1997 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class

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1997 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class

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Available in 3 styles:  SL Class 2dr Roadster shown
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Asking Price Range
$3,179–$17,263

Estimated MPG

13–18 city / 20–23.9 hwy


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Expert Reviews

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AZCentral.com
Wealth has its privileges, and this is one of them.

Beautiful, sophisticated and sporting, driving a Mercedes-Benz sports car is like dating a supermodel. Driving it for a one-week road test comes with the knowledge that you'll most certainly be jilted in the end.

Despite its frightening price tag, the SL320 is actually Mercedes' entry-level version of its two-seater sports car, which is powered by a high-performance six-cylinder engine. There are two other, higher-priced models, the SL500 with V-8 power, and the SL600, with its awesome V-12 power plant. As for those prices, if you have to ask . . .

Pristine versions of the 300SL from the '50s can be found at collector-car auctions around the globe, with bidding in the quarter-million-dollar range. But this is today, and Mercedes' solid, satisfying grand tourer remains a top-drawer ride.

Its appearance was freshened for '96, and carries over to '97, a lovely shape that should look as good in the distant future as it does now.

The biggest change for '97 is a five-speed automatic transmission, which was introduced on its higher-priced brethren for '96. For those of you who doubt the need for the extra gearing, consider this: it's a smaller, lighter transmission that improves gas mileage 7 percent and requires 40 percent fewer parts to build.

It's smart, too, electronically controlled to automatically match up shifting patterns with the driver's style and adjust shifting for hill climbing or descent.

During a great drive to Prescott, on the back roads through Wickenburg and Yarnell, the SL soared happily up the steep grades and hunkered down into the turns. On sharp hairpins, the 2-ton car felt heavy with some body sway, but that's part of the trade-off for its silky ride.

What would have been nice is a stick shift, which Mercedes doesn't provide for the U.S. market.

In many ways, I prefer the feeling of the six-cylinder, an engine that harks to the vintage heyday of the racing 300SLs. The bigger engines make this car into something of a luxury barge.

Still, in this incredible price range, you have to wonder about the performance limitations of the inline six, especially when the competition among two-seaters includes the V-10 Dodge Viper at thousands less and Chevrolet's Corvette at about half the price.

Obviously, Mercedes' reputation for solid engineering, plus the ego factor, come into play here. Some significant features of the SL320:

- Side-impact air bags.

- An automatic roll bar that pops up if the electronic sensors detect an impending rollover.

- A fully automatic convertible top that is as entertaining to watch fold up or down as it is convenient.

- An Electronic Stability System that works in conjunction with the anti-lock brakes and traction control to help prevent skidding.

- A remote locking system that uses an infrared light beam instead of a radio signal to thwart high-tech thieves.

Pampered pass engers in the leather-bound and wood-trimmed interior of the SL will find it roomy and comfortable, withadjustable power seats and a fine stereo, something that's been lacking in the past.

Mercedes-Benz has another, smaller, sportier two-seater waiting in the wings, the supercharged SLK roadster, that is expected to go on sale for about $40,000 when it hits showrooms this fall.

Mercedes-Benz rests its towering reputation on solid, reliable machinery and recently is tuning up its image in a more sporty direction. The SL320 stands up to the the test on both counts.

1997 Mercedes-Benz SL320

Vehicle type: Two-passenger, two-door convertible, rear-wheel-drive. Base price: $78,300 Price as tested: NA. Engine: A 3.2-liter inline 6 that has 228 horsepower at 5,600 rpm, 232 pound-feet of torque at 3,750 rpm. Transmission: Five-speed automatic. Curb weight: 4,010 pounds. Length: 176 inches. Wheelbase: 99 inches. Safety features: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes. EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway. High points: Solid ride, handling. Five-speed automatic. Great to be seen in. Low Points: Scary price tag. Six-cylinder limitations. No stick shift available.

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