By Frank S. Washington
DETROIT – The 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 is longer, wider, yet lighter than the model it replaced.
The new dimensions are not earth shattering but a couple of inches more in width and in length made a big difference in the two-seat hardtop roadster.
The cabin of the previous model, though luxurious, was a little tight. The power seats could not articulate anywhere near their capacity because of a lack of space and the cabin did seem a little close.
Both those shortcomings have been alleviated in the new model. The test car had top of the line power seats complete with messaging technology and air bladders that kept driver and passenger in place during aggressive maneuvers.
A combination of aluminum and high strength steel resulted in a car that was 200 lbs. lighter and a body that was 20 percent stiffer. The numbers meant that the car was lighter and it hugged the road through some sharp curves that were took at speeds a lot faster than those that were posted.
Last year marked the 60 anniversary of the SL. And though the Mercedes-Benz S Class is the company’s flagship model, the SL is its halo car.
The standard engine for America is smaller yet more powerful than the 5.5 liter V8 that it replaced. Plus, it gets better fuel mileage.
A dual turbocharged direct injected 4.6-liter V8 made 429 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. Mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, the new SL was awfully athletic when the throttle was pushed with authority but sedate and refined at low speeds.
The car was quiet, the interior was soothing and the exterior was stunning. Mercedes’ SL had not lost the street credibility of previous models. Heads turned, it got thumbs up and a couple of drivers had to say “nice car,” as they pulled up beside it.
Less fuel consumption, partly, can be attributed to a start stop ECO system. When turned on by the driver, it shut off the engine when the car stopped and a foot remained on the brake pedal. Before the accelerator pedal was touched the engine restarted. This ECO system helped the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 achieve an EPA rating of 17 mpg in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway.
The new car retains its retractable hard top. This time it can be equipped with Magic Sky Control. An electric current can be sent through the panoramic roof panel changing it from a clear tint to what looked like dark blue. The roof also retracts into the trunk in a fairly swift 22 seconds.
A host of creature comforts, operational techniques and safety attributes were standard on the car. From its 600 watt sound system with bass speakers in the front of the car, emergency call system, blind spot warning as well as attention assist (the SL will wake you up if it thinks you’re falling asleep), to smart front airbags, knee bags, side air bags and head-thorax bags, seat belt tensioners and belt force limiters, the new Mercedes-Benz SL was a rolling platform of engineering prowess.
Surprisingly, automotive journalists have taken a lot of snipes at the new SL, criticizing everything from door handle openings, to the front window frame to even its windshield washer system and Facebook connection.
Some of the observations are valid. The silver spears on the front quarter panels and on the hood clutter the design of the new SL. But critics don’t count all that much with certain cars.
The Mercedes-Benz SL is an automotive icon. Unless the car looks hideous, it doesn’t matter to the public. The SL has gone where few cars arrive. It has attained a status based on what it is, not how it looks.
Stunning looks is a given, however, when it comes to this roadster and love it or hate it, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550’s sheet metal is distinctive. It looks like nothing else on the road, except a larger version of the Mercedes-Benz SLK.
What’s more, it has the sticker to prove its pedigree. Prices start at $105,500. With options, the test car sold for $124,345.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com