Thursday, May 10, 2012
First Drive: 2013 Mercedes SL550
FOX HARBOUR, NS – Customers looking for a new car in the $100,000 plus range have high expectations.
Nobody knows this better than Mercedes-Benz. It says the average customer (79 per cent male) who buys an SL sports car has an annual income in excess of $300,000, looks for innovative technology, a car that is fun to drive and most of all, one that says something about him.
The expectation of these successful, style-conscious and loyal customers are high.
The completely-new 2013 Mercedes SL550 was developed around these requirements – and a strong push to return to the roots of that SL designation. SL means ‘Super Leicht’ (Light) and that was a critical part of the original two-seater in the fifties.
But over the five generations that have followed the SL has grown in size and weight partly because of safety regulations, but mostly because of the demand for innovation and new technologies.
With emission and fuel economy regulations – and customer expectations for environmental responsibility - becoming increasingly tougher the sixth generation SL would have to lose weight, but give up nothing in the process.
A tough design brief!
But once the engineers and designers met. The 2013 Mercedes SL550 is 5-cm longer, 6-cm wider and has a wider track front and rear – yet it weighs 120 kilos less than the outgoing model.
The new SL has a smaller engine that goes 20 per cent further on a given amount of fuel, yet it produces 32 per cent more power. The 2013 SL introduces a number of industry-first technologies yet at $123,900 carries a price tag $6,000 lower than the 2012 model.
How’s that for progress?
It all starts with a new (R231) aluminum chassis. The only steel in the convertible’s structure is used around the windshield for added rollover protection.
A number of innovative welding, bonding and riveting techniques are used to combine the sheet and extruded aluminum pieces.
Mercedes says the firewall is the largest single cast aluminum component yet used in the auto industry. The result is a lighter chassis that is 20 per cent stronger than the old one. The new design has strong ties to the outgoing model and others going back to the original, including the long hood, short deck overall appearance.
The new SL bears a strong resemblance to its smaller SLK sibling, especially at the rear.
Every SL that comes to Canada arrives at Autoport with the AMG styling package which includes unique 19-inch alloy wheels. Other exclusive standard equipment on Canadian SLs includes Parktronic with Active Parking Assist, Active Body Control, wood/leather steering wheel, analog clock, and a Sport Brake system that includes larger rotors and silver-painted calipers up front and ventilated rotors at the rear.
Under the hood of this new, lighter and larger car is a new, lighter and smaller engine. This V8 displaces 4.7 litres compared to 5.5 for the old model.
It boasts a significant 18 per cent hike in fuel efficiency. But fear not, thanks to direct injection and a pair of turbochargers it puts out 12 per cent more horsepower (429) and an even more impressive and important 32 per cent increase in torque (516 lb. ft.).
Paired with a seven-speed automatic transmission, it can get the big convertible to 100 km/h in less than five seconds! Suffice it to say you won’t need to spend much time crossing that intersection or exposed in the passing lane!
If that is not enough hang in there. The AMG 63 and 65 versions of the new SL will be along in a few months with 557 and 621-horsepower and 664 and 738-lb. ft. of torque respectively!
The Active Body Control system features computer-controlled hydraulic spring struts and four-corner self-leveling; eliminating the need for anti-roll bars, the system automatically lowers the car at speed for improved stability.
There are two modes controlled by a console-mounted switch – Sport and Comfort. I didn’t notice a considerable difference other than the tendency to crash over nasty road blemishes in Sport mode.
In either case the ride was pleasantly smooth but body motion very well contained. This is more of a sports touring vehicle than an agile sports car.
The new $123,900 price tag includes a raft of standard equipment too extensive to get into here – but expected at this price point.
One outstanding exception is that you have to buy the Premium Package to get a rear view camera!
Innovation is part of the Mercedes gene. The new SL is available with a “Magic Sky Control.” Tiny metal particles sandwiched between two layers of glass in the sunroof built into the folding hardtop, change alignment at the touch of a button causing the glass to change from light to light-blocking dark.
Magic Vision Control is s splash-less wiper system. Heated nozzles on either side of the blades apply cleaning fluid only in the direction and in advance of the wiper movement.
FrontBass – a pair of 18-cm sub-woofers are built into the front foot wells instead of the door panels. They are standard with the “base” harmon/kardon audio system which I found had superior clarity and crispness than the optional Bang & Olufsen system – a finding shared with my driving companion, a professional musician with more than 25 years’ experience.
Hands Free Access allows you to open or close the trunk lie with the swipe of your foot under the rear bumper. In fairness, a similar system is being introduced by a couple of other manufacturers for 2013.
Bigger, stronger and better-equipped. Yet lighter, faster and more efficient – the new SL.