Reviews

2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Walk Around

The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is completely redesigned for 2013 with a new body structure made almost entirely (89 percent) from aluminum. The new body is 242 pounds lighter and 20 percent more rigid. The top cuts another 13 pounds through the use of a magnesium structure. The car is two inches longer than the outgoing model and the rear track is three inches wider, but weight is down 275 pounds overall.

Stylistically, the look is bolder this year, with more noticeable creases. The grille is taller and more pronounced, almost too much so. The car's shape features a long hood, an attractive coupe-like hardtop, and a fairly short rear deck that is actually longer than that of most sports cars.

Exterior details include a large Mercedes pointed star in the grille flanked by aluminum wings (this detail looks like an airplane viewed from the front), a pair of air intakes on the hood, and corresponding intakes on the front fenders. Each of the air intakes is detailed with a pair of aluminum fins. LED fog lights are found at the front corners of the car, and they are placed to bisect the side air intakes. The rear of the car is fairly nondescript. Highlights include LED taillights and dual exhaust outlets.

The retractable hardtop is operated at the push of a button, opening or closing in 20 seconds when the car is stationary. The top comes standard with a tinted panorama roof. Magic Sky Control is an option that employs a tinted film with particles that respond to an electrical charge. When charged, the particles stand up to let in more light, creating an 80-percent tint that matches the tint of the standard panoramic roof. When uncharged, the particles lie flat, resulting in a 95 percent tint, which shuts out more sun and keep the interior cooler. Magic Sky Control costs $2500, a price that seems awfully expensive for minimal gain.

Interior

The SL550 cockpit is a model of modern luxury and refinement, with high quality, attractive materials and exemplary fit and finish. It comes with lots of standard equipment, too, but it should for the $105,500 starting price. Among the standard features are leather upholstery with 12-way power adjustable heated seats, a navigation system, a 600-watt harman/kardon audio system, HD and satellite radio, and Bluetooth connectivity. Mercedes also offers ventilated, massaging, active seats that inflate the bolsters to keep occupants in place through turns.

The SL550 seats are quite comfortable and have plenty of bolstering to keep occupants from sliding around during aggressive cornering. The active bolsters, which inflate on the side opposite the direction of the turn. They also have a massaging function with four settings. The massaging function and active bolsters work well, but these seats are almost too indulgent.

The navigation system comes with a 40-gigabyte hard drive to hold map data information and music files. The audio system also features Mercedes' new FrontBass system, which mounts bass speakers in the front firewall to use the front subframes as echo chambers. The base system, as well as the optional 900-watt Bang & Olufsen BeoSound Surround Sound system, sound quite good, but they don't have the distinct surround qualities some high-end systems.

The driver faces a leather-wrapped steering wheel and an attractive instrument cluster featuring a tach and 160-mph speedometer flanking a digital information center. The gauges have a watchlike quality with aluminum trim and gray numbers on white faces.

The Mercedes-Benz COMAND system is standard, and it is the central controller for most of the communications, navigation and entertainment functions. It uses a rotating knob on the center console, as well as six buttons on the center stack to help choose various functions quicker. Drivers scroll through the various functions on the seven-inch dashboard screen. The system takes some getting used to, and it can be a bit frustrating when you don't know how it works, but drivers should get used to it after a few weeks.

The center stack also has some separate audio controls and a phone-like set of numbers that can be used to input phone numbers when a phone is connected via Bluetooth.

A retractable hardtop adds to the refinement of the SL-Class. When up, the top keeps the cabin almost as quiet and isolated as a coupe. Unlike most convertibles, top up visibility is quite good, as the rear pillars are rather thin. The optional AirScarf system features a blower motor and heating element in each seat to blow warm air onto the necks of occupants and keep them warm on colder days. The idea is to extend the top-down driving season, and AirScarf does that but it won't make 40 degrees feel like 70. The car also comes with a pop-up wind blocker behind the seats that redirects air over the car to make the cockpit quieter with the top down.

The trunk is fairly spacious for a convertible. With the top up, it has 10.2 cubic feet of space, which is as much as some coupes. Put the top down, however, and space shrinks to 7.2 cubic feet, which is limited but still enough for a couple of sets of golf clubs.

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