2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550

LOS ANGELES — If you ever wanted to be the center of attention may we suggest the following — pick a nice, crisp spring day in the City of Angels, climb into a 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550, put the top down and proceed to drive for hours on the Pacific Coast Highway and other environs where you’re in your element.

I had that experience recently in a lunar blue model and I still haven’t gotten over the feeling of luxurious freedom I experienced that day. I’ve started imaging myself Brad Pitt’s cooler and handsomer brother.

Arguably the most recognized of the stable of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, the 2013 SL is the sixth generation of this iconic model that first debuted 60 years ago. “SL,” by the way, was merely an abbreviation for “super” and “light.” Initially designed as a race car totally unique among its contemporary sports/racing car “colleagues.”

In 1952, the 300SL caused quite a sensation, winning both Le Mans and the famed Carrera Panamericana. Since its introduction the SL has been a regular feature in movies, television shows and other venues that depict upscale living.

For 2013 the SL550 is actually two vehicles in one: a coupe and a roadster. If you walk out to your vehicle in the morning and it’s a pleasant day and you have 15-seconds to kill you can lower the top and voila, you have a roadster. Think of it as buying a pair of $52,750 vehicles instead of one $105,500 model.

Don’t worry about flaunting this vehicle, it does a great job on its own. It’s a low, sleek windbreaker that’s 2-inches longer and wider than its predecessor and 242 pounds lighter. This was achieved by making most of the body panels out of aluminum and using high-strength steel in the roof pillars. The new body is 20 percent stiffer than the car it replaces. It doesn’t matter that the vehicle may be parked; with its sculptured side indentation and creasing, along with a forward-swept vent-like panel and three sweeping chrome lines it looks like it’s moving at full speed. In SL550’s case, 130 mph (speed regulated.

It sits on 18-inch Twin 5-spoke wheels with run flat tires. With a Sport Wheel Package ($2,000) you can get 19-inch AMG 5-spoke wheels along with a Sport Brake System (or $500 for the wheels themselves).

Something has to stop this speed machine and even the standard four-wheel disc, power assisted, electro-hydraulic, four-channel ABS anti-lock w/Brake Assist and electronic brake proportioning is just the setup for the job.

The vehicle has been called the world’s safest convertible and a quick description of some of its features easily explains why. It comes with pop-up roll bars and a myriad of other electronic safety systems. It has a fully-equipped crash avoidance system, a plethora of air bags and the debut of mbrace2, the next-generation of telematics innovation that gives drivers top-of-the-line features related to safety, infotainment, personal assistance and vehicle care. New services added are compatible with both iPhone and Android smartphones. Other available safety features include Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping and power trunk closer with hands-free access (just swipe your feet below the decklid and watch it open (or close).
If its power you want then it’s power you’ll get. The 2013 SL550 is equipped with a new 4.6L V8 that’s based on its 5.5L predecessor but gets up to 14  percent better fuel economy (estimated at 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway/19 mpg combined) while at the same time producing more power. The V8 features direct fuel injection, twin turbochargers and multi-spark ignition. It produces 429 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to an extremely smooth 7-speed Touch Shift manual shift control automatic transmission.

A feature that helps in improving gas mileage is the innovative ECO stop-start system. Whenever the car stops with the brake pedal depressed the engine is automatically turned off to save fuel. As soon as the driver touches the accelerator pedal the engine computer selects the piston that is in the best position for first ignition and the direct fuel injection and multi-spark systems will work with a starter motor to seamlessly re-start the engine. “Seamlessly” may be a stretch. I finally pushed the ECO button to the off-position because I found the noticeable “jolt” a bit annoying. However, it’s this feature that’s responsible for the gas guzzler tax removal on the SL.

You can set the handling system to encompass a “Sport” mode that when combined with the new electromechanical Direct-Steer system features speed-sensitive power steering and a ratio that can be varied in accordance with steering wheel angle. The steering wheel itself is flat-bottomed and leather-trimmed with multiple functions. A really nice wood/leather steering wheel is a stand-alone option at $590.

The interior, with its treasure-trove of features, is pure Mercedes, starting with the 12-way adjustable heated seats w/pneumatic lumbar support and memory. I’m not a lumbar man but my co-driver was; we were both happy with the adjustments via the COMAND System — a “mission control” at your fingertips.

The COMAND controller is a lot of fun to play with but requires a bit of a learning curve to master it. It sits alongside a really cool gearshift handle with a sculpted “SL” atop it. The instrument panel and centerstack are basically “clean” and easily maneuvered. Leg room is aplenty and comfort features and lighting are perfect.

The standard sound system is awesome. It’s a harman/kardon Logic 7 digital surround-sound that features the new FrontBass, in which the bass speakers are mounted in the front firewall so the two front frame members also serve as large bass boxes. This innovation also saves weight since separate bass boxes are no long necessary. It comes with Dolby Surround 5.1 and uses two amplifiers with a total of 14 speakers.

All amplifier channels have individually-tuned frequency response and the system includes speed-dependent volume control. If this audio extravaganza isn’t enough for you then pony up another $6,400 and you can buy the Bank & Olufsen BeoSound Surround Sound System.

There are unique innovative wiper arms and blades in the new SL. They feature laser-cut passages along the entire length of each blade, distributing washer fluid directly in front of the moving wiper blades. A separate electronic control unit ensures that washer fluid changes its flow each time the wipers change direction. This improves cleaning without impairing driver visibility during the spray process. The control unit changes the amount of washer fluid as vehicle speed and outside temperature change.

Also, when the top is down, occupants can clean the windshield without receiving an early-Saturday bath. Also with the top down is the standard power wind screen that helps keep wind rising over the top of the windshield and curving back and hitting the occupants in the nape of the neck.

Another clever device is the optional MAGIC SKY CONTROL that features a glass roof panel in which the tinting of the panel can be controlled by the driver or passenger. Immediately a button above the rear-view mirror can change the panel from transparent to heavily-tinted. It uses
similar technology of automatic dimming mirrors. Those folically-impaired won’t have to worry about having the sun beat down on their own cranial solar panels.

As mentioned, the MSRP is $105,500 (along with destination and delivery charge of $875) but with packages and stand-alone options it’s possible to say hello to $130,000. I was asked by a dear friend of mine if I thought the vehicle was worth it.

I honestly told him, “Bill, it’s good to be the King no matter how much it cost you.”

— Al Vinikour