First Spin: 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class
SL. Two letters standing for two simple words (Super Light) that changed automotive history. Save for perhaps the Chevrolet Bel-Air, there’s no car that summed up the 1950s like the Mercedes-Benz 300SL.
Known as the “Gullwing” for its innovative doors, the 300SL was one of the fastest, most technologically advanced vehicles of its day. Its state-of-the-art (for the time) inline 6-cylinder engine produced more than 200 horsepower, which was unheard of for a motor displacing just 3.0 liters.
For six decades, the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class has been a quintessential statement of automotive style and luxury. It was a real film and television star. From Zsa Zsa Gabor to Clint Eastwood, Hollywood glitterati and high rollers the world over have enjoyed cruising in an SL, either on the silver screen or in real life.
It’s been a winning formula for Mercedes and not one that changes very often. Including the 2013 model year, the SL-Class has only been redesigned 6 times. When an all-new version arrives, to quote our esteemed Vice President Joe Biden, it’s “…a big ‘effing deal.”
For model-year 2013, the SL-Class nods to the past, refines the present, and offers a glimpse to the future of the Mercedes-Benz brand. The company is doing a staggered launch of this revamped 2-door hardtop convertible. Due at dealers in May is the “base” SL550. Coming in July and November, respectively, are the high-performance SL63 and SL65, both tuned by Mercedes’ AMG performance division. While our focus here is on the SL550, the SL63 and SL65 benefit from many of the same updates.
As previously mentioned, SL stands for Super Light, and it’s on that principle that Mercedes-Benz engineers set to work creating the 2013 model. This wasn’t necessarily a label you could apply to the previous-generation SL-Class. With 382 horsepower on tap, the 2012 SL550 might have been “Super” but with a somewhat portly curb weight of 4,220 pounds, you couldn’t exactly call it “Light.”
Engineers set to the drawing…computer, creating an entirely new frame comprised of 89 percent aluminum. The front pillar and top of the windshield remain high-strength steel to maintain structural integrity. Overall, Mercedes claims the 2013 SL’s body is 20-percent stiffer while weighing 242-pounds less than that of its predecessor.
The car loses an additional 31 pounds through the use of smaller and/or lighter components. For example, the windshield washer fluid tank is smaller, meaning the component and fluid contained therein weigh less. Mercedes is compensating for the smaller tank with its new “MAGIC VISION Control” which incorporates the washer jets directly into a heated wiper blade. This means fluid can be spread more evenly across the windshield while at the same time using less of it.
The roof mechanism realizes some weight savings from magnesium construction. The motors can open and close the top in less than 20 seconds. A polycarbonate panoramic panel with manual sunshade is standard equipment. As an option, Mercedes is offering the SL550 with its MAGIC SKY Control roof. This glass panel can change its tint at the push of a button. Mercedes says this technology can keep the interior cooler while allowing the sun to shine in if the customer so chooses.
Motivating the 2013 SL550 is Mercedes’ (relatively) new twin-turbocharged 4.7-liter V8 engine. With 429 horsepower, this motor is 12 percent more powerful than the outgoing non-turbo 5.5-liter V8. 0-60-mph acceleration drops to 4.5 seconds from 5.3, according to company estimates.
All models include Mercedes’ “ECO stop/start” which shuts the engine down at a stop and restarts it when the driver releases their foot from the gas pedal. Combined with the engine’s turbochargers and high-pressure direct injection, fuel efficiency increases by up to 14 percent. EPA estimated fuel economy for the 2013 SL is 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway, up from the 2012 car’s 14/22 rating. This means the new car is no longer subject to a $ 1,300 federal gas-guzzler tax. The 2013 SL550 gets its power to the rear wheels via a 7-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel paddle shifters.
The standard suspension offers drivers a choice of Comfort and Sport settings, which are adjustable via a console button. Optional Active Body Control includes a different suspension setup with hydraulic dampers and a ride height that can be adjusted by up to 30 millimeters up or down. With the “ABC” suspension, Mercedes claims body lean in turns is reduced from 68-95 percent depending on what setting the driver chooses. It seems like a more-desirable setup versus the standard suspension, but company officials only expect 10-15 percent of buyers to order their SL550 with Active Body Control.
Standard amenities include leather upholstery, heated front seats, driver-seat memory, a navigation system with music hard drive, wood trim, a power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, and a 14-speaker harman/kardon audio system (more on this later). Mercedes’ COMAND control interface and mbrace2 assistance systems include access to Internet searches via Google as well as a streamlined version of Facebook.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 starts at $ 106,405; an increase of about $ 3,000 over the 2012 model.
Mercedes expects 90-95 percent of buyers to select the optional Premium Package 1, which includes front- and rear-obstacle detection, a rearview camera, hands-free parallel parking, heated and ventilated seats with massage, keyless entry/engine start, power trunklid, and the company’s AIRSCARF neck-level heaters. It seems like a nice add, even at $ 4,900; but many of these features were actually standard on the 2012 SL.
The Driver Assistance Package ($ 2,950) offers blind-spot alert, lane-departure warning and prevention, pre-collision auto braking, and adaptive cruise control. The $ 2,000 sport-wheel package includes larger front brakes, cross-drilled rear-brake rotors, a sport steering wheel, and 19-inch alloy wheels (up from standard 18s).
MAGIC SKY ($ 2,500) highlights the standalone option list. Buyers can also select from upgraded leather upholstery ($ 900), analog clock ($ 250), wood/leather steering wheel ($ 590), and rubber floormats ($ 75). Active Body Control adds $ 4,090 while 19-inch wheels are $ 500 by themselves. The priciest solo option is the $ 6,400 16-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system (again, more on this later).
Mercedes-Benz gave us the keys to a 2013 SL to have a blast along some of the winding canyon roads north of Los Angeles. Weather conditions were ideal, but can we say the same about the car?
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