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Mercedes Puts Higher Numbers on U.S. Models Than European Ones

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author photo by Doug DeMuro May 2017

Here's something I find truly hilarious: Mercedes-Benz places higher model numbers on some U.S.-spec models than it does on European ones. I don't mean they put larger engines in the U.S.-spec models; the engines are the same. I mean the model numbers are physically higher on U.S. vehicles compared to European ones, even though the cars have no other differences.

I've done a little research on this topic, and here's what I've deduced: It appears that Mercedes is only doing this on its "500"- or "550"-tier vehicles. The situation is this: If you walk into a German Mercedes dealer today and buy the S-Class with the twin-turbocharged 4.7-liter V8 that makes 449 horsepower, you will be purchasing an S 500. But if you walk into an American Mercedes dealer today and buy the very same S-Class, with the very same engine, you would be buying an S 550.

This isn't true of just the S-Class, but of all Mercedes models. The base-level version of the G-Wagen is called the G 550 in the United States, but the G 500 overseas. The V8-powered GLS is called the GLS 550 here in America, but the GLS 500 overseas. I could continue, but I think you get the idea, which is this: Mercedes adds 50 to the numbers of some American-spec models, even though everything else is the same.

Now that we know they're doing this, we have to ask the obvious question: WHY???

One answer is obvious: Americans simply care more about numeric badging, and they're more likely to brag about their "550" than their "500." This seems plausible, but it also makes you wonder why they stopped at 550. Why not 560? 580? Why not just name it the S 10,000?

Another possibility is that the badging is actually more accurate this way. Many years ago, the numbers in a Mercedes model name used to signify the engine size: a C 280 had a 2.8-liter engine, for example; a 500 E had a 5.0-liter engine. When the "550" naming scheme came out in 2007, the vehicles in question actually used a 5.5-liter engine. Of course, that engine is long gone, in favor of a smaller powerplant with turbocharging -- but they can't exactly go backwards, as it would make customers think the newer cars are "lesser" than their predecessors. After all, who would want to go from an S 550 to an S 470?

Nonetheless, that doesn't fully answer the question, because it brings up another one: If Mercedes wanted their model numbers to get more accurate, why didn't they badge the cars as "550" all over the world? Why was it just in the United States?

Unfortunately, we may never know the real answer to this one -- but I'll always find it unusual.

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Mercedes Puts Higher Numbers on U.S. Models Than European Ones - Autotrader