Mercedes’ current line of sporty SL Class hardtop roadsters are descended from the original (and highly collectible) 1954 300SL coupe, affording true sports car performance and low-to-the-ground exotic styling with a healthy dollop of luxury and an array of cutting-edge features for the deep-pocketed. The modern-day SL features a slickly operating power-retractable hardtop that, like the original SL’s vertically opening doors, is a show in itself. The top opens and folds away cleanly behind the rear seats at the push of a button, enabling the car to go from closed coupe to full roadster in but a few ticks of a Rolex.
For 2011, the already fashionable SL-Class is offered in a limited-production (to 100 units) Night Edition model that’s dressed up with matte-finish black paint, 19-inch AMG five-spoke light-alloy wheels with a two-tone, high-gloss finish, silver-painted front brake calipers and darkened headlamps/tail lights. A specific black premium leather interior features chrome accents and arrow-shaped seat stitching. No significant changes are in the works for 2012.
Three separate varieties of the SL continue, with each based around and designated according to a different powertrain. The previous V12-powered SL600 model has been discontinued. The base SL550 includes a 5.5-liter V8 engine that generates a lively 382-horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. It drives the rear wheels via a seven-speed-automatic transmission with manual-gear-selection mode that adapts its shift patterns to a motorist’s driving style. It’s estimated to reach 60 mph from a standing start in a reasonably brisk 5.3 seconds.
The higher-performance SL63 AMG version packs a 6.2-liter V8 engine that generates a dynamic 518-horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque and comes mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch “AMG Speedshift” automated manual transmission with four selectable drive modes. The SL 63 AMG goes from 0-to-60 mph in 4.5 seconds.
Meanwhile, the SL65 ups the ante with its hand-built, 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged V12 engine that’s responsible for a commanding 604-horsepower and a neck-snapping 738 pounds-feet of torque. This model is able to sprint from 0-to-60 mph in 4.2 seconds, and is priced in Ferrari territory. This version includes an AMG-tuned five-speed automatic transmission.
The SL maintains optimal handling and a smooth ride at all times, thanks in large part to a sophisticated active suspension at all four corners that enables the car to careen through even the sharpest corners at speed without a hint of body roll. A long list of features are on hand to help the driver maintain control, including four-wheel disc antilock brakes with Brake Assist and Sensotronic Brake Control, Electronic Stability Program, and Automatic Slip Control. The aforementioned systems are recalibrated for the AMG versions to afford more-aggressive cornering abilities.
Pop-up roll bars snap into place to protect occupants’ heads should a rollover occur, and a collision mitigation system takes precautionary measures – such as tightening the seatbelts and pre-priming the brakes to full force – if sensors deter-mine a crash is unavoidable. An available Night View Assist function displays a reflected image of the road ahead – with automatic pedestrian detection included – and displays it on a small screen mounted on the instrument panel for added safety while driving on unlit roads. A blind spot alert system that warns the driver of vehicles just to the side and rear of the vehicle he or she might not otherwise see is also available.
An extensive list of comfort and convenience features comes standard, with further upscale amenities offered on higher trim levels and on the options list. The available radar-based adaptive cruise control system not keeps the car at a desired speed and distance from the vehicle ahead, and can even do so in stop-and-go highway traffic. A multimedia/navigation system includes a built-in hard drive for digital media storage and an iPod interface. The “AIRSCARF” system, which vents warm air from the head restraints to benefit top-down riders on a cool day, is said to help extend the convertible season. An available Intelligent Light System features five modes to optimally light the road ahead under varying driving situations.
Mercedes’ ”mbrace” telematics system is on hand to impress one’s colleagues by connecting the car with data-enabled phones to perform functions like remotely locking and unlocking the doors and alerting the owner if the alarm system is trig-gered.
The Mercedes SL remains the gold standard for those who can afford to drive one of the sleekest looking and best-performing, yet reasonably well-mannered luxury roadsters this side of a Ferrari.
Mercedes SL-Class Quick Facts
Engine: 5.5-liter V8, 6.2-liter V8, 6.0-liter Turbo V12
Horsepower: 382 @ 6,000 rpm, 518 @ 6,800 rpm 604 @ 4,800 rpm
Torque 391 @ 2,800 rpm, 465 @,200 rpm 738 @ 2,000 rpm
City/Highway: MPG 12/18-14/21
Transmission: 7-Spd Automatic, 7-Spd Auto Manual, 5-Spd Automatic
Wheelbase: 100.8 in
Overall: Length 180.4 in
Width: 81.4 in
Height: 51.1 in
Curb Weight: 4,220 lbs
MSRP: $113,150 – $209,300
Did You Know?
While a vehicle called the American Mercedes was sold briefly in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century – piano mogul William Steinway built it in Long Island City, New York under license from Gottlieb Daimler – Mercedes-Benz wouldn’t begin selling cars in earnest here until 1952. For most automotive aficionados of that era, the brand was known for its legendary 300SL coupe. A true “dream car,” the 300SL was characterized by its futuristic styling, with dramatic vertical-opening gullwing doors. Its 3.0-liter 215-horsepower. Six-cylinder engine propelled the coupe to a top speed of 155 mph, which even today would classify it as a fairly quick car.