By on September 7, 2006

front.jpgYou may have noticed this website tends to celebrate performance automobiles. While this predilection for dynamic distraction places us within the media mainstream, it doesn’t square with urban car culture. I'm sure you know that car owners who inflict double-dubs on their whips happily sacrifice ride and handling on the altar of, gulp, style. Even so, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve seen the light. Thanks to the Mercedes SL550, I now know middle aged white people can stunt and floss with the best (worst?) of them.

Whether it’s Compton or Carmel, when it comes to making a statement in the ‘hood, the ideal car has to have both class and flash. If you consider these characteristics mutually exclusive, consider the SL550. On one hand, the roadster’s purposeful stance, balanced proportions and delightful details create an endlessly elegant, brand faithful gestalt. On the other hand, it’s da bomb. Treasured trailer queens and in-yer-face Ferraris aside, no other motorcar offers onlookers such an irresistible expression of automotive joie de vivre.

interior.jpgInside, well, it’s a bit serious in here, mein Herr. The SL550’s seats, door panels, under dash plastics and carpets can be dressed in your choice of Ash, Black or Stone– a color palette that seems carefully designed for fans of Ingmar Bergman movies. You can also sign-up for burl walnut wood trim– that’s almost as dark as it is slick. None of the SL550’s interior options can ameliorate the rest of the cabin’s “MIB uber alles” aesthetic. The unrelenting blackness of the car’s pervasive plastics and expansive dash cast a pall over the ergonomic excellence therein; button pushing is about as exciting as filling-out an insurance form.

God knows there are plenty of buttons to push: heated/ventilated/memory/massaging seats, dual zone climate control (that adjusts for driving speed, window and hardtop positions), trip computer, sat nav, telephony, stereo, cruise control, etc. While you can’t blame Mercedes for stuffing all the luxury car toys into one of their top-of-the-line models, the switchgear is a bit fussy, cheap-to-the-touch and serious-minded. If Audi can make it chic, if Maserati can make it beautiful, Mercedes should do both. Luckily, the best button is the best button: the silver switch that raises and lowers the roof.

side.jpgMerc makes a big deal out of the convenience of the SL’s folding hardtop. Fair enough. Top-up and you’ve got chassis rigidity, tin top quiet, protection from box cutter wielding automotive terrorists and two front row tickets to a superb mechanical ballet. Top down, and you’re a star. Who packs light. With soft cases. BEFORE you put the top down. And remembers to snick the luggage protector into place even when the top’s up, because the roof won’t go down otherwise. Anyway, once you’ve stowed both gear and lid, you’re free to concentrate on the car’s true metier: cruising.

Forget autobahnery; the SL550 is best experienced at a walking pace. First, it’s the master of the mysterious metaphysical zone between rest and movement, commonly known as “tip in.” Gently press the go pedal and the SL550 gently proceeds, without any hesitation or unnecessary urgency. (Three-hundred and ninety-one foot pounds of torque @ 2,800 – 4,000 rpm can do that for a car.) Second, Merc’s sublime seven speed gearbox lets you control the world’s woofliest standard issue V8 (back to four valves per cylinder thank Gott) with infinite, mindless ease.  And lastly, why would you want to rush past onlookers when you look so damn good ambling by?

2007_my_sl-class-img_4381.jpgOf course, there are those pistonheads who will continue to insist that a [nearasdammit] 100 grand 382hp German two door should be able to go like Hell– maybe even take a corner at speed– you know, from time to time. Obviously, there’s plenty of schnell on tap: the German roadster roars to 60mph in a shade over five seconds. Aside from a highly inconvenient pause and a nasty little driveline shunt, the SL550’s in-gear acceleration is similarly brisk. Not so obviously, the SL550 takes corners exceptionally well. No really. While everyone credits Porsche for creating a sharp-handling car with an engine positioned behind the rear wheels, how about a 4202 lbs. roadster that doesn’t wallow?

Did I mention that you can throw the SL550 around corners with glorious abandon, cackling with glee at mega-dB’s of tire squeal? Or that the SL’s brakes– 12.3 inch front and 11.8 inch rear discs– put the “will you cut that out RIGHT NOW” into indefatigable? Or that the gear-holding, roll-reducing Sport mode is plenty comfortable? Oops. There I go again. Anyway, forget all that high-speed driving stuff. The SL550 doesn’t need to be a stunt car– at least not in the Joey Chitwood sense of the word. It needs to be satisfying to drive, and be seen driving. That it is. As long as you leave the wheels alone.

