Vital Stats

Engine:
4.7L Biturbo V8
Power:
429 HP / 516 LB-FT
Transmission:
7-Speed Auto
0-60 Time:
4.5 Seconds
Top Speed:
130 MPH (limited)
Drivetrain:
Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
3,947 LBS
Seating:
2
Cargo:
17.8 CU-FT
MPG:
TBD
The Official Car Of Beverly Hills Gets A Dramatic Rework



Generally speaking, I'm a pretty measured sort of guy. But when it comes to convertibles, I'm a bit of a lunatic. I've been known to motor with the top down in all conditions – including light rain and snow – much to the bewilderment of other drivers (and quite often the chagrin of my passengers). For the most part, it doesn't matter if I'm driving in a bare-bones roadster or a lux-lined GT. Thankfully for my hapless guests, however, advances in technology have done much to assuage discomfort in poor weather. These days, there are far fewer tradeoffs associated with top-down motoring: improved aerodynamics, wind blockers, enhanced ventilation, sun-reflecting leather and, of course, seat heating and cooling – all features that have done much to make me better company. What's more, modern underlying structures are stiffer and there's little in the way of the noise, vibration and harshness penalties that there used to be.

In terms of innovation, nobody has done more to advance the everyday livability of the convertible than Mercedes-Benz. They kept the faith back in the late 70s/early 80s when nearly everyone had gotten out of the convertible business. They brought back the folding hardtop. They came up with the pop-up roll hoop to augment rollover safety. They created Airscarf. Aircap, too. Hell, with this 2013 SL550, they've even invented a new windshield wiper fluid delivery system to prevent errant spritzing when driving with the top down (more on that in a minute).

On its face, a typically sober German engineering approach would seem to be at odds with the very idea of a top-down bauble, but Mercedes has taken a very logical approach to building something so frivolous. Amazingly, this philosophy works in the SL's favor... most of the time.
2013 Mercedes SL550 side view2013 Mercedes SL550 front view2013 Mercedes SL550 rear view

Before we delve into what makes this $106,375 convertible tick, we can't avoid the elephant in the garage: styling. The SL's nose is fussy, with a pair of eagle-eye bi-xenon cornering headlamps and a massive upright grille giving way to the obligatory long hood. We can't quite put our finger on it, but there's something aesthetically uncomfortable about the front end's proportions and multiplicity of lines. The schnoz looks particularly awkward when viewed in profile, as the grille and front fascia stand uncomfortably proud of the swept-back headlamps. We're inclined to blame toughening pedestrian crash test standards for all of this, but somehow, other automakers have done a better job. The rest of the bodyside is less controversial, with the SL's patented long of hood, long of door aesthetic dominated by a U-shaped character line that originates in the front fender's heat extractors. The taillamps look a bit oversized for our tastes as well, but it's really the front end that jars us.

This R231 generation SL is a big car – with a length of 181.8 inches, it's over three inches longer than Honda's latest CR-V. Compared to the fifth generation model, this new SL is two inches longer and spans just over two inches wider. Critically, while the 2013 SL is larger, it's also much lighter. That's because for the first time in its history, the SL rides atop an aluminum unibody. With the exception of high-strength steel A-pillars, nearly everything that isn't aluminum is comprised of even lighter magnesium, including the roof panels. By going with aluminum, Mercedes reckons that the SL's shell is nearly 250 pounds lighter than it would have been had it been rendered in steel, and the whole works is upwards of 20-percent stiffer torsionally. All told, the 2013 model weighs about 275 pounds less than the exit car. All of which means Mercedes can argue there's a bit more truth in labeling this roadster SL ("Sport Leicht") – if only a bit. After all, the SL550 still tips the scales at 3,947 pounds – 400 pounds more than the portliest all-wheel-drive CR-V that Honda can muster.

2013 Mercedes SL550 headlight2013 Mercedes SL550 wheel detail2013 Mercedes SL550 side vent2013 Mercedes SL550 taillight

Thankfully, there's a lot more power here than in Honda's cute ute. 429 horsepower at 5,250 rpm and a whopping 516 pound-feet of torque from 1,800 rpm (some 32-percent more than last year's 391 torques). That mechanical motivation comes courtesy of Mercedes' 4.7-liter bi-turbo V8, an engine you'll also find in the even larger CL550 coupe. The turbos strapped to the direct-injected eight-cylinder can generate up to 13 pounds of boost, and as we found during our drive around Málaga, Spain, the engine is the centerpiece of this roadster's appeal. Muted at idle and at partial revs, to carpet the pedal is to awaken a great bellow, followed quickly by a great wave of power funneled through the seven-speed gearbox and out the rear wheels.

