2013 Mercedes-Benz SL 550: First drive review
The sport and luxury icon turns 60 with grace and even more grunt.
The SL roadster has been a serious star for Mercedes-Benz going on nearly six decades, and for good reason — regardless of the model year, it has always been thought to offer the ideal combination of style, performance and luxury.
This spring the automaker unveiled the roadster's sixth generation, the vehicle's most comprehensive and significant transformation to date. The SL now features a new body structure made almost entirely of aluminum and a new twin-turbocharged, direct-injection 429-horsepower V8 engine. The aluminum makes the car hundreds of pounds lighter, yet larger and stronger than its steel predecessor, and the V8 makes it substantially thriftier without any sacrifice in performance. In fact, the car is more agile and athletic than it has been in decades.
But are the changes revolutionary? Well, they certainly bring the car closer to the original virtues that begat its initials: sport and light.
Reviews: Find expert and user reviews
The new roadster's styling was greatly influenced by the flagship SLS AMG. Most obvious is the more assertive, vertical front grille dominated by that giant iconic star with silver-colored crossbars on each side. The plowlike chin spoiler undoubtedly makes a strong contribution to the SL's aerodynamics, but is quite aggressive for a car that will likely see more country clubs and posh boutiques than a pit alley at a racetrack.
Nine exterior colors are offered, including the Shadow Grey matte finish on the SL 550 driven by MSN Autos. You also get to pick between nine combinations of leather trim and choose between genuine burl walnut or black ash moldings. With the SL 550's plentiful standard equipment, its character is defined by optional elements and packages. You build it a la carte, as it should be for a luxury roadster of such standing.
The most effective option is the $4,090 Active Body Control (ABC), which reduces body roll as much as you wish by jostling with hydraulic, electronic and mechanical components monitored by computer every 10 milliseconds.
A premium package ($4,900) combines keyless entry and start, a rear-view camera with parking sensors, heated and cooled seats with active bolsters, the Airscarf neck-warming system for top-down running on cool days, and a new system that lets you open and close the trunk lid hands-free with a swing of a foot under the bumper. Savvy Mercedes-Benz marketers have combined Distronic Plus automatic cruise control with blind-spot and lane-keeping monitoring systems in a $2,950 package.
Under the hood
The SL 550's engine is a star and often steals the show. Even a moderate prod of the throttle surprises at first, raising a deep growl and pressing your torso resolutely into the seat back. We were acquainted and impressed with this twin-turbocharged, direct-injection 4.6-liter V8 from its first engagements under the hoods of the CL 550 and CLS 550. Its overall performance is even more convincing and enthralling in the lighter SL.
With a higher maximum output of 429 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, acceleration seems relentless, laced with simply glorious sound. SL 550 feels quicker even than the claimed 4.5 seconds for the zero-to-60-mph sprint. The more efficient engine, a 7-speed automatic gearbox, and standard stop-start yield mileage ratings of 16 mph city/24mpg highway, a 14 percent improvement that eliminates the $1,300 gas-guzzler tax of the previous model.