The proud sensation
Few cars can trace their direct ancestry over six generations and sixty years, encompassing some of the most beautiful and desirable motor cars along the way. One of these vehicles is the big topless Mercedes SL and we were fortunate enough to spend a week with the latest SL500.
The SL nomenclature stands for “Sport Leicht” (sporty, light) and first graced the now-priceless metal of the 1950’s 300SL Gullwing. A convertible version and the daintier 190SL were followed by the 1960’s “Pagoda”, then Bobby Ewing’s R107, Lady Di’s R129 and the more recent R230 models.
This R231 shape follows Merc’s current design with a square face and simple rear end, connected by flowing profiles and huge wheels. Our “Edition 1” specimen (N$135,000 option) had a stunning red ‘n silver designo interior, most optional extras and the folding-metal Vario Roof “Magic Sky” light-adjustable glass ceiling.
Other items which make this a full four-season car are the fantastic climate seats with Air Scarf, two-way dynamic support, three-way memory and four-way massage settings. Unfortunately, the roof only operates at standstill or walking speed and ours went on strike two days before we returned the car.
Another disobedient novelty was the new boot opener which just requires a wave of your foot under the rear bumper (should your hands be carrying groceries) to open the boot lid. It worked perfectly in my driveway but never in public. You should’ve seen the faces of fellow shoppers…
It’s only natural that the new SL will get you lots of looks, especially when it comes in Magnetite Black with designo red leather. Other items you could point out to onlookers are the IWC centre clock, Logic 7 surround sound system, keyless entry and ignition, Distronic adaptive cruise control, ambient lighting and active park assist.
They might also be interested in the intelligent bi-Xenon lights, COMAND Online, media interface, dual climate control and sporty steering wheel, never mind the regular stuff like ABS/EBD brakes, dynamic stability control, airbags plus a shedload of automatic and electric goodies.
All SL’s also feature Active Body Control (ABC) with Comfort or Sport mode to suit your mood, as well as an ECO start/stop system to maximise range from the 75L fuel tank. Options include AMG and cosmetic items, Bang&Olufsen sound system, reversing camera and designo paints.
Powering the SL500 is a new 4,663cc bi-turbo petrol V8 with 320kW (435hp) or 700Nm through a 7-speed automatic gearbox with shift paddles. Average CO2 emissions are just 213g/km while average consumption is pinned at 9.2L/100km. We averaged 12.5L but long distances yielded mid nines.
Unsurprisingly, the motor is incredibly powerful and dishes up mountains of torque from low down. The gearbox offers three modes, Economy, Sport and Manual while the V8 has quite a subdued and hoarse rumble to it which changes to a decent roar and much hissing when you floor it.
Top speed is limited to the obligatory 250km/h and 100km/h should come up in a blistering 4.6 seconds – something we can absolutely vouch for. With strong gusts of wind, our SL500 logged GPS runs between 4.7 and 4.2 seconds in either wind direction, averaging 4.53 seconds. Amazing!
The turbo-fed engine has a slight post-throttle power surge and the gearbox messed up one or two kick-down requests in Economy mode while the suspension’s Comfort mode proved a bit spongy. Put everything in Sport and the SL livens up, but only to a point. This is not an M3 killer, except perhaps in a straight line.
No, the SL500 is a powerful grand tourer, something its over-assisted and variable electro-mechanical steering underlines. It wants you to drop the roof, raise the beautiful wind deflector, turn up the excellent sound system (with huge bass reflex cavities) and rumble along your favourite road.
With substantial weight savings and new technology over its predecessor, the new SL’s road holding is extremely impressive. The car feels light and responsive, easily reaching the handling category for expert or suicidal drivers where grip levels and cornering speeds call for lightning reflexes.
It also has a very comprehensive on-board computer and COMAND infotainment unit with TV tuner and 6-disc CD/DVD changer; I think a twin-view screen would’ve been appropriate though. An SL500 costs N$1,635,000 including a one-year warranty and a 6-year/120,000km maintenance plan.
Factoring in exclusivity, technology, quality and power, my overriding sensation of the SL500 was one of supreme comfort and sophistication. It may not be the sportiest or lightest anymore but it will certainly make all its ancestors and any new owner proud.
0-100m: 4.7s / 107.8km/h
0-200m: 7.4s / 144.7km/h
0-300m: 9.7s / 165.6km/h
0-400m: 11.7 / 183.6km/h
1/4mile: 11.8s @ 114.4mph (184.2km/h)
Climate Sunny, gusting wind
Road Dry tarmac, level
Occupants Driver, no passengers
Fuel level 1/4