Mercedes has fitted a defeatable stop-start system to maximize fuel economy, but it's something of a lampshade in a whorehouse: EPA fuel economy estimates aren't in yet, but we're guessing something along the lines of 16 miles per gallon city and 25 highway.

Another part of the greening of the SL is its new electromechanical power steering system, dubbed "Direct-Steer." By switching to electric steering, Mercedes has reduced the accessory load on the engine, thus improving fuel economy and emissions. Unfortunately, this system is the weakest link in the SL550's dynamic resume – the speed-sensing, variable ratio setup is about as talkative as a Marcel Marceau convention. We'll have to hope for more feedback from the AMGified SL63, but for now, the 550 feels more like a boulevardier than a proper GT.

2013 Mercedes SL550 engine

Of course, you don't buy a motorcar of the SL's ilk to be parsimonious – you buy it for presence, performance and poshness, all of which it has in spades. Mercedes says the SL550 can rocket to 60 miles per hour in just 4.5 seconds – quicker than Porsche's new 911 Carrera – and we believe it. Power is ridiculously easy to come by at all rpms and the seven-speed automatic with paddleshifts is well suited to the sort of relaxed, high-speed motoring that this car engenders. Top speed runs, however, are neutered at just 130 mph. Should you run out of road, 14.2-inch ventilated and perforated discs up front and 12.6-inch ventilated rears haul the SL down from speed with solid pedal feel and little drama.

Bumps are smoothed and corners are negotiated thanks to a multi-link/torsion bar setup front and rear. Mercedes' Active Body Control system is optional and provides both Sport and Comfort modes, but we'd probably stick with the less complex, less weighty standard steel spring system. It's plenty refined for cruising and relaxed winding road driving, but neither setup is much good for spirited work – you just don't get enough steering feedback and there's too much size and weight to confidently toss the pride of Stuttgart in the truly twisty stuff. Still, body roll is quite well controlled, the chassis offers girder-like rigidity and there's plenty of power. In fact, the grip is there, too, it's just that the vital information about how much purchase the 19-inch front tires actually have is a message too often left undelivered.

2013 Mercedes SL550 interior2013 Mercedes SL550 seats2013 Mercedes SL550 dash clock2013 Mercedes SL550 gear selector

On the plus side of the ledger, the SL's cabin puts the "Grand" in "Grand Tourer," with a pair of supremely comfortable and supportive seats that offer more adjustments than a Beverly Hills chiropractor. Materials and fit-and-finish are tops, and our Edition 1 tester's interior bound in look-at-me crimson Designo Nappa leather with contrast stitching impressed one and all. We love the round air vents that are spreading throughout Benz's lineup, but oddly, the COMAND interface's seven-inch TFT screen almost felt small. (Consider that observation to be more an indictment of the screen size arms race than it is of Mercedes' product planners.). Our tester was also fitted with optional Magic Sky Control, the variable transparency roof panel that first debuted on the SLK, and the electrohydraulic folding top was as quiet in operation as any we've ever heard.

Mercedes is making a big to-do about its new FrontBass audio system, which turns spaces in the aluminum structures ahead of the footwells into resonance chambers. That's right, the chassis does double-duty as a speaker box. We'd like to tell you how vibrant and wonderful the stereo is, but the only volume dial we were interested in adjusting was the throttle pedal.


One trick new feature that this new SL has is Magic Vision Control, a rather fantastical name for what amounts to intelligent windshield wipers. And by "intelligent," we mean genius. We've seen wipers integrate washer nozzles before, but never with this degree of sophistication. These wipers have dozens of tiny holes along the entire length of the blade that pushes out fluid on the leading edge of the stroke (in both directions). Not only does MVC all but eliminate overspray into the cabin when the top is down, the system actually disburses different amounts of fluid depending on the weather, and in winter, the blades and fluid are heated. The only downside? You'll have to get replacement blades with the special channels at your dealer, and we're willing to bet they'll be expensive.