[Mercedes provided the vehicle reviewed, taxes, insurance and a tank of gas.] 

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35 Comments on “Mercedes SL550 Review...”


  • avatar

    Leave the wheels alone? Blasphemy!

    Also, the pewter metallic on cognac brown found in the 50th anniversary edition SL550 (pictured in the photos) is stunning.

  • avatar
    Blunozer

    This is the best example of how BMW and Mercedes changed during the late 90s.

    BMW went from elegant to ugly.

    Mercedes went from boring to absolutely stunning! Name one ugly Mercedes made currently… You can’t do it.

  • avatar
    TexasAg03

    I’m sure you know that car owners who inflict double-dubs on their whips happily sacrifice ride and handling on the altar of, gulp, style. R.F.

    I agree with your use of the word “inflict” here. I would like to see someone (TTAC, perhaps?) research the effects that larger wheels and tires have on handling and braking. When unsprung weight increases, with no suspension or brake upgrades, bad things can happen. Most people don’t understand these things, and I wonder to what extent the safety of the car is compromised.

    BMW went from elegant to ugly.

    Mercedes went from boring to absolutely stunning! Name one ugly Mercedes made currently… You can’t do it.

    I agree completely with the Mercedes comment. However, I happen to like the BMW look. I might give the 6 series a slight “butt reduction”, but after driving a 645i from College Station to Houston for the Ultimate Drive, I can overlook a large rear!!

    Of course, it’s not for everyone. A friend of mine hates the SL. I have told him repeatedly that he is insane, but to each his own.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    I’d have to disagree on the BMW comment as well. I like the Bangleness, love the new 3, 5 and 6 series.

    MB is about luxury first and foremost and driving character second. Of course they will always do an AMG and slap on some massive HP, just look at the ridiculousness that is the R63 AMG but it’s not a driver’s brand. Most of their cars can not be had with an optional manual transmission so their purpose is to impress and coddle you not invigorate. If you want a car that drives well and you like luxury BMW is your brand if you can’t afford or don’t want a Porsche. I’ve never driven an SL but I bet it doesn’t handle any better than a BMW 550 four door sedan (at least that can be had in manual, SMG or auto, i-drive required is the only downside).

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    3 questions:

    1. “a 4202 lbs. roadster that doesn’t wallow”

    How do you get a 2 seater to weigh 4202 lbs? Did they make it out of lead?

    2. the world’s woofliest standard issue V8

    What does the word “woofliest” mean?

    3. I now know middle aged white people can stunt and floss with the best (worst?) of them.

    I floss every time I brush my teeth. What is “stunting“? and What does it have to do with tooth brushing?

  • avatar
    gunnarheinrich

    A first rate review Mr. Farago. You’ve captured the fact that this SL is one of the few current offerings from Mercedes that actually manages to capture (and exceed) Benz heritage pre-DCX. Somebody had to say it…and you did.

  • avatar
    gearhead455

    4202 Lbs… I’m surprised there where any kind words attached to that number.

  • avatar
    TexasAg03

    How do you get a 2 seater to weigh 4202 lbs? Did they make it out of lead?

    Safety features, electronics, and a convertible hard-top. Hell, a new Civic weighs 2700+ lbs and an Accord weighs 3500+ lbs.

    What is “stunting“?

    Stunt and floss are current slang terms meaning to show off.

  • avatar
    nweaver

    Ugly Mercedes:

    R
    ML
    GL
    CL

    Heck, I don’t like the ass end on the new S class either…

  • avatar
    maxo

    Yeah thats flossin and stuntin, but what is a slang term for “sarcasm”?

    I agree with nweaver’s ugly MB list. I also don’t dig the look of the SL with the hardtop up, the back pillars seem to reach forward too much and be too far from the back corners.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    A good friend owns a sl350. Once stopped at a stop light some ‘lady’ asked to sit in my lap, so yeah, it does stunt if that’s what you’re about. But the ‘sl’ stands for sport luxury with a heavy emphasis on luxury. Why does it weigh so much? Well it’s a two-seater, but it’s bigger than most 4-seaters. It’s a gigantic beast but really fun to drive. I’m sure the 500 is even more fun. But saying it’s good fast but better slow about sums it up. It’s a real treat to just cruise around with the top down enjoying the weather.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    I still do not understand what stunting has to do with dental hygine.

