eventually purchased.

I found a CPO (Certified Pre-Owned) 2011 Mercedes Benz E550 4Matic with the Luxury II package, and a bunch of extra goodies. It had 29,xxx miles on it, and looked to be quite stellar.

To sweeten the deal, Mercedes was offering an unbelievable CPO sale special; they had massively discounted the price of the car, provided 1.9% financing, made the first two car payments for you, threw-in 2 years of unlimited mileage no-cost maintenance, AND provided an unlimited mileage bumper-to-bumper warranty through 2017.

And, as if that weren't enough, they gave me $8700 in trade on my Prius, which was ridiculously high. When it was all said and done, my E550 payment came to just around $80 more per month than my Prius cost. Deal? Yes, please. Especially when you stop to consider the original sticker price on this car was over $80,000 in 2011.

So... here are a few pictures of it. With it being winter and oh so cold, it's been difficult to get any decent photos. I'll have to update this entry in the coming months, after the cold snap wraps-up. I mean, if the cold snap goes away. Crikey.

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The E-class is the second highest class within the Mercedes line-up (the S-class is the highest and biggest car). The "550" designates this as a 5.5L V8, which makes just around 400 horsepower, which is good for a 0-60 time of less than 5-seconds. That's crazy for a car that weighs over 4,000-lbs and has all wheel drive. It's shockingly fast.

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To help keep that speed at bay, the E550 features huge cross-drilled brake rotors with 4-piston calipers. The car also features pre-safe intelligent braking; it has a radar unit in the front of the car that does a number of things, including watching for sudden changes in traffic speed. It will slow the car before you even realize what's happening.

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Speaking of sensing things, the car also came with lane departure prevention - that radar unit, along with a series of cameras, watches the road at all times. If you deviate from your lane without using your signal, the steering wheel will vibrate quickly (like a cell phone on silent). If you ignore the warning, and the car detects that you're crossing a solid line (center line or shoulder), it will automatically slow the car and correct the heading so as to keep it in your proper lane.

There's also a 360-degree blind-spot detection system that alerts you via small LEDs in the side mirrors when cars are present in your blind spot.

Combined with the automatic cruise control - the radar unit reads traffic speed around you, and will automatically keep you at a safe distance behind the car in front of you, even if the car in front of you slams on its brakes - and the thing literally drives itself.

The little coffee cup emblem indicates the "driver alert" system, which monitors the driver's eye movement and body language while driving. If it senses you're falling asleep, the car will alert you to wake-up by vibrating the steering wheel and sounding an alarm.

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At the center of the dash is an accident/collision/pedestrian avoidance/alert system. When you're moving at slow speeds, the car detects objects and shows you how close you are to them. It also scans the road for pedestrians and large animals, so your chances of hitting a deer that's approaching from the side of the road at night are greatly reduced. A series of lights show the approximate distance from the object(s). There's a similar sensor on the back of the car, which when combined with the rearview camera, makes for easy parallel parking. :-)

Speaking of night - the headlights literally turn the night into day. They're auto-leveling, active cornering (they turn as you turn the car), bi-xenon with LEDs. There are no high beams; the lights automatically adjust upward when conditions are right so as to illuminate more of the road. As cars approach, or as you approach a car in your same lane, the lights adjust downward so as not to blind the other driver(s).

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The center stack is awesome. Intuitive, easy to use, and well presented. The huge center screen is absolutely fantastic, as are the GPS, DVD player, phone controls (with Bluetooth), Satellite radio, general audio (with iPod and USB interfaces), and system settings. The screen is huge and so easy to navigate.

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The audio system is simply amazing - it's Harmon Kardon's Logic 7 system, which delivers 5.1 surround sound via 14-speakers and a number of DSP amplifiers. It will reach concert-level volume while remaining crystal clear, full and rich. I love listening to music in this thing - it's just unreal.

And, as great as the sound system is, the view is even better, thanks to the full-glass roof. Here's a view of it with the sunshades in place (they're motorized):


And finally, let's talk about the seats. This particular car came with an "active" seating arrangement - the driver's seat has active bolsters that automatically grip your body while you take corners. If you turn left, the right side bolster grabs your side to prevent your body from shifting to the right as you corner. If you turn right, the left side bolster kicks in. It doesn't seem like much, but it's super cool and helpful. It's very reassuring.

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In addition to the active bolsters, that control pod has settings for the active massage. Yep, you'll get a true massage from the seats, and it's quite good. It's not the "buzzy" chair massager system you remember from The Sharper Image. Nope - this uses the air bladders in the seat, along with servos to really give you a solid massage. It's crazy.

Oh, and see how the leather seats are perforated? Yeah. They're not only heated, they're air conditioned. No more sweaty leather seats in the summer...

So, there you have it. The car is unreal. It's so fun to drive, it's so competent and capable, and it takes care of the driver and its occupants (there are 20+ airbags, including ankle and thorax airbags)). I can't wait for the spring so that I can give it a proper cleaning and detailing.

Believe me when I say that I didn't shed a single tear as I waived good-bye to the Prius...


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steve published on February 25, 2014 11:48 AM.

Chunky love was the previous entry in this blog.

A film festival and the film festival goers is the next entry in this blog.

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