The actual straight-line performance isn't going to blow too many supercars away. On a dry surface, the SL500 will accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in 6.3 seconds, a time that's bettered by the Porsche 911, the BMW M3, and even the Subaru Impreza WRX--but they can't match the Merc's midrange oomph, a massive 339 pound-feet of torque that is available between 2700 and 4250 rpm. This elastic torque band is the reason the SL explodes forward above 70 mph, barely running out of urge until the electronics kick in at 155 mph. Although the 24-valve, SOHC, all-aluminum engine is at its best when using that fat midrange torque curve, it doesn't object to high revs. For optimal acceleration, you need to nudge the shift lever to the left and hold it there until the computer has selected and--patience, please--engaged the lowest possible gear.
Despite its low-slung stance and standard seventeen-inch wheels and tires, the new SL rides remarkably well, even on undulating and broken pavement. Like the coveted 300SL Gullwing, this is a classic gran turismo, a compelling all-rounder. While most of its rivals are either tuned for maximum grip or for a particular handling style, the SL500 wants to be all things to all people. It holds the road like nothing else this side of a Porsche 911 Carrera 4, it's refined, and it remains stable in the most unstable conditions. And, as if these virtues were not enough, the SL comes with a comprehensive list of standard equipment. On the passive safety side, standard equipment includes two adaptive air bags, two head-and-shoulder side air bags, seats with integral belts, and a pop-up roll-over protection bar. The body shell itself is twenty percent stiffer than its predecessor and has improved crash performance. The new SL is also 57 pounds lighter than the outgoing model, thanks in part to the use of aluminum for the doors, hood, trunklid, and front fenders and magnesium for the door inners. For active safety, the new SL adds four tire-pressure monitors and high-intensity-discharge headlamps to the aforementioned Senso-tronic brakes, ABC, and stability control. Among the comfort and convenience options are massaging and ventilated seats that use eight fans per chair. Optional eighteen-inch wheels and tires will make the car look even sexier.
The fifth-generation Mercedes SL is the new dream car for well-to-do grown-ups who want the best of all worlds: a coupe in winter, a roadster in summer, and a totally satisfying drive whatever the season. The latest temptation from Stuttgart is hardly cheap--but the only Mercedes that comes close to it in spirit, the 300SL Gullwing, would require an even bigger investment. A new SL is a rare event, and this one provides a rare experience.