Mercedes-Benz SL500

Drivers Side Taillight View

Redlined at 6000 rpm, the 5.0-liter V-8 needs to be worked hard, because the roadster weighs 4068 pounds. The electronically limited top speed of 155 mph can be reached in fourth or fifth gear. Apart from the lazy kickdown, the manual tip-shift function is suspiciously slow and lacks the convenient thumb-switch controls fitted to the AMG version. Although the new SL is more slippery than the old (the drag coefficient has come down from 0.32 with the hard top fitted to 0.29 with the roof up), our test car consumed fuel at the rate of 10.6 miles per gallon, sucking the 21.1-gallon tank dry after only 224 miles. The official combined fuel consumption is a more environmentally friendly but less realistic 18.5 mpg. [Caveat: Georg does have one of the heaviest right feet on the planet--Ed]

Customers with fat wallets are invited to cram their SLs with all sorts of gadgets, but the truly important innovations are free of charge. Take the new four-link front suspension or the all-aluminum multi-link rear end or the electrohydraulic brake system Mercedes calls SBC (Sensotronic Brake Control). Sensotronic is more responsive as well as more efficient than a set of conventional binders, cutting emergency stopping distances from 75 mph by three percent. It was put to the test by the driver of a slow-moving Fiat who decided to sway from the crawler lane to the fast lane in one dumbass swoop. The SL grabbed the tarmac fast and hard, squashing speed. There was surprisingly little dive but a lot of squat. Electrohydraulic support also has made Brake Assist--whereby full braking is applied when sudden foot movement is detected--more powerful. This all-four-heels-to-the-tarmac attitude is particularly obvious on a straight stretch of road, as stability takes precedence in a corner.

Overhead Rear Passenger Side View

The other significant dynamic advantage is ABC, which is standard on the CL500, the CL55, and the S600. This system reduces roll, dive, squat, pitch, and yaw and keeps the SL flat and stable all the way to the limit. It takes a bit of time to get used to a setup that's so neutral and fuss-free: Speed becomes strangely relative, because you are always going faster than you think and yet rarely fast enough to challenge the car's true potential. Especially in the tauter sport mode, ABC's ability to iron out the vagaries of the road is almost surreal. Even when pushed hard, the new SL continues to handle with un-mitigated precision, shrugging off ridges and expansion joints, filling in potholes, and smoothing over manhole covers. The cornering grip is little short of sensational, turn-in is brisk, and the steering is always full of life. This is a true revelation, because recent SLs have been particularly lifeless around the dead ahead. Deactivate the ESP stability control, and you can drive the new SL like a real sports car, complete with power oversteer if that's what floats your dinghy.

Interior View Dashboard

Through the mountains, the Mercedes maintained its composure at all times. On such tight and twisty roads, a Porsche 911 would keep your attention, a Jaguar XKR would be all over the place, and a Maserati 3200GT would be sliding broadside through every second bend. In sharp contrast, the new SL500 simply went where we pointed it, with as little drama and as much efficiency as is mechanically and electronically possible. You might think that this efficiency would rob the car of driver involvement, but you would be wrong. What the SL provides is a different type of driver involvement, somewhat akin to going to the highest level of a video game. The challenge with this car isn't physical, it's mental. You need to pace yourself, time your inputs well, be particularly careful when judging speed and distance, and drive smoothly and not too aggressively. The Merc won't punish you for braking in the middle of a bend or for readjusting your line at the limit of adhesion. But if you trust its superb chassis and the instant-on controls, it will really reward you. At the end of our day, we climbed out, bubbling with enthusiasm, big smiles plastered to our faces. It's admittedly a rather introverted way of being quick and slick, but it is hugely enjoyable.

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