At the end of a couple of hundred miles of high-speed top-down meandering on narrow Spanish mountain passes, we were left a bit conflicted. Like the BMW 6 Series Convertible against which it will inevitably compete, the SL long ago graduated from a true enthusiast's car into a plush GT, and the new model fills the latter role capably. But with the promise of weight loss and additional power on hand, we had hoped Mercedes' ever-innovative engineers might have found a way to integrate a bigger dollop of driving enjoyment along with the SL's creature comforts. Guess we'll have to wait for Magic Drive Control.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 73 Comments
      JonZeke
      • 2 Years Ago
      I've seen it in person, and I think this is still one of the worst designs ever to leave the Stuttgart studio. That interior is indeed gorgeous, but with the SLS setting a very dramatic bar this has little excuse to be so hideous. And why the gaudy jewelry? Oh wait, these are going to be sold in droves to Middle Easterners and Chinese, not the classic Teutonic customer of old.
      Avinash Machado
      • 2 Years Ago
      The old one looks better.
      k_m94
      • 2 Years Ago
      Yup, definitely a boulevard cruiser. And while any triple digit weight loss is a good thing, it doesnt matter squat if a) the car is still 2 tons of completely unsporting bulk and b) any steering feel has been removed through fitting a horribly vague electric power assist, perhaps the worst of its kind in that regard. But if you want a luxurious droptop with a well appointed (if asymmetrical) interior, cushy ride, and tons of effortless turbo V8 grunt, then this works perfectly fine, vague steering and questionable styling aside. At least this version, not pretending to be a performance car, costs "only" $100-130k. The SL65 on the other hand, tries to be a sporty GT with its atomic bomb of an engine, yet would probably fare about as poor dynamically as the SL550, except now it's $200+k, deep into real supercar (SLS) and real luxury GT (Bentley Conti) money, where it doesnt stand much of a chance as either.
      • 2 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      TitanSubZero15
      • 2 Years Ago
      I just can't get past those headlights. Everything else, except for the off-centered entertainment center, is ok but those headlights...
        joe shmoe
        • 2 Years Ago
        @TitanSubZero15
        yeah. off center console stood out like a sore thumb. this car is pretty damned ugly. Front end is so upright, and the headlights don't flow with the car esp when looking from the 1/4 angle. then the rear kinda sags off.
      superchan7
      • 2 Years Ago
      Those wheels are an inch too large. Size the alloys down a bit, use a chunkier wheel design that suit MB so well.
        BG
        • 2 Years Ago
        @superchan7
        You are commenting on the big-alloy bling wheeks that every manufacturer seems to think is essential today. Considering how many Americans voluntarily buy huge ghetto wheels on their Muranos, Venzas, and other CUVs and crossovers, I suppose the marketers are right: there is no underestimating the degree of bad taste and blindly follow-the-herd in the American consumer.
      Allan Leedy
      • 2 Years Ago
      As a top-down driver you should respect the difference between shvitzing and shpritzing.
      • 2 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      • 2 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      kingofpersia22
      • 2 Years Ago
      Cars keep getting less and less elegant...
      Avinash Machado
      • 2 Years Ago
      Does not seem to be as much impressive as the previous model.
      Justin Campanale
      • 2 Years Ago
      You know, sometimes I wonder if people who buy Mercedes have a brain or not. They are some of the least competitive vehicles in the luxury segment in interior quality, powertrain specs, performance, and just about everything else.This SL weighs almost2 tons and costs over $110k (and by the time you have anything that is equipped well it will cost at least $125 k). Mercedes is the Mitsubishi of luxury cars. They're irrelevant nowadays, they just don't matter anymore, and the the people who buy them have absolutely no clue about cars. No, no wait. At least DSM has one fun car in its stable, the Evo. MB can't even say that. Their cars are boring as hell with no driving feel whatsoever.
        shan
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Justin Campanale
        Bold words from someone who's probably never owned one...
          Justin Campanale
          • 2 Years Ago
          @shan
          I honestly wouldn't want to waste money on an MB. The ones which are worth a damn are the expensive ones, and the cheap ones are no good.
        JaredN
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Justin Campanale
        Not every car is designed for you. Different people want different compromises between performance, luxury, and price. I'd rather have a 911 than a Mercedes SL, but I know people who would rather have the SL. Celebrate the diversity.
