The 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 roadster is faster, more fuel efficient, bigger and yet significantly lighter than its predecessor and aggressively styled on the outside to evoke SLs of the 1950s.
The high-tech and luxury features of this sixth-generation SL could bring buyers to showrooms, too.
After all, who wouldn’t want to impress a neighbor with a 0-to-60 sprint that takes just 4.5 seconds? How about the active side seat bolsters that automatically hug passengers more tightly as the car takes turns?
The quicker acceleration comes from a 429-horsepower, twin-turbo, direct-injection V-8 that replaced last year’s 382-horsepower, naturally aspirated V-8.
The active seat bolsters don’t depend on speed. They instantly inflate and press forcefully – and unnervingly for a first-time passenger – to keep a person in place anytime the steering wheel is moved appreciably.
The SL550 has improved fuel mileage. The government gives the 2013 model a city rating of 16 mpg, with highway travel rated at 24 mpg. The test car was spot on with the combined city/highway rating of 19 mpg, affording a range of 375 miles.
The starting price, including destination charge, for a base SL550 is $106,405, an increase of $1,890 from the 2012 price.
Standard on every SL are seven-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters for shift-it-yourself mode; a fuel-saving engine stop/start system; seats trimmed with leather that’s specially treated to reflect the sun’s heat and, over time, reduce sun damage; a retractable, hard sunroof that’s a heat-reflecting panel; dual-zone, automatic climate control; bi-xenon head lamps that swivel in turns and curves to illuminate the road ahead, and 12-way, power-adjustable and heated seats.
A long list of safety features go beyond the usual air bags – there are eight in the SL – and anti-lock brakes.
For example, the SL550’s brakes include automatic drying that activates whenever windshield wipers are turned on. This feature keeps brakes ready for maximum work when roads are wet.
There also are high-beam headlights that use a camera to automatically adjust the range of the lights depending on the proximity of other cars.
The new SL550 exterior styling is busy, for sure. There seem to be lines and swirls in the body everywhere, save for the rear end, which seems a bit plain. The stand-up grille in front especially evokes the early SLs.
One thing that’s not obvious: Most of the SL550 body shell is made of aluminum for the first time. Steel is primarily found inside the window pillars. The lighter aluminum accounts for the loss of some 240 pounds. Indeed, the base car weighs in at less than 4,000 pounds.
The car looks good with the hard top on and off. Mercedes boasts that the complicated, power-operated maneuvering of the roof and rear window takes just 16 seconds. A driver has to touch one button.
Roof storage reduces trunk room from 10.2 cubic feet to 7.2 cubic feet.
The newfound power can be addictive. It came on so smoothly and strongly in the test car that the car typically was going 20 mph faster than expected.
The new engine – a 4.6-liter, double overhead cam, direct-injection V-8 – has twin turbos providing 13.1 pounds per square inch of boost.
Torque is plentiful in this car and comes on quickly. Peak torque is a hearty 516 foot-pounds starting at a low 1,800 rpm and continues to 3,500 rpm.
Even though Mercedes installed a start/stop system that turns off the engine automatically to save fuel at stops, the test car got under way as soon as pressure on the brake pedal lightened, and it beat everyone away from stoplights. The start/stop worked seamlessly in the tester and was nothing like start/stop systems in earlier, lesser vehicles where the engine almost seemed to stall as it got going again.
Engine sounds were deep and confident, but steering, while direct, required a bit too light an effort at times.
Extras can be costly. The test car came with nearly $18,000 of options, including seats with the active bolsters plus a massage feature, a roof panel that changes transparency and adjustable body control suspension. Even the rearview camera was optional.