    Nor do I understand why a 3400 lbs Accord, which is a pretty big sedan (I own two) that seats five, justifies a 4200 lbs, two seater.

  • avatar
    gearhead455

    Well if you want to make an irrelevant comparison this vehicle is 150 Lbs heavier than a Ford Crown Victoria. But does a CV have any cool doodads? No…

    I understand fully why this car weighs so much and I do not think it’s a big deal. Nobody should be surprised… But I was surprised that it was somewhat blown off when so many other vehicles are intensely scrutinized.

  • avatar

    Woofliest = making a “woofle” sound. Not quite a burble, but in the same ballpark.

  • avatar
    Jay Shoemaker

    I have owned five of these models including the SL55 and SL600 and they are completedly misnamed as “sport” and “light” since they are neither. They drive and handle like large sedans and use anti-gravity trickery, AKA active body control to confuse you into thinking differently. The electronic brakes, universally disdained and ultimately banished from the E and CLS class, soldier on in the SL, eliminating all brake feel. Mercedes has decontented the SL since its introduction in 2003 in order to hold the MSRP fairly level and now it is cursed with the worst sounding stereo in the model line. Mercedes idea of improving the interior for 2007 was to add a piece of leather over the instrument binnacle which previously had been plastic. Have you seen the temperature dials lately- right out of a 1970’s Chrysler.

    Did you at least receive your honorary AARP card after your test ride?

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    I missed the weight, sheesh doesn’t a Charger weigh about that much and its freakin huge?

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Steve_S,

    The SL is also freakin huge

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Admittedly 4202 pounds is a lot of weight for a machine whose letters after the numbers equate to “sports light.” But there’s plenty of stuff here which will save your life – even when at rest.
    In late 1999, there was an incident that shows how weird things get out in the so-called real world. A guy in Bellevue WA was in his “sports light” – a 1991 model as I recall – when the flatbed truck, carrying metal dumpsters, lost its load; he was just next to it.
    The driver thought the driver of the Merc was “flatter than a tortilla” (as Karen Black’s character described a poor cat, dead-in-the-road, in the great movie “Five Easy Pieces”). But (as a certain auto mag says), but wait there’s more.
    It turned out that as soon as the dumpster hit the Benz drop-top, or maybe because the driver had tried an evasive manuever, the Merc’s controls for the pop-up roll bars, thought the car was going over; and so, the roll bars popped up. That kept the dumpster from crushing the guy and allowed the local fire department’s medics to free the driver.
    Now admittedly, most of the boy racers who insist that everything coming from the three-pointed start must be AMG-spec will just yawn and say, “So what’s your point old dude?”
    The point is Morris Garages got it right in the Fifties with their slogan: Safety Fast.

  • avatar

    Jonny,

    Check the specs. The SL is 178.5 inches long on a 100.8-inch wheelbase. A Civic sedan in 176.7 inches long on a 106.3-inch wheelbase.

    Not freakin huge.

    I had limited exposure in a 2004 SL500 recently. I wasn’t in an area where I could push it terribly hard. But in 5/10 driving it felt much more agile than I expected it to.

    Want a high-end convertible that handles like it weighs over two tons? Buy a 650Ci. It weighs about the same as the Benz, but is considerably larger, and feels larger still.

    On the styling issue, I feel that Mercedes was turning out some nicely styled if somewhat understated designs in the early 2000s. But now they’re getting overwrought. I don’t care for the RX-8 fenders on the new S-Class. The new CL is an eyesore. The R has a fish face and a hint of bangle butt. And the SLR’s hood has a huge phallus on it, not to mention the similarly overdone side vents.

  • avatar
    imageWIS

    The side vents on the SLR are very retro-inspired. The original SLR had massive side vents (as did the original 300SL for that matter), thus MB followed the pattern. The CLS is to me the best looking Benz currently made, with the SL and SLK coming in 2nd and the C-Class coming in third. I remove the SLR from being counted on the sheer fact that it’s in a different league than the rest of the MB range, after all it’s a ‘Mercedes-McLaren’.

    Today, Mercedes on average look better than their BMW counterparts, whereas 7 years ago it was the other way around. As look as Audi keeps on coming on at full steam, I think both will continue to lose market share in the US.

    Jon.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    Karesh,

    I meant that 4200 pounds makes it frickin huge.

