The Mercedes SL is a sinuous, sensuous roadster with dramatic styling and a major-league price tag. Slide into the cockpit, belt up, press the button on the console and, 16 seconds later, its retractable power steel roof changes it from the open-air fun of a convertible to the quiet comfort of a luxury coupe.
The SL is packed with every bit of automotive technology that Mercedes has perfected over the past dozen years, and that's a lot of technology. It does everything well, with the single exception of hauling cargo. Whether the folding steel top is up or down, there simply isn't much luggage space in the trunk of the SL, although the rear compartment behind the bucket seats will hold a good amount of stuff.
As a follow-on strategy to its introduction of the all-new SL roadster last year, Mercedes-Benz has expanded the lineup for 2004 to include three models instead of just one. The original SL 500 V8 is joined by the high-performance SL 55 AMG V8 and, for ultimate power, smoothness, and exclusivity, the SL 600 V12.
We've driven various SL models at Hockenheim (a race track in Germany), at Road America (a road racing circuit in Wisconson), at Milan Dragway in Michigan, and for hundreds of road miles, and we are continually amazed at its graceful high-speed behavior.
Three models are available for the 2004 model year: the standard SL500, the ultra high-performance SL55 AMG, and the top of the line SL600. All come loaded with everything a driver and one passenger need for grand touring, from the Bose stereo to the beautiful new interior decor.
The SL500 ($88,500) has more standard equipment than just about any other two-seater in the world today. The SL500's 5.0-liter V8 engine develops 302 horsepower. 2004 models come with a completely new electronically controlled, magnesium-housing 7G-Tronic 7-speed automatic transmission, the world's first, with closer ratios for quicker acceleration, instantaneous downshifting and higher fuel economy. The two higher-performance versions will retain the 5-speed automatic for a while yet.
The SL55 AMG ($119,750) version is brimming with incredible levels of performance. The SL55 AMG uses a newly developed, hand-built, 5.5-liter supercharged engine with more than 493 horsepower to catapult itself from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds, making it the fastest production Mercedes-Benz roadster ever. The SL55 AMG comes with racing-derived braking power. Its immense 14-inch vented brake discs and calipers are engineered with the industry's first electronic braking system, stopping the SL55 AMG with racecar-like ability. Similarly, the SL55 AMG uses a further evolution of the ABC active suspension to imbue the car with cat-like reflexes while simultaneously offering ride comfort that rivals any of its competition.
The SL600 ($125,950) is the latest addition to the lineup, carrying a silky smooth 6.0-liter V12 twin-turbocharged engine. Whereas the SL55 AMG V8 carries a supercharger and makes 493 horsepower and 516 foot-pounds of torque, the 5.9-liter V12 packs the same 493 horsepower but generates a staggering 590 foot-pounds of torque, more than any other Mercedes engine of this size. The engine is a bit heavier than the supercharged V8, but it more than makes up for it with prodigious torque and electric-motor smoothness throughout the rpm range. The SL600 will be sold in very small numbers to keep it exclusive.
Options on all three models include a Motorola Timeport telephone, voice activated controls, the Parktronic parking distance warning system ($1035), Distronic radar-based cruise control ($2950) that keeps a preset distance between the SL and the car ahead, a tire pressure monitoring system ($630), and several seat options. Also available: Bi-xenon high-intensity discharge high- and low-beam headlamps ($900); Keyless Go ($1015); Panorama Roof ($1800). SL1 Wood Package ($840) includes wood and leather steering wheel and shift knob. SL3 Comfort Package ($1520) includes ventilated seats with multi-contour seatbacks.
SL2 Sport Package ($5100) includes AMG Monoblock alloy wheels, high-performance tires, body-colored AMG-designed front air dam, side skirts and rear apron, and the ventilated seats with multi-contour seatbacks. The SL55 AMG comes with this body kit as standard, and the V12 version has its own exterior decor, including V12 Kompressor badging on the front fenders.