2013 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class BaseView Vehicle Profile
Technology astounds in new Mercedes
All the luxury features make the most of the new Mercedes-Benz SL550, and you can put the top down, too.
MARBELLA, SPAIN—Of all of Mercedes-Benz’s sporty cars, the SL must surely be the ultimate iconic model. It started with the 300 SL in 1954, the famous “gull-wing” coupe, and over the years has included some of the company’s loveliest models.
There’s an all-new one for 2013 that’s lighter and more powerful than its predecessor, and with one of the nicest cabins Mercedes has made.
Two versions will be available, both of them with retractable hardtops. The SL550 that I drove here goes on sale in May, while a high-performance SL63 AMG launches in August. Canada will also get 10 copies of the SL550 Edition 1, an appearance package that includes exclusive wheels, paint and red interior.
The SL550’s heart is a twin-turbocharged, direct-injection 4.6 L V8 that makes 429 horsepower and 516 lbs.-ft. of torque. It dramatically outperforms the current 5.5 L V8, at 382 horses and 391 lb-ft. Even so, the company estimates the 2013 will get a combined city/highway fuel consumption figure of 9.0 L/100 km, compared to the combined 12.8 L/100 km that the 2012 gets.
Helping with fuel economy — yes, it matters even at this stratified level — is a standard start/stop system that shuts off the engine when you come to a stop. The lights, climate control and stereo continue working, of course, and you can turn it off if you prefer. These systems have been used in Europe for a while, but up until recently, have been found only on hybrids over here. Expect to see them rolled out on many more conventional models shortly.
The sole transmission choice is a slick-shifting seven-speed automatic, and how I wish automakers would abandon these silly electronic shifters, with their flick-style lever and separate Park button. They occupy less console space, but they’re annoying to use. At least the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters are as the driving gods intended, with one for upshifts and the other for down, instead of the awful, redundant push-pull style.
Pricing for the 2013 SL starts at $123,900, which could put it in dangerous territory for luxury cross-shoppers. The 400-horsepower BMW 650i Cabriolet starts at $106,800, and at $109,900 in all-wheel-drive, while the supercharged Jaguar XKR, at 510 horsepower, begins at $116,125. Porsche asks $123,200 for its 400-horsepower 911 S Cabriolet, but it needs another $4,660 if you want an automatic (all 2012 MSRPs).
The SL comes heavily loaded with features, although there’s an optional Premium Package that contains two I would have expected as standard at this level: the Airscarf (a heater vent below the head restraint, for top-down driving on cool days) and a rearview camera, a puzzling add-on when a navigation screen is already included.
The package also adds “drive-dynamic” seats, with adjustable bolsters that automatically squeeze against you on curves to keep you properly positioned, and new automatic trunk release. Point your toe under the bumper and, providing the key’s in your pocket, the trunk opens or closes. (BMW and Ford have also introduced similar systems.)
Some other new technologies are standard equipment. The wiper arms contain 160 washer nozzles, with the appropriate side dispensing fluid as the wipers swipe back and forth — everything’s heated and reps say it’ll handle Canadian winters, so we’ll have to see. A new “FrontBass” system moves the subwoofers from the doors to the foot wells, but while the sound system is impressive overall, it didn’t take long for the vibrating floor to go from neat to annoying. And a new “mbrace2” connectivity program, available in late 2012, hooks into Google searches and street views, along with Facebook. Ugh. It’s an SL, for Heaven’s sake. Ditch your virtual friends, and be at one with your machine.
Finally, the retractable roof includes a glass panel, dubbed Magic Sky, that almost instantly turns dark when you press a button, eliminating the need for a shade.
So after all that, what’s it like to drive? The ride is great, but the electric steering system could use a bit more fine-tuning. The standard Active Body Control system uses a hydraulic pump to continuously adjust pressure on the springs to prevent body roll. The car is composed on curves and buttery-smooth on the straightaway.
The steering varies the ratio according to the steering angle, reducing the input needed on even the sharpest curves. But the amount of assist doesn’t always seem consistent, especially if you’re making numerous direction changes as I did on a winding road, and it occasionally slips into an artificial, overboosted feel. Sometimes it’s possible to make a car too easy to drive.
Still, the overall package is a really sweet one: lots of luxury, an athletic engine, all-day comfortable ride, and of course the bonus of the wind in your hair. On a sunny summer day, that’s really what it’s all about.
Travel was provided to freelance auto reviewer Jil McIntosh by the auto maker. firstname.lastname@example.org
2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550
PRICE: $123,900 base
ENGINE: Twin-turbo 4.6 L V8
POWER: 429 hp, 516 lbs.-ft.
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 9.0 L/100 km (combined, claimed)
COMPETITION: BMW 6 Series, Jaguar XKR, Porsche 911
WHAT’S BEST: Powerful engine, beautiful cabin, nice ride
WHAT’S WORST: Steering feel, competitors might cost less
WHAT’S INTERESTING: It’s the SL’s sixtieth anniversary
1956 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Coupe
Mercedes brought a number of vintage SLs to drive, but the one I wanted was the original, the famous “gull-wing” sold from 1954 to 1957. The one on hand was a 1956, and I nabbed a spot behind the wheel.
It certainly was a privilege: these cars are currently selling for upwards of $600,000.
The doors had to be designed for the SL’s unusual tubular frame, which created a sill so tall that conventional doors couldn’t be used. The sill is also ridiculously wide, and I’m glad no one was taking videos: there is no graceful way to get in or out of this thing, even with its flip-down steering wheel.
The 3.0 L, 215-horsepower six-cylinder was the first series-production with gasoline direct injection, and it has a lush burble and that beautiful, mechanical old-car sound.
I’ve mostly driven North American antique cars, and what a difference this was, with its immense power, much sharper steering, and precise gearbox. I instantly recognized that brake pedal feel, though. The Mercedes rep warned that it had “bad brakes.” No, they’re not bad brakes, I said, they’re just old-car brakes.
The door design means no roll-down windows, and the small vent windows weren’t enough on even a short drive in the sun. It’s no wonder the SL also became a convertible.
Used Mercedes-Benz SL-Class All Used Vehicles
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