Mercedes SL 550

Written By nyit on Monday, April 11, 2011 | 3:58 AM

The Mercedes SL-Class could be considered the modern equivalent of classic cars like the Duesenberg SSJ and Facel-Vega. Long Mercedes’ symbol for opulent, top-down luxury, the SL has in recent years become one of the darlings of the Hollywood set. If the paparazzi are snapping pictures of someone famous, there’s a good chance that the car in the background is either a Cadillac Escalade or a Mercedes SL-Class model. This is not always a selling point, considering the antics of the folks who are driving (and occasionally crashing) them.

Don’t let the SL’s popularity among America’s rich and beautiful misbehavers overshadow its good points, however. Mercedes’ big convertible coupe offers high-fashion style and some of the most sophisticated powertrains available anywhere. Grand touring was never this good.

The SL’s new face includes new, larger headlamps with eyecatching detailing and a restyled hood with twin “power dome” bulges reminiscent of the original 300SL. The new grille has a single bar, and mirror-mounted turn signals have also been added. The SL-Class’ rear design incorporates racing-inspired elements such as an air diffuser and trapezoidal exhaust outlets. A fully retractable clamshell-style hardtop enables the SL to provide the best of top-up and top-down travel, and the roof raises and lowers in sixteen seconds. Just to go over the top (no pun intended) the retractable hardtop is available with a glass sunroof.

The cabin is built for two, and features Mercedes’ COMAND system with standard GPS navigation and a six-disc CD changer. Hands-free Bluetooth connectivity is also standard. The AIRSCARF neck-warming system is available for the first time, allowing occupants to stay warm with the top down even in chilly weather.

The SL550 is as close as one can get to a “basic” SL, and is powered by a 5.5 liter, 382 horsepower V8. Dual overhead cams and variable valve timing make the 5.5 V8 a powerful and thoroughly modern engine, and it’s just the beginning for this lineup. AMG’s V8-powered SL was new in 2009, and the SL63 AMG’s race-bred, 6.3 liter all-aluminum dual overhead cam V8 produces 518 horsepower. Aficionados of silky V12 power can opt for the SL600, with its 5.5 liter, 510-horsepower twelve-cylinder. Ultimate performance is provided by the SL65 AMG’s twin-turbocharged 6.0 liter V12, which produces 604 horsepower and a positively obscene 738 foot-pounds of torque. Seven-speed automatic transmissions are standard with the V8 SL-Class cars, while the V12s get five-speeds. The extra gearing is responsible for the SL550’s relaxed freeway manner and respectable 14/21 fuel economy.

The double control arm front suspension and Mercedes’ signature five-link rear are just the beginning. The SL-Class is equipped with Mercedes Active Body Control active suspension, which is designed to virtually eliminate body roll, squat and dive for a magic-carpet ride. Anti-lock brakes, stability control and traction control are also standard. This car might be frequently seen cruising slowly past the red carpet, but it’s really designed for long, fast road trips. The SL63 AMG and SL65 AMG are equipped for higher performance, with stiffer suspension settings and bigger brakes.

The SL550 is curiously underwhelming. Is that because it’s the car of too many celebrities? Apart from the handsome styling, there’s not much the SL550 offers that can’t be found elsewhere, and possibly for less than the SL550’s $99,375 sticker price. The same can’t be said for the AMG-enhanced SL65 AMG, which tacks almost a hundred grand onto the base price, but six hundred horses makes up for a multitude of sins. The SL550 is a good way to travel, if you don’t mind being mistaken for someone famous, and if price is no object.

By Chris Jackson

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