    Man… this place is becoming the Fussy Truth About Anal Semantics dot Com

  • avatar
    TexasAg03

    Woofliest = making a “woofle” sound. Not quite a burble, but in the same ballpark.

    Cool…new word.

  • avatar

    Is it frickin or freakin? Gotta get these things straight.

    Anyway, Steve S was clearly referring to the size of the car, not the weight. I don’t know about you, but when I hear “huge” I think size, not weight.

    Fact of the matter is that the SL has always been among the densest cars you can buy. Not large, but heavy.

    BMW doesn’t build light cars. But even though the 650 is a foot longer than the SL, and weighs about 400 pounds more than its coupe counterpart, the SL weighs about the same.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    For a modern two-seater, it is rather large.

    But, I meant that a two-ton two-door is by definition fraggin’ huge.

    I’ve driven a 645i convertible, not the new 650i, and it was novacaine.

    Dull, dull, dull — for what it should be.

    I wouldn’t kick it out of bed, etc.

  • avatar

    The 650 is no different. Coupe handles much better–no doubt because it weighs so much less. Still don’t care for it.

  • avatar

    Woofliest = making a “woofle” sound. Not quite a burble, but in the same ballpark.

    Cool…new word.

    No it’s not. I first haerd it used by Joanna Lumley in The New Avengers. And she made it sound sexy as hell.

    Syke
    Deranged Few M/C

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    I really hope they stick the 6MT in the M6 Convertible…

    Can you imagine?

  • avatar
    mbslk350

    I drove the SL500 and the just-released SLK350 a couple of years ago. I bought the SLK350. To me, the SLK350 is 80% of an SL at 50% of the price. The SLK doesn’t have ABC (who cares?), it doesn’t have the SBC brakes (a definite plus!), it’s faster than an SL500 (not sure about the 550 though), and it has active heated headrests that allow top-down motoring down to 30 degrees F (no joke). So, the SLK offers some nice stuff that the SL doesn’t have, it lacks stuff I cound not care less about, and it left about $45K in my pocket compared to the SL. Not to mention that it gets nearly 30 mpg on the road and low 20’s around town, which is a nice bonus.

  • avatar
    dolo54

    oops – i was told sl stood for ‘sport luxury’ which makes a lot more sense than ‘sport light’… my bad. oh yeah the one my friend has has a gas mileage meter which is usually in the low 30s. i don’t know how accurate that is, if it’s anything like the prius mileage meter, it’s not at all, but still it seems to do pretty good for that big a car and engine.

  • avatar

    TexasAg03:
    I’m sure you know that car owners who inflict double-dubs on their whips happily sacrifice ride and handling on the altar of, gulp, style. R.F.
    I agree with your use of the word “inflict” here. I would like to see someone (TTAC, perhaps?) research the effects that larger wheels and tires have on handling and braking. When unsprung weight increases, with no suspension or brake upgrades, bad things can happen. Most people don’t understand these things, and I wonder to what extent the safety of the car is compromised.

    I second this!!! I recently spent a lot of time trying to find info on this. I needed new tires for my Accord, and I was thinking of getting bigger wheels. (A bunch of people convinced me not to.)

    Regarding the SL550, when I look at those headlights, I think of peanut farmers in Georgia in their overalls. And I, too would like to know why it weighs so much (forgive me if someone has already answered that question–I’m taking a brief break from work). Put these cars on diets!

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    IIRC, and I am almost that old, when the 300SL (the great Gullwing) came out the SL was supposed to stand for super light. My Grandfather drove a 190 SL for a while, back then.

  • avatar

    >>Fact of the matter is that the SL has always been among the densest cars you can buy. Not large, but heavy.

    Yeah, if any denser, they’d become black holes

  • avatar
    Penaloza

    My father still has his 190sl. A 1959 I believe. Wonderful car to cruise in as a 16yr old kid. It’s a little pokey, with only a four cynlinder and it sure doesn’t feel light at all.

  • avatar
    Lesley Wimbush

    Mmm… woofly… is that the same as having a “talking cam?” (courtesy of grassroots motorsports forum).

    The B Class. It’s ugly.

    There’s a black SLR parked in the underground garage of Mercedes in Toronto where I pick up my press cars. It looks like an evil dragon. It makes my knees weak.

  • avatar
    merc411

    The 2007 edition of SL550 not only has more horse power but more gears and torque too. When you look in to the inside of the car you will see a much more improved and more luxurious car than before.


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