2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550
2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550. Click image to enlarge

First Drive: 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class
Used Vehicle Review: Mercedes-Benz SL, 2003-2007
Motoring Memories: Mercedes 300SL, 1954-1961
Motoring Memories: Mercedes SL, 1963-1972

Manufacturer’s web site
Mercedes-Benz Canada

Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

Photo Gallery:
2013 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class

The sixth-generation of Mercedes-Benz’s venerable SL luxury sports car, which can trace its ancestry all the way back to 1952, shows a bolder face to the world and hustles with newfound ferocity.

After putting about 400 km on a 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL 550 over some spectacular roads in northeastern Nova Scotia, it was clear the Stuttgart automaker has improved its iconic roadster in every measurable way. Okay, there was some discussion on the styling, but personally I find it cleaner and more purposeful. Mercedes cites 79 percent of SL buyers are male, so its new, more masculine look certainly won’t hurt.

The 2013 SL 550’s starting price of $123,900 is great news for new buyers. Not so much for those who spent $130,200 on the outgoing 2012 model.

2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550
2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550. Click image to enlarge

A first for a production SL is this model’s all-aluminum body shell. The body-in-white is 110 kg lighter than the outgoing model, and most of the suspension components are aluminum as well. The car is 50 mm longer, 57 mm wider, and Mercedes claims a 40 percent improvement in torsional rigidity. I can’t argue with the latter as this two-seat roadster felt stiff as a frozen flounder, with nary a quiver to be felt through the body structure even over some nasty pavement sections.

The heart of the matter is a direct-injection 4.6L bi-turbo V8 that sends 429 hp and 516 lb-ft to the rear wheels through a seven-speed 7GTronic transmission. While the previous model, with its 382 hp 391 lb-ft 5.5L naturally aspirated V8 was indeed rapid, this 2013 model qualifies as ballistic. All the twist comes online at 1,800 rpm, and with a deep-chested exhaust note, the 2013 SL 550 blows by 100 km/h in a mere 4.6 seconds. Dispensing with slower traffic on these winding B-roads was a guilty pleasure.

The car also returns a claimed 18 percent improvement in fuel economy over the 2012 model largely due to the engine’s smaller displacement, standard auto-stop function, and it being 122 kilograms lighter. At 120 km/h the V8 is loafing along at 1,800 rpm.

2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550
2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550
2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550. Click image to enlarge

This seven-speed gearbox uses a standard torque converter — not the multi-plate wet-clutch found in the AMG cars. In keeping with the SL’s mission statement it’s a smooth operator. Three modes are available: Economy, Sport and Manual. In Sport the shifts are more aggressive, it hangs onto gears longer and blips the throttle on downshifts. Manual mode hands over control to the paddle shifters but you probably won’t go there often. Shifts are on the wrong side of tardy and the paddles themselves are small, flimsy plastic affairs. A car in this price range deserves alloy paddles that feel substantial to the touch.

That’s about the only complaint I can level at the interior. It’s a lovingly crafted cabin utilizing the retro-modern theme first seen in the SLS AMG supercar — silver-faced gauges, upright architecture and big circular chromed vents. The standard leather, wood, and alloy steering wheel is a delight and Mercedes’ COMAND interface that uses a rotary control knob on the console is logical and easy to navigate. There is more legroom and shoulder room, plus some useable storage space behind the seats.

Also impressive is the standard 600-watt 14-speaker Harman/Kardon surround-sound audio that features subwoofers integrated into the footwells. It fills the cabin with rich, accurate sound, top up or down. There is a $6,500 Bang and Olusfen upgrade, but save your money. To my ears, the HK has a more warm and natural sound.

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