          Justin Campanale
          • 2 Years Ago
          @JaredN
          So you mean to say that real enthusiasts would pick the 911, while poseurs would choose the SL? Wll, you got that right,.
          JaredN
          • 2 Years Ago
          @JaredN
          Justin, not everyone wants a true sports car. Some folks like a fast, comfortable convertible. And Mercedes has built one for them. Even Porsche builds 911s that are different compromises of performance, comfort, and price. A 911S would be a great car to drive from Zuffenhausen to the south of France. But a 911 GT3 would beat most people to death by the time they got there. In contrast, if you are going to a track day, most would rather have a GT3. It's the same sort of thing here, except that the target customers are focused even more on comfort than handling and driving involvement.
        JAD
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Justin Campanale
        You have obviously never driven one. Stop being such a hater just because you can't afford any of them lol.
          Justin Campanale
          • 2 Years Ago
          @JAD
          Actually, I have driven one. I'm shopping for a sports coupe to replace my Magnum SRT8, and I test drove a few options a few weeks ago. I tried out the C63, was dissapointed. It felt robotic driving it and there was litle driving feedback or driving feel. The M3 was a blast, but I'll wait until the next M3 comes out. If it doesn't stick to M3 tradition, or if it isn't as good as the E90, I'm going with the RS5. Haven't test driven the RS5 yet, but it has earned favorable early reviews.
          Justin Campanale
          • 2 Years Ago
          @JAD
          The RS5 is much more technologically advanced.It has a much better transmission than the C63, and the quattro AWD system is beyond amazing. The 6.2 in the C63 has a poor power per liter ratio. The RS5, from videos, also has a better engine note, is more fun to rev around (yes, revving is my sort of thing). It has best in class braking and best in class lateral acceleration (skidpad). Don't get me wrong, I'd take the current M3 any day over the RS5, but the C63 is underwhelming compared to the RS5, from what I can tell. And besides, quite a few sources have pointed out that the next M3 will have a turbo, an all new V6 (I think AB had an article on this as well if you don't believe me), and will be called the M4 for the coupe model. If it does any of the 3 things, I am taking my money elsewhere. BMW really needs to respect tradition and give the M3 a high revving inline 6, not a turbo, and DEFINITELY not a V6, and not resort to some retarded "name strategy". The IS-F isn't bad, but it just doesn't perform as well as the Germans, and I'm ruling it out because I want a coupe. As for the ATS-V, I'm not the biggest fan of pushrod engines, and I REALLY don't like the 6.2 which the ATS-V will likely have. So there you have it, the outshadowed C63, the M3 which has turned into a different car altogether (and not in a good way), and the pushrod ATS-V. What does that leave us? Yes, the only car for me is the RS5.
        k_m94
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Justin Campanale
        Fun cars in Mercedes' stable: C63 AMG/ Black Series: On par with an M3, miles better than an RS5 E63 AMG: A good M5 alternative SLK 55 AMG: Better driving than a Z4 SLS AMG: Silly, but compared to BMW's supercar...oh wait. Looks like I just upset the BMW and Audi fanboy.
          Justin Campanale
          • 2 Years Ago
          @k_m94
          The SLK55 AMG and SLS AMG are okay. Look up specs for the E63 AMG vs M5, C63 vs M3 and RS5. The MBs are beat pretty badly by their BMW and/or Audi counterparts.
          k_m94
          • 2 Years Ago
          @k_m94
          The reviews for the C63 and E63 are pretty favorable, even compared to M cars they are liked. I have heard nothing but disappointment for the RS5, every review saying it's bland to drive and has no soul, and still understeers WAY more than either the C or 3. And in terms of supercars, they go about it different ways. Mid engine vs front mid. RPM versus big displacement. Great manual or crappy paddle shift versus good DCT. AWD vs RWD, futuristic versus retro. Some reviews say the R8 drives amazingly, some say it's a bit soulless. Some reviews say the SLS is amazing fun, others say it's a bit of a meathead. So no word there on what is better. At least AMG has the balls to make a completely inhouse supercar, ///M is content to expand only by slapping their badge on SUVs, and the i8 is a joke when judged as a supercar, $200k for $60k M3 performance from an uninspiring 3 cylinder hybrid.
        Lachmund
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Justin Campanale
        ah justin....you're comments get worse and worse. really up to beating ricer and vwfailgain in trolling, eh?!
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