2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 HD Video Review
Mercedes-Benz does things a bit differently than most car companies. While many manufacturers discard models or even whole brands when they become a drag on corporate finances, MB impressively nurtures their models over decades. It’s an art form really.
The SL-Class is Mercedes’ shining example of how adeptly they keep a recognizable lineage without boring their buyers. The original 1954 production car was a must-have then and that doesn’t change with the all-new sixth generation 2013 SL550. Starting at around $106,000, this is a toy for the “one percent”. With options, my tester goes for 118 grand.
Expensive you say? Let’s put that into a wealthy person’s perspective. Recently, the painting “The Scream” by Edvard Munch sold at auction for 120 million dollars. You can buy a thousand SL550s for that kind of coin. Imagine driving a new one each and every day for almost three years, tossing them like tissue. A more plausible comparison is against the outgoing 2012 SL63 AMG at 140K, which the standard 2013 SL nearly matches in terms of acceleration.
SL Stands For…
Super Light according to Mercedes, though I’ve always understood it to be Sport Leicht or Sport Light in English. In any case, for decades the SL has been more like the plump maidens found lining the walls of the Louvre. The new aluminum structure is stronger while shedding some 300 pounds. I find it difficult to loose five.
Powerful? You bet. 0-60 happens in 4.5 seconds. The twin-turbocharged, 4.6-liter, premium fuel-swilling V8 makes 429 horsepower. Torque is an impressive 516 lb-ft at 1800 rpm so nearly all the power is immediately available with a light tap of your Cole-Haan loafer. And while the harmon/kardon sound system is quite nice, the eight-cylinder’s sonic blend of precision and performance is my soundtrack of choice. Being a 4.6 liter, you’ve probably deduced that 550 doesn’t come from the engine displacement. The number simply comes from tradition, this car is known as the SL500 across the pond. Because.
A nub of a joystick operates a seven-speed automatic transmission and paddles on the steering wheel offer up manual shifting. Power goes to the rear wheels, as they always have.
The EPA rates fuel economy at 16 city, 24 highway which is a substantial increase, but SL owners don’t worry about gas prices do they? They may feel guilt pangs though and “eco” mode shuts down the engine at stoplights then restarts it automatically when your foot leaves the brake. It’s very smooth, though I can see where some owners will just say no.
Putting the Grand in Grand Touring
Sporty in the corners? Let’s just say exploring the 550’s limits on public roads could mean jail time bit the overall dynamic is one of coddled performance. Occupants won’t be made to feel like a Jackson Pollock when hitting sharp bumps, the ride is firm but smooth. Switching the adjustable suspension from “comfort” to “sport” doesn’t change the ride quality all that much. The structure of this grand tourer is as solid as Warren Buffet’s investment advice. With the top up it’s quieter than most fixed roof cars. I was going to write “quieter than the Pompidou at night” but, hey, it could be noisy. How would I know?
There’s a richness to the SL’s driving quality that has to be experienced. Due partly to slightly increased width, curves are handled effortlessly at high velocity. The deep torquey reserve of power is more addictive than Haagen-Dazs, or maybe even something less legal. Electronic power steering means a skosh less road feel but the application is better than most. Wind management is excellent and at 60 miles-an-hour with the windows and powered windblocker up, my hair hardly moves at all. Hey, these things are important to TV people (and if you’re a guy, to your spouse-girlfriend-significant other).
A system called Direct-steer varies the steering ratio depending on how far you turn the wheel for quicker response in corners. The optional Active Body Control counteracts body roll, pitch, dive, and any other motion you don’t want to happen. The ventilated disc brakes are like having a superhero at each wheel.
It’s entertaining to watch the lid go through its gyrations. Sure, it takes up cargo space, but the solid material offers up security and refinement soft tops can’t match… unless thieves simply break a window. Debate this all you want- to lower the top you pull up on the lever, to raise it, push down. Seems backwards to me but what the heck I can learn.
If only I had one room in my house that was as well appointed as the SL. Everything is rich and integrated, right down to air vents with a substantial dampened feel. Metal trim pieces never look stamped, or molded, they appear to be milled or cast, then lovingly hand polished.
The seats have more tech in them than most cars. Need a longer lower cushion? It extends. Mercedes calls the vent near your neck the “air scarf” and on a brisk day it’s a very welcome feeling. Active seat bolsters move in toward your torso while cornering to hold you in place. They are heated and cooled. They have multiple massage settings. All that and they’re supremely comfortable. At night, the door panels have beautiful cinema lighting.
It’s Not Magic, It’s Technology
The SL’s standard glass roof comes with a manual shade. Opt for Magic Sky Control and the glass lightens and darkens with the push of a button. Hey, you’ve already committed $106,000, what’s a few bucks more to see the Starry Starry Night.
If the standard 600-watt harmon/kardon surround sound system isn’t good enough- with it’s SD card, streaming Bluetooth, and iPod integration- there’s an optional Bang and Olufsen unit. Even the COMAND user interface I’ve groused about before seems more intuitive, though it’s not always user friendly. 3D navigation maps are easy to read, the backup cam is handy.
Behind the seats there are more storage options than in most sedans, including a cupholder and storage for gloves and scarves. Wait, the SL has that air scarf.
The World’s Safest Convertible?
That’s what MB claims. There’s Attention Assist that tells drivers to take a break if it thinks you’re sleepy, Distronic Plus smart cruise control, blind spot warning, and PRE-SAFE braking.
The high-strength aluminum body is just part of the protection. There are intelligent front airbags, plus knee, side, and head-thorax bags. Seat belt tensioners, belt force limiters and a sensor-controlled roll bar that pops up in rollover situations are there to save your bacon if things get really bad.
The trunk and roof mechanisms are virtually silent. To access cargo, the stowed roof panel politely rises up. There’s room for three packs of Kirkland TP under a cover that must be snapped in place to lower the top. Raise the lid and there’s room for four if you really pack them in. Buy an M Class crossover if you really need to haul something like A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. That painting is ginormous.
Most automotive writers shy away from critiquing design saying it’s subjective. I somewhat disagree. Successful design, like any art, comes from a purposeful place. It has a reason for being and/or a history for being the way it is. Overall the 2013 SL is a beautiful piece of sculpture with the perfect amount of heritage baked into. The front end is a bit larger than I’d like but I have to believe it’s to meet pedestrian impact legislation. Tough to please all critics AND dozens of governmental agencies. The interior, without exception, is simply gorgeous. Much like a Rodin, the SL has a timeless look.
I am not a sucker for expensive cars and normally a price tag north of 100 grand would be my biggest gripe. Here I say it’s worth it. Consider this craftsmanship- the entire length of the wiper blades have laser-cut washer fluid channels on both sides that spray directly in front of the moving wiper. The flow switches sides when the wipers change direction. It’s done to maintain visibility. When the top is down, volume is reduced so you don’t get sprayed. Now that’s detail.
Experience minutia like this and you’ll not only understand the SL550s cost, you’ll have a solid tangible reason to become wealthy and collect art. If you’re thinking of bidding for The Scream next time it comes to auction, take my advice and go with the four-wheel art form. It’ll make you smile broader than the Mona Lisa.
FULL GALLERY BELOW. ALL STILL PHOTOS PROVIDED BY MERCEDES-BENZ. MOVIES BY TOM VOELK. DRIVING BY MARTIN CAMPBELL (WATCH TO THE VERY END OF THE VIDEO).