Mercedes-Benz SL500 – muscle, beauty and luxuryPOSTED BY admin ON 22 March 2012
The legendary 1954 “Gullwing” 300 SL, the unique 1963 “Pagoda” 230 SL and the 1971“Heartthrob”450 SL – these are some of the shining stars that have rolled out of Mercedes-Benz’s Sports Leicht (Sports Lightweight) factory over the past six decades which have made the “SL” acronym synonymous with iconic sportiness, style and comfort.
With such reverence attached to its history, it goes without saying that any new car carrying the SL tag would have the daunting task of living up to the lofty reputation of esteemed predecessors. Well, there is a new SL roadster in town and it does more than just step up to the plate.
Launched in conjunction with the 60th anniversary Mercedes-Benz’s SL class – which began with the creation of the 1952 W194 race car – the German marque says that the sixth incarnation of the definitive roadster culminates 125 years of automotive design experience and 60 years of open-top driving innovation to deliver a new benchmark in luxury open-top driving.
After having attended the international launch in Marbella, Spain, to experience the latest edition first hand, we are inclined to agree.
The car is offered in two flavours, the SL 350 with a V6 under the bonnet and the SL 500 powered by a mighty V8 – both featuring Mercedes’ environmentally-centric BlueEfficiency technology.
We had the absolute pleasure of taking the more powerful of the two out for a spin in the Andalusian countryside, where a good mix of long straights and winding hillside B-roads assisted in putting the roadster to the test.
Exterior and interior
The car impressed from the onset. A visual feast, its façade is a combination of powerfully sculpted surfaces, pronounced lines and curves in all the right places. The result is a sleek, aggressive and athletic creature with a distinctive shoulder line that stretches from front lights to tail lights like a tensed muscle.
Under the clear blue Spanish sky, the effect was made particularly dramatic; like an encounter with a mighty feline, you are mesmerised by its regal beauty but also fully aware that there is explosive power behind its majesty.
In this case, power was made conspicuous by wide air intakes that flare like a pair of angry nostrils on the top of the bonnet, and beneath it you know a beast was begging to be awakened.
Also adding to its overall appearance are striking features such as tapering bi-xenon headlamps, LED side lamps, a wide-mouth front grille and, of course, a large three-pointed star on the car’s nose that leaves no doubt about who its maker is.
Despite its avant-garde design, it has to be said the new Mercedes-Benz SL roadster’s form somehow seems truer to the classic SLs of yore and comes off looking much sportier than its immediate predecessor, the 2001 model series R 230. The new 2012 R231 is also produced, for the first time, almost entirely from aluminium, making it is also 125kg lighter than the outgoing model.
Mercedes says that the all-aluminium body shell also allows it to trump earlier generations by being more agile with better handling capability. At the same time it retains the exemplary roll characteristics and ride comfort that have made the SL class distinct. Less weight also means more dynamism and better fuel consumption.
Slip inside and you’re immediately greeted by sporty, yet lavishly comfortable, leather seats that are easy on the rump. The car we were assigned also came with the optional built-in AIRSCARF nozzles, which provide cool comfort to occupants even with the top down at top high speed.
The cabin is ergonomic as well as spacious, and in keeping with SL heritage, it is immaculately designed with extensive use of fine wood leather and aluminium elements to create that opulent feel.
Slightly disappointing is the copious amount of plastic that has made its way into a brand that is more often associated with solid steel. To be fair, many top-notch car makers are now opting for the lighter and more cost efficient material, and the SL redeems itself with the exceptional tactile feel of many buttons, toddles and switches that lay before you.
Yes, buttons are aplenty – not so much that you feel as if you’re in the space shuttle Columbia, but enough to make you wonder if there is an “ejection seat” button hidden somewhere.
Once you’re convinced that there isn’t, your eyes are drawn to the detailed centre console and COMMAND Online multimedia system, which offers GPS, internet access, DVD changer and weather updates (among others) at your fingertips. It also offers a Linguatronic voice-operated control system for audio, phone and navigation applications.
