It's always exciting to have a convertible in the spring when the sun is shining and the temperature starts to climb. With a Mercedes, you can actually enjoy top-down driving even if the temperature is in the 40s thanks to heated seats, good aerodynamics that help push wind around the passengers, and the Airscarf feature. Airscarf is a pair of heat vents at the bottom of the headrests that can blast warm air on your neck, which really takes the chill off a cold morning or evening. It's a bit of a gimmick, but the results are quite nice for those who like to drive with the top down as much as possible.
Not everyone is as fond of the Benz brand, though. While I was waiting at a red light yesterday afternoon, a man climbed off his bicycle and started hassling me for buying a Mercedes. I didn't have the chance to explain I was only reviewing the car before he told me that I should have purchased a car with a manual transmission. When I replied that Mercedes offers only an automatic, he told me I bought the wrong car. Perhaps he never had a chance to experience a transmission like Mercedes' seven-speed, so he wasn't aware of how well the unit performed. In a car like the SL, a large touring roadster, an automatic feels perfect. You really aren't going to be racking up track days in it anyway, and the automatic allows the driver to relax and indulge in the luxury experience.
Ironically, I attended a Hyundai event the next day and learned that only 23 of the 19,000+ 2011 Hyundai Sonatas sold so far have been equipped with manual transmissions. Obviously the Sonata and the SL play in very different segments, but the fact is Americans aren't interested in manual transmissions unless they want to save a few hundred bucks. When the sticker price is beyond $100,000 even before options, saving a few hundred dollars certainly isn't a concern.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor