date : 9th May 2004
Mercedes-Benz's SL500 defines an
entire class of car on its own. It is not a supercar in the
mould of a Ferrari F360 or Lamborghini. It is not a Grand
Tourer like the BMW 645Ci, which has room for two passengers
in the rear. And it is not a sports car in the mould of a
Porsche 911, which places far more emphasis on agility and
The Mercedes-Benz SL is perhaps a blend of all those cars,
offering speed, excellent handling, superb build quality and
user-friendliness. In fact many SL owners use their cars as
day-to-day transport, despite the fact that an SL is a pure
The SL comes from a lengthy Mercedes-Benz tradition that goes
all the way back to 1955 when the first 300 SL was introduced.
Since then there have been only four body revisions to the SL
range and this is the fifth-generation shape. That is a
remarkable testimony to the SL's longevity and the secret is
the timeless styling that is a Mercedes hallmark. The latest
SL500, introduced here in 2002, is no different. The sleek
shape still draws attention wherever it goes.
And its steel roof-convertible configuration is not just a
triumph of engineering. This car looks good, top up or top
The Mercedes-Benz SL500 costs a whopping one million, one
hundred and nineteen thousand, five hundred Rand. And this is
after it was discounted earlier this year to the tune of some
eighty thousand Rand! That's a lot of money in anyone's book.
But sales have been excellent and if this is not enough for
you, there is a supercharged AMG version that costs just under
one comma five million Rand!
Justifying that kind of money isnít easy and it is obviously
a car for the fabulously wealthy. But it is bristling with
features as well as excellent performance.
The latest 2004 models are now fitted with Mercedes-Benz's new
seven-speed automatic gearbox. With a V8 engine producing two
hundred and twenty five kilowatts and four hundred and sixty
Newton metres of torque, you may well ask: Why seven-speeds?
The reason, according to Mercedes, is that every aspect of
performance is just that little bit sharper. The gear ratios
are spaced closer together and the top gear is taller.
This means quicker acceleration off the mark and better fuel
consumption when cruising in seventh gear.
Like most modern automatics, the transmission is adaptive,
which means it adjusts shift points according to driving style
Drive it slowly with a light throttle and it will change up
early. Mash your foot to the floorboards and it will hold
change points close to the six thousand rev redline. For those
who like more control, there is also a manual, or semi-manual
mode on the gear lever.
The top-folding function is an impressive piece of design and
mechanical efficiency and as the rear screen is glass it means
you won't have to worry about rearward vision deteriorating
over time, as you would with a plastic rear window used on
many convertibles. To enable the top and screen to fold away
without damage to luggage, a special protector shield is
installed. If it is not in place, the folding mechanism
refuses to operate.
Another neat detail of the SL is that it has a quick lift
access to luggage when the top is folded away. If the boot
needs to be fully laden with luggage, you'll have to wait
until you reach your destination before unloading and driving
The SL is a solid car, but it does suffer from just a little
scuttle shake when the top is down. You can feel this via a
slight lack of rigidity in the steering column location. This
is a problem that affects many convertibles. In our
experience, the class leaders in this top-down rigidity at the
moment are Porsche and BMW. The Porsche 911 Cabriolet, which
we will be featuring soon on Car torque, is rock solid top up
or top down and sets new standards for open-top body rigidity.
Travelling in convertible mode, the SL provides excellent wind
protection and it is possible to cruise at highway speeds and
beyond and conduct a normal conversation.
To provide even more top-down comfort a mesh wind-deflector is
provided that clips behind the roll bar. This prevents the
wind-tumbling effect causes as the air passes over the
windscreen and then tumbles back on the occupants, blowing
backwards onto their necks.
The roll bar in the SL is also an interesting piece of
technology. The driver can choose to drive with it folded
down, or raise it via a switch on the console. But if sensors
detect that the car may be about to roll, the roll bar is
automatically erected in a few milliseconds.
All the latest Benz luxury equipment is to found on the SL.
This includes the keyless go system which enables you to
unlock the doors and start the car with your key in your
pocket. As long as you have the key on you the system reads
the encoded signal from the key and allows access and engine
There is also a television and navigation screen which also
incorporates radio and CD functions.
The seats are electrically adjustable and also have warmers,
ventilators and a massaging function.
On the safety front, there are rain-sensing windscreen wipers,
BiXenon headlamps and Distronic. This system allows the driver
to operate the car in cruise control. If Distronic sensors any
slow-moving or stationary object in the car's path, it
automatically applies the brakes until the car has slowed to
negate a closing speed on the obstacle.
As mentioned, for serious performance drivers the SL also
comes in the supercharged version known as the AMG SL55.
But this car is no slouch, with zero to 100 km/h coming up in
six and a half seconds. That is impressive stuff for a car
weighing just over 1 800 kilograms.
Convertibles are often thought to be lighter than closed-roof
cars but this rarely the case.
The extra body reinforcement needed when the top is down adds
weight, and with the array of equipment on board the SL 500,
that one comma eight ton figure is no great surprise.
Overall it is the Mercedes-Benz 500's effortless ability that
impresses. It offers a fluid driving experience that is hard
to beat and it does so with amazing agility for a car that is
It also has the excellent air suspension option which offers
adjustable ride height for clearing obstacles and a range of
damping settings to suit either sporty or leisurely driving
But when all is said and done it is the timeless styling that
gives the SL its unique appeal. Women simply swoon when they
see it, and men driving them seem to puff their chests out
just a little.
It is one heck of a price, but it is one heck of a car too.
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