While many date the birth of the Mercedes-Benz SL back to the racing 300SL of 1952 (and perhaps justifiably so) the fact remains the first roadgoing version of the iconic automobile was introduced in 1954 at the New York Auto Show. And, in the succeeding 60 years, the model has become a highly coveted icon.
Few cars enjoy the notoriety and desirability of the venerable Mercedes-Benz roadster. At once elegant and sporty, the Mercedes-Benz SL packs the performance to deliver a satisfying drive, while tempering its performance edge with a refined gentility almost diametrically opposed to the car’s true capabilities.
Interestingly, the duality of the car’s nature goes even farther. With its retractable folding hardtop, the contemporary SL is both coupe and convertible. Additionally, even though its two-seat configuration, and affable road manners would lead one to consider it an entry in the sports car market place, the fact is the technological refinement, luxurious appointments, and sheer gravity of the Mercedes-Benz SL make it one of the automotive universe’s most respected personal luxury cars.
In fact, if the Mercedes-Benz SL550 were a human being, and less self-assured, it might well suffer from a textbook case of schizophrenia.
2014 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Road Test & Review: Models And Pricing
For the 2014 model year, pricing for the Mercedes-Benz SL550 starts at $106,700 (plus a $925 destination charge).
As you might well imagine, the standard features list for this car is exceedingly long. Among the highlights are an aluminum body structure, a driver controlled adaptive suspension system, a set of eighteen-inch alloy wheels, LED running lights, self parking, keyless entry and start, a transparent roof with an optional optical tinting feature, and power adjustable seats upholstered in sun-reflecting