The most costly of the Mercedes-Benz sports cars and a member of the lineup for the longest time, the luxurious SL series is awaiting a substantial redesign. That wont happen for another year or two, so the SL500 and SL600 carry on into 2001 with new aerodynamic lower-body styling, courtesy of AMG, Mercedes-Benzs performance division. AMG two-piece wheels are installed on the SL600 this season. Standard on both is the Tele Aid emergency communication system, which adds several new features including vehicle diagnostics, remote door unlocking and alarm monitoring. These services are available 24 hours a day from the Tele Aid assistance center.
At the high end of the roadster scale, the principal competitors for the SL include the Jaguar XK8 convertible, the Porsche 911 Carrera cabriolet and even the more costly Aston Martin DB7. While the SL600 commands a $128,950 tariff, an SL500 can be driven home for a mere $83,800. As reported in Automotive News, Mercedes-Benz sold 5,409 SL models in the United States during 2000, down from 7,853 units the previous year.
To commemorate the return of Formula One racing to this country, Mercedes-Benz issued 20 examples of a special SL500 roadster. In addition to AMG styling enhancements, the limited edition has 18-inch AMG Monoblock alloy wheels, xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights, stainless steel grille bars, cross-drilled brake rotors, racing pedals, silver interior trim, a chromed windblocker, black perforated Nappa leather seats and an Ash soft-top.
AMG has given the SL a more dashing look with this years lower-body revision, but the SL has looked basically the same for quite a few years. A plush bigger brother to the SLK, the SL has been around since 1990 in this form a familiar figure in the high-dollar sports-car league.
Both a soft-top and a removable aluminum hardtop are included with the purchase of an SL. Pushing a single button on the console lowers the cars side windows, releases the fabric top from the windshield and folds back the top into a storage well at the rear. At that point, its covered automatically by a hard tonneau.
An Adaptive Damping System that is standard on the SL600 and optional on the SL500 automatically varies shock-absorber firmness to suit changing road conditions. Front and rear fog lights are installed. Both models can have an optional Panorama hardtop with a heat-reflecting glass roof and power sunshade. An available Sport Package includes high-performance tires on 18-inch wheels. Standard rubber is 17 inches on alloy wheels.
Both occupants can luxuriate in Nappa leather bucket seats, which are upgraded and heated in the SL600. Standard equipment includes automatic air conditioning, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel with memory, 10-way power seats with memory, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift lever, cruise control and a Bose cassette stereo system with CD changer. Heated power mirrors are equipped with a memory. Also standard are wood-framed shift gates, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, a universal garage-door opener and rain-sensing variable intermittent wipers. In addition to V-12 power, the SL600 gets a leather-wrapped/wood steering wheel and gearshift knob, six-CD changer, Motorola integrated cellular phone with voice control, Adaptive Damping System and xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights with automatic leveling. The Motorola phone is an option for the SL500.
Under the Hood
The SL500 is still equipped with the 302-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8 engine. Buyers must pay a hefty premium to move up to the SL600, which has a 6.0-liter V-12 that produces 389 hp. Both engines drive a five-speed-automatic transmission.
Quite an array of safety equipment greets SL occupants. Door-mounted side-impact airbags, antilock brakes and the Electronic Stability Program are standard. The BabySmart feature prevents the front passengers airbag from activating if a small child is seated in that position. A roll bar behind the cockpit pops up when sensors detect an impending rollover. Mercedes-Benzs Brake Assist system also is included, which helps to reduce stopping distances in emergency situations.
Is it possible to mix seriously sporty performance with posh trappings? With its SL series, Mercedes-Benz has demonstrated for years that the two qualities of motoring can coexist neatly. Whether youre sitting behind a V-8 engine or the luscious V-12, energetic acceleration awaits at the mere tap of the gas pedal.
Because a smooth, controlled boulevard ride is part of the experience, handling might fall a bit short of the sports car leaders. Still, the SL roadsters are no slouches when it comes to coping with curves and corners. As for comfort and convenience features, the SL owner cant complain about anything lacking in his or her two-seater. Not as modern as some, and less frisky on the highway than others, the SL excels in what it sports best: luxury, with a healthy dose of vigor tossed into the mix.