2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Tested: Sun-Seeking Teutonic Decadence? Check
Of all the Mercedes-Benz models that could be accused of being born with a silver spoon in its mouth, the SL arguably tops the list. Unlike many grand-touring cars, the Mercedes SL has never been forced to compromise its blue-blood personal-luxury/sport ideals with feigned attempts at practicality to please executives or attract buyers. It has, more or less, remained an unapologetic take-it-or-leave-it proposition since it debuted nearly six decades ago, and the 2013 SL550 does nothing to alter its course.
Cool, Quiet Confidence
Every move the 2013 SL550 makes is steeped in a competent, laid-back confidence; pin the throttle and the car takes a moment to gather itself, as if saying to the driver, “Okay, dude, you ready? This is gonna be pretty awesome.” And with that, the seven-speed automatic downshifts, the twin turbos gorge themselves on air, and the whole shebang takes off, pulling hard to an observed 159-mph top speed (Mercedes claims an electronically limited 155).
Life in the fast lane is calm and cool, extra confidence baked into the chassis by the SL’s suite of electronic gizmos, including the standard stability control with brake-based torque-vectoring and optional Automatic Body Control/electronic dampers. Guided by inputs from 13 sensors, the latter is said to reduce body roll versus a car without ABC by 68 percent in Normal mode and 95 percent in Sport mode. Casual observers will never know it’s working; a perceptive, semiprofessional racing driver riding shotgun with us during the car’s media launch found it amusing, however, stating, “Wow, it feels like there’s a lot going on.” Moving toward the maximum 0.94 g of grip, the system keeps the body flat before delivering some roll at the limit. The electrically assisted, variable-ratio rack-and-pinion steering is quick on-center and the car goes exactly where you point it, but it’s not among the leaders in road feel.
Trade the accelerator for the brake pedal, and the SL550 hauls down from 70 mph to 0 in 162 feet, five feet longer than the 2011 SL550 we tested a couple of years ago. The brake discs (13.5-inch front, 12.6-inch rear) at the corners are pinched by four-piston calipers in front and single piston units in the rear. Modulation is easy, but if you’re looking for an intimate conversation between the rolling stock and your toes, you’ll be disappointed.
Not to take away from the new-for-’13 bodywork and handsome Steel Grey exterior finish of our test example, but the SL550 is all about the occupants. Those living large, XL, or even XXL will find plenty of room to stretch out, driving time made even more comfortable by the highly adjustable heated and optionally ventilated leather seats. A chubby, three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel frames traditional speed, tach, fuel, and coolant-temp gauges, possibly the only analog components on the entire car. (Wait—our test car had the optional $ 250 analog clock.) Special mention goes to the crowd-wowing optional Magic Sky Control, an electrochromic-glass roof panel that changes from transparent to tinted at the press of a button, eliminating the need for a low-tech manual sunshade.
Economy of Scale
With a 429-hp, 4.7-liter twin-turbo V-8 lurking beneath its hood, our 4138-pound SL550 posts some impressive acceleration numbers, taking only 4.1 seconds from 0 to 60, and knocking down the quarter in 12.5 seconds. Not bad, but a brutish, naturally aspirated 2013 Chevrolet Corvette 427 convertible (pushrods, the shame!) we tested trumps the SL on both counts at 3.9 and 12.2 seconds, while ringing in for about $ 30,000 less than the SL’s $ 106,405 base price. Of course you’ll sacrifice the SL’s slick, folding hardtop, weight-shaving aluminum unibody, and luxurious interior trappings for the Vette’s canvas softtop and fiberglass carcass in the bargain, but in the narrow segment of front-engined, V-8–powered, two-seat convertibles, you take the comparisons where you can find them.
Truth be told, our SL550 test car was quite a bit more dear than a buck-oh-five: By the time boxes were ticked for the $ 2000 Sport Wheel package (19-inch AMG wheels, silver-painted front calipers with Mercedes lettering, cross-drilled rear discs, and a sport steering wheel), the $ 2950 Driver Assistance package (adaptive cruise, active lane keeping, and blind-spot assist), the $ 4090 Active Body Control, the $ 4900 Premium package (rearview camera, power trunk closer, active parking assist, ventilated seats, and keyless entry and start), and the $ 2500 Magic Sky Control panel, the car wore a sticker reading a princely $ 123,445.
Exclusivity is Standard
Where the SL really shines is in delivering lavish refinement and undiluted, hedonistic bliss, numbers be damned. It doesn’t matter if you’re in New York, Monaco, or Topeka; after a day of top-down cruising with the A/C and ventilated seats running at full chill, you’ll feel like a Hollywood player. As such, feel free to drop by Hef’s place and grab some face time with Kanye in the grotto while Jonah Hill reels off another round of wacky bar mitzvah stories. While the car may be German, it speaks the international language of wealth fluently.
View Photo Gallery