Not that the SL is disappearing from the Mercedes-Benz lineup. Rather, the next generation of the prestigious two-seat roadster, with styling influenced by the concept SLR unveiled on the auto-show circuit two years ago, is set to arrive in March as a 2003 model.
In preparation for that all-new SL, we tested an old one, the 2002 SL500 roadster dressed in limited-edition Silver Arrow finery.
As with almost any Mercedes, it's a pleasure to slip behind the wheel of this two-seater. Solidly bolted together. No squeaks, rattles or vibrations--softtop up or down or removable aluminum hardtop fastened in place.
While you don't expect a Mercedes to shake or shimmy, be advised the SL feels heavy in the wheel. In part that's by design to give the motorist the perception of rock-solid safety. More pounds equal more protection.
Of course, the SL feels a bit heavy in the wheel largely because it weighs two tons plus 125 pounds.
This is no featherweight that will be tossed around on the road. Goes where you want when you want. You just have to turn the wheel a tad more firmly to ensure when you want.
The 5-liter, 302-horsepower V-8 responds well to pedal input, but thanks to those two-plus tons, the mileage rating is a scant 16 m.p.g. city/23 m.p.g. highway. The uplevel SL600 comes with a 6-liter, 389-h.p. V-12 that's quicker off the line yet gets only 13/19.
As a result of its 16/23 m.p.g. rating, be prepared to hand over $1,000 in gas-guzzler tax for the pleasure of owning the SL500 ($2,600 for the SL600).
Of course, with a base price exceeding $80,000, why would you quibble about a $1,000 tax, especially if you don't quibble about choreographing the four-wheel equivalent of a sumo wrestler on the roadway?
SL500 mileage is like that on many SUVs, but when last we looked, no consumer interest or environmental groups were trying to legislate the SL off the road.
Perhaps that's because Mercedes sells only about 5,000 of these things each year, down from 7,500 annually in the late '90s as some buyers have opted to wait for the all-new '03 version.
Mercedes doesn't say much about the '03, other than it will come with a retractable hardtop like that on the small Mercedes SLK roadster instead of the current power softtop and removable aluminum hardtop that takes two to fasten/unfasten and store.
Like all Mercedes, the SL500 is loaded with safety hardware, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock and Brake Assist (if you don't hit the pedal hard enough to activate the ABS in a panic situation, the sensors do it for you), electronic stability control to combat slipping or sliding, front- and side-impact air bags, a BabySmart system that detects whether a child is or isn't in the passenger seat when a special Mercedes child seat is used to keep the air bag from deploying a nd a roll bar that pops up if sensors detect the vehicle is tilting.
There also are dual front and side-impact air bags. While just about every Mercedes air-bag system comes with sensors to regulate deployment speed based on impact severity, this SL lacks that. The '03, however, will have the more sophisticated air bags.
Creature comforts include automatic climate control with a dust filter, AM/FM stereo with cassette, power seats with driver-side memory settings for mirrors and steering column, power windows and locks, rain-sensing wipers and tilt and telescoping steering column.
You also get a Tele Aid emergency communication system that uses global positioning satellites to pinpoint your location so it will not only locate you in a mechanical or medical emergency, it can track down the car if stolen. When the medical problem is only minor, the SL, like all Mercedes, comes with a first-aid kit.
The SL500 starts at $83,800. With the retract e hardtop coming for 2003, you can be sure that will rise.
To the $83,800 you must add $2,500 to convert the SL500 into a Silver Arrow, a lot of dough for such things as silver paint and birds-eye maple interior trim, but you also get an aluminum briefcase.
Only question potential buyers have to ask themselves is whether the image and prestige of the Mercedes SL is worth $83,000 plus, or will they settle for an equal amount of image and prestige from the Lexus SC430, which comes with a retractable hardtop, has an extra--though very small--rear seat, starts at more than $25,000 less than the SL, and isn't burdened with a gas-guzzler tax.
The folks at Mercedes surely are asking the same question, don't you think?