Mercedes SL600 a $137,000 showcase

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

You’ve just signed a $10 million sports contract and now your thoughts turn to purchasing some prestigious transportation. You would be hard pressed to find a better blend of performance, handling, automotive technology and knock-em-dead styling than the Mercedes-Benz SL600 roadster.

This Mercedes is a supercar capable of sending its permanent medal top into the trunk in a 16-second mechanical ballet that rivals anything in the
automotive world. With its astounding twin-turbo 493-horsepower V-12 engine it can rocket its inhabitants to ungodly speeds in lightning-quick time.
It’s a car that needs a disciplined hand. It needs someone who can pick and choose when to unleash its magnificent power.

It’s a car that needs patience. People will stare. Others  will approach with questions. Like a movie star who attracts autograph seekers, the SL600 will attract attention, sometimes of the unwanted variety.

It’s a car that offers rich rewards for the ears. Music from the eight-speaker Bose sound system is exquisite.

The SL600 is the newest version of the all-new SL Class, which made its debut for the 2003 model year. It replaces  the long-running SL-Class of the 1990s. It is loaded with the latest in automobile wizardry such as active suspension and electronic brakes. Its styling is so seductive it’s hard to take your eyes off the car.

The SL comes in three versions, the SL500 powered by a 302-horsepower 5.0-liter V-8, the sport-tuned AMG SL55 with a 5.5-liter supercharged V-8 generated 493 horsepower, and the new SL600, powered by twin-turbocharged V-12 generating 493 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque.

The SL600 is a beast off the line, perhaps slightly faster than the SL55, despite the equal horsepower. The V-12 possesses 74 more pound-feet of torque.
The SL55 may outshine the SL600 is blasting through corners, but for cruising there simple is no equal to the SL600. Both are rated around 4.3 seconds from 0 to 60. There are only a few cars in the world that can equal that kind of slam-you-back-in-your seat performance.

In addition to one of the coolest retractable tops in the world and the performance hardware, the SL600 is loaded with cutting-edge technology making its purchase price of $126,670 look, well, kind of attractive.

Some of the gee-whiz technology includes:

•Electronic brakes. The SL-Class is the first car in the world to use the so-called “brake-by-wire” system. Computer sensors regulate brake pressure at all four wheels eliminating many of the mechanical and hydraulic components of a conventional rod-and-cylinder system. The system creates shorting stopping distances and eliminates the antilock brake pulsing. There is backup hydraulic master cylinder in case of a serious problem or electrical failure.

•Active suspension. Called Active Body Control or ABC, virtually eliminates body roll in cornering as well as squat under acceleration and dive during braking. Thirteen sensors and two computers are used to adjust the suspension eliminating up to 95 percent of body roll. It works so well, Mercedes says, that it has eliminated the need for anti-roll bars. 

•Rollover protection. Roll hoops will deploy in three-tenths of a second — top up or down — should an impending accident be detected. If the bars are triggered but an accident avoided, they can be easily folded away.

•Keyless Go. This was my favorite novelty of the week and it has spoiled me. Mercedes has developed a truly keyless entry system. If the driver carries a pre-programed card, looking much like a extra-thick credit card in his pocket, he can accomplish all functions hands free without a key. Touch the door handle and the car unlocks. The car can be started and turned off by a button on the shifter without the need of a key. Locking the car is simply a matter of depressing a black button on the door handle.

A comfortable interior starts with the seats which feature seat height adjustment, seat cushion angle and length, headrest and backrest adjustments and lumbar supports. A pulse button at the seat base begins as oscillation by first pumping air into chambers and then releasing it in a defined sequence. This back massage lasts for five minutes and can be repeated at any time.

The navigation Command system can be a puzzle for the first-timer in a Mercedes. It includes audio operation as well as the navigation system. To Mercedes’ credit, it has simplified the climate control system in the SL-Class and it is very intuitive. Round temperature and fan speed knobs and a series of push buttons work very well together.

Despite all its wonderful features, the SL600 is not perfect. For instance, an old-fashioned CD cartridge resides in one of two storage bins behind the seat. It’s aggravating and certainly not as easy as an in-dash CD changer as found in many cars today.

Also, the displays at the bottom portion of the tachometer and speedometer, which offer such information as outside temperature, overall mileage and trip mileage, are covered in a bluish-purple in daylight and hard to read in bright sun. They turn a pleasing and easy-to-read gray and white at night.

Storage places include a center bin, glove box and two bins behind the seats. One bin, it must be noted, is taken up by the antiquated CD changer. Trunk space is good considering the roof has to reside there too when it is down. There is 8.3 cubic feet of storage space with the roof open and 11.2 with the top up.

As you might expect from a car in this price range, safety features abound. Mercedes has provided dual two-stage front airbags, head-thorax side-impact airbags and driver’s knee airbag. Active safety features include Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and Automatic Slip Control (ASR).

Our test vehicle included $8,010 in options that brought the price to $137,280.

For someone who has just signed a $10 million sports contract, that’s pocket change. It’s amazing what pocket change will purchase these days.

The new SL-Class and is indeed a showcase of the latest in automobile technology, some of it surely to trickle down to the masses in years to come. The fact that this technology, combined with superb performance, is packaged in one of the most beautiful hunks of sheet metal ever to grace a highway is a wondrous thing.