Today, the SL is coupe and roadster in one, though it stretches the definition of roadster. This modern SL is full-fledged luxury and far from a jaunty ragtop. As it has been, the SL is a grand tourer — comfortable but with menacing potential.
For 2013 the SL550 has been transformed with an aluminum body, new direct-injection 4.6-liter biturbo V-8 with auto start/stop, more fuel-efficient seven-speed automatic transmission and more efficient folding of the power retractable hardtop.
The car's footprint is about two inches longer and wider. Pricing starts at $106,405, including the $905 freight charge from Germany. The test car was almost $125,000, with what seemed popular options and extras.
The 550's 429 horsepower, 516 foot-pounds of torque and curb weight of 3,947 pounds are good for 0-60 acceleration in 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 130 mph (limited).
If that's not enough, there are two other higher-performing models. The SL63 AMG has a new 5.5-liter, direct-injection biturbo AMG V-8 with 530 horsepower and 590 foot-pounds torque, also with ECO Start/Stop. Its AMG 7-speed double-clutch automated-manual transmission has four shift modes and a Racestart (launch) function. In standard mode, it will do 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 155. And an optional performance package pushes the power to 557 hp and 664 lb.-ft. torque. Starting price: $141,315.
And the SL65 AMG has a 6.0-liter V-12 with 621 horseppwer and 738 foot-pounds of pull. For $213,145 you can get to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds and go 186 mph. And there's also an anniversary model for $238,855.
The SL550 is a cruise missile that soars and swoops in for the kill. It isn't tossable fun, but it is fun like a Sunday brunch — rich and filling with much temptation. You can tool around as the quintessential duffer on the way to a round of golf. But hit the sport button and the SL's racing blood lashes out with ungentlemanly force.
The auto start-stop works with minimal intrusion and can be switched off in stop-and-go traffic to avoid what can be continual starting and stopping. Airflow with the top down is enjoyable at legal speeds and somewhat above with the standard, power windscreen. The cabin is reasonably quiet with the top up, but I've driven better soundproofed compacts.
The steering glides with a light touch. And the wheel unwinds through cool fingertips along the glossy, wood-and-leather steering wheel, which is a $590 extra. The top goes down in fluid, quiet motion in about 11 seconds, which is plenty of time for even the shortest traffic light. With the top down, trunk space is decent for weekend getaways.
This is a big car but not unwieldy. And it feels safe, as it should with eight air bags, pop-up roll bars, attention assist for drowsiness alerts and 13.6-inch vented and perforated front disc brakes, and 12.6-inch vented discs rear.
The test car also had the drive assistance package ($2,950) of lane-keeping assist, blind-spot assist and distronic plus, which is an electronic guardian that can apply full braking if necessary when the driver is gaining too rapidly on the vehicle ahead.
Compared to the steel-bodied SL of last year, the 2013 SL is cleaner burning, larger and lighter (275 pounds) with a smaller but more powerful V-8 (by 47 horsepower and 125 foot-pounds torque) that gets to 60 mph nearly a second faster (0.8) and gets 2 mpg better fuel economy in both categories: 16 mpg city, 24 highway. All this is available for $1,850 more than the previous model.
That would seem a modest markup for a storied nameplate and statement of success.
2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 roadster
—Body style: two-seat, rear-wheel-drive, coupe-roadster with power retractable hardtop
—Engine: 429-horsepower, direct-injection, twin-turbocharged 4.6-liter V-8 with auto start-stop; 516 foot-pounds torque at 1,800-3,500 rpm
—Transmission: 7-speed. TouchShift automatic with Sport and Eco modes
—0-60 mph: 4.5 seconds; top speed 130 mph
—Fuel economy: 16/24 mpg city/highway; premium fuel
—Fuel tank: 19.8 gallons
—Trunk space: 10.2 to 7.2 cublic feet top up/down
—Front head/leg/shoulder room: 39.1/42.9/55.5 inches
—Length/wheelbase: 181.8/101.8 inches
—Curb weight: 3,947 pounds (base)
—Turning circle: 36.2 feet
—Standard equipment includes: power wind blocker, sun-reflecting leather upholstery, COMAND system with navigation, electric parking brake, harman/kardon surround-sound audio system with satellite radio, adaptive damping suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels and high-performance tires, heated windshield, floor mats, automatic climate control
—Safety features include: Eight air bags, pop-up rollover bars, attention assist, presafe, active head restraints, ABS, adaptive braking, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution
—Base price: $106,405, including $905 freight charge; price as tested $124,935
—Options on test vehicle: Magnetite black paint $900; illuminated door sills $350; analog clock on dash top $250; wood-and-leather steering wheel $590; magic sky control roof $2,500; active body control $4,090; premium package, $4,900, includes rearview camera, parktronic with active parking assist, ventilated seats, active multicontour seats, airscarf, keyless go (push-button starting), electric trunk closer; driver assistance package, $2,950, includes distronic plus with presafe braking, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot assist; Sport wheel package, $2,000, includes 19-inch AMG 5-spoke wheels with high-performance tires, sport steering wheel with perforated leather side grips and silver painted shift paddles, silver painted front brake calipers with M-B lettering, perforated rear discs
—Where assembled: Bremen, Germany
—Warranty: 4-years/50,000-miles bumper to bumper with roadside assistance
Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage.