Mercedes-Benz has given its luxurious hardtop convertible, the SL-Class, a complete redesign for the latest model year. Reduced weight, new technology and significantly increased power make this grand tourer a significantly more capable and coddling machine than before.
Power junkies will want to check out the two high-performance models in the SL lineup - the 530-horsepower SL63 AMG and the 621-horsepower SL65 AMG.
SL stands for "sport leicht" in German, which translates to "sporty lightweight" in English. While the earliest SLs certainly lived up to this badging, the car became increasingly luxurious - and heavy - in later generations. But a new all-aluminum bodyshell, which Mercedes-Benz says is its first, significantly trims the droptop's rolling mass and increases agility (although the SL still isn't a hard-core sports car). To trim weight even further, magnesium is used for some components, although the automaker did add some high-strength steel tubing into the A-pillars to enhance safety. Overall, the SL's shell itself tips the scales at about 242 lbs. lighter than the outgoing model.
Despite the decreased weight, the new SL is actually larger than its predecessor by about 2 inches in overall length and 2.2 inches in width. Stretched out over the increased dimensions is controversial new sheetmetal that seeks to blend Mercedes' current and historical design language; the long hood/short rear deck proportions are in keeping with SL heritage, although the extra-large front grille and headlights seem slightly out of proportion to the overall design. The tall, upright nose is a concession to European pedestrian safety standards.
The cabin features an elegant, flowing dashboard design punctuated by circular air vents that originated on the SLS AMG Gullwing. Material quality is consistently top notch, from the French-stitched leather to the generous sweep of fine wood trim extends from the center console across the dashboard into the doors. The increased exterior size results in ample space inside, with 1.5 inches more shoulder room and 1.1 inches more elbow room than before.
Naturally, the SL comes fully loaded with high technology features designed to assist drivers at every turn of the wheel of press of a button.
Mercedes' Magic Sky Control arrives on the options list, bringing with it a panoramic transparent folding roof that can be dimmed at the switch of a button (a normal glass roof is standard). The roof itself is lighter and faster than before, deploying or stowing in less than 20 seconds.
To make the most of the open-top experience, a new FrontBass audio system utilizes otherwise wasted space in the aluminum structure ahead of the passenger footwells to serve as resonating chambers for the subwoofers. This marks the first time that an audio system has been developed with the creation of the body itself, and it opens up space in the door panels.
Meanwhile, Magic Vision Control integrates windshield washer fluid jets into the wiper arms. While that's not necessarily new technology, Mercedes-Benz says it has carefully engineered the wipers so that no excess fluid gets on the windshield or - heaven forbid - in the cabin. In addition, the wiper blades are heated for winter use.
Finally, the SL also features Hands-Free Access, which lets drivers swipe their foot under the rear bumper to pop the trunk lid when their hands are full.
To some drivers, a car's most important technology is under the hood. The new SL doesn't disappoint in this area thanks to Mercedes' new 4.7-liter, 429-horsepower V8, which employs direct injection to add power and save fuel. But the big figure here is torque, which stands at 516 lb-ft., or a 32 percent jump over the outgoing SL. The SL sprints to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, a 0.8 second improvement.
A seven-speed automatic transmission with an eco start/stop function is standard. Fuel economy is rated at 16 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.
The new SL is available with two different suspension systems - Agility Control Suspension is fitted as standard, while the ABC (Active Body Control) suspension system is available as an option. Both suspension variants are combined with a new electromechanical Direct-Steer system featuring speed-sensitive power steering and a ratio that can be varied in accordance with steering wheel angle. This provides improved directional stability and safety when traveling at highway speeds, makes for a more agile dynamic character at medium velocities and also reduces the amount of steering effort required when parking and maneuvering at single-digit speeds.
Standard and Optional Features
As is to be expected for a car commanding a six-digit pricetag, the SL features a long list of standard equipment including leather upholstery, 12-way adjustable heated seats with pneumatic lumbar support and memory, hand-polished genuine wood trim, a 10-speaker harman/kardon LOGIC7 surround-sound system with Dolby Digital 5.1, a six-disc CD/DVD changer, a navigation system with 40 GB of storage space and SiriusXM realtime traffic, Bluetooth smarphone connectivity, a smart key system capable of remotely operating the roof, dual zone automatic climate control and more.
For those desirous of additional luxury, Mercedes offers a number of optional equipment packages.
The Premium 1 package adds Mercedes' keyless-go system, a rear parking camera, PARKTRONIC with active park assist, heated and active ventilated front seats, AIRSCARF neck-level heating system, active multicontour seats and a power trunk closer.
The Driver Assistance Package brings DISTRONIC radar-based cruise control with Pre-Safe early braking, active blind spot assist and active lanekeeping assist.
Finally, the Sport Wheel Package brings 19-inch AMG five-spoke wheels and sport brakes.
Edition 1 at launch
The first run of SL550s in North America are equipped with a special Edition 1 model equipped with unique 19-inch alloy wheels designo exclusive leather trim with contrasting stitching, Airscarf and a Harman/Kardon audio system.
Mercedes-Benz has long been known for its safety features, and the SL will only add to that reputation. In addition to ABS and ESP stability control, the car boasts eight supplemental restraints including dual two-stage front air bags, knee airbags, head curtain airbags and thorax airbags. An automatic pop-up rollover protection system deploys roll bars to protect occupants in the event of a crash.
The standard PRESAFE brake system warns the driver in the event of an impending collision and can initiate autonomous braking if the driver fails to react, thus either preventing the accident or at least mitigating its severity. PRESAFE is also capable of activating occupant protection measures.
Additional standard safety equipment comes in the form of an "ATTENTION ASSIST" system that can alert the driver to the first signs of drowsiness, a factor that causes more than 100,000 accidents a year in the U.S.A steering sensor is coupled to smart software that uses 70 parameters to establish a unique driver profile during the first 20 minutes of driving. Between 50 and 112 mph, the system identifies the erratic steering corrections drivers make as they begin to get drowsy and triggers an audible warning and a "Time for a Rest?" message with a coffee cup icon in the instrument cluster.
Optional safety equipment includes the Lane Keeping Assist system, which alerts the driver by simulating a rumble strip vibration in the steering wheel if the car drifts from its lane without the turn signals on. Part of the Driver Assistance Package, it operates at speeds above 37 mph via a system that recognizes lane markings, thanks to a small camera in the windshield and a computer that analyzes the video images.
The Driver Assistance Package also includes Blind Spot Assist, which monitors both blind spots behind and to the side of the vehicle. Whenever a turn signal is activated with a vehicle in the blind spot, the driver gets visual and audible warnings.
The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is a serious roadster that can easily be cross-shaped with more exotic brands and models including the Ferrari California the Maserati GranTurismo Convertible and the Aston Martin DB9 Volante.