In a long list of features, the major highlights are: the Frontbass sound system where bass loudspeakers are attached to attached to the front footwell to deliver clear and crisp sound even with the top down; the innovative Magic Vision Control wiper system where washer fluid is channelled into the blade for more effective cleaning; the optional Magic Sky Control transparent roof that switches from light to dark at the push of a button; and “kick open” boot feature that offers hands-free open and close functions for the rear trunk by simply waving your foot below the bumper.
The plethora of special features makes a marked impression, but nothing resonates more than the actual drive.
Start the car, and once again you’re drawing parallels with a mighty feline as the sexy growl of the V8 sends a jolt of excitement down your spine. Accelerate, and you become one with the beast as power is delivered instantly with brilliant low-end torque that gets blood circulating and engine acoustics that are simply orgasmic.
We cannot say enough about the delightful sound this V8 engine emits; it’s almost as if Mercedes employed the services of an audio psychologist (if there is such a thing) to specifically tune its pitch for a direct hit on your adrenaline G-spot.
Once outside of city limits and on the highway, a sense of sheer power of the SL becomes even clearer as you go from zero to 100km/h faster than you can say “peanut butter sandwich”, which is just over 4.5 seconds. Leading up to that point, and going beyond it, you hardly notice the gears shifting through the seven-speed transmission as the needle on the climbs seamlessly on the speedometer.
The car has a top speed of 250km/h, a rated output of 435hp at 5,250rpm and delivers 700Nm of torque 1,800-3,500rpm. With that sort of power to play with, it is difficult to say that we adhered to speed limits – so we won’t.
What we will say, however, is that even at high speed the car was remarkably sturdy, firm and comfortable. With the electronically operated wind deflector up, your hairdo is kept safety intact and conversations are highly audible without having to raise your voice beyond the ordinary.
As we got off the highway to tackle twisty bits along the hilly B-roads, we were pleasantly surprised at how little drive comfort was compromised by the sharp corners and tight angles we faced on the dauntingly slim countryside route.
We were almost ready to accept that comfort came at the price of driving performance around the corners when we remembered that there was a “sport” mode. Once this was activated, all was forgiven. The car hunkers down, the suspension gets a little stiffer, the steering more rigid, the driver gets a lot surer and we were hugging corners and powering out of them like pros.
Something should be said about the SL’s internally ventilated and perforated disc brake system as well, which were employed to good use during this leg of the journey, especially when rocky outcrops obstructed our view of oncoming vehicles.
Close to the end of our journey, we decided to put the top up, which is where our only major criticism lies. The electronically operated roof can only be activated once the car comes to a complete halt, and takes close to 20 seconds to complete its task. This could be a little bit of a bummer if you drive into a sudden storm.
Once the top is up, though, you’re impressed once again as you instantly feel as if you’re in a coupe. The edges fit so snugly that you struggle to find the difference between the roadster and a regular car with notably low NVH.
Overall, it’s hard to critique a car that does so many things right. Sure, it takes a little time to put the top up, the GPS system is a little vague and the glove box is a little small, but these points seem puny compared with the sensation of sheer delight you get from driving this powerful and dynamically impressive luxury car. Did we mention the sound of the engine?
It has the looks, it has the engine, it has the drive quality and it has the outstanding features it needs to be the star Mercedes wants it to be – an excellent marriage of muscle, beauty and luxury.
Not only does the new SL live up to the reputation of its venerated ancestors, we are going out on a limb to say that it is destined to be a legend in its own right.
Specifications of Mercedes-Benz SL500
Engine: 4,663cc, V8, 4-valve per cylinder, direct injection, 2 turbo charges
Max power: 435hp at 5,250rpm
Max torque: 700Nm at 1,800-3,500rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic transmission
Measurements: 4,612mm length, 1,877mm width, 1,315mm height, 2,585mm wheelbase
Kerb weight: 1,785kg
Turning circle: 11.04m
Top speed: 250km/h
0-100km/h: 4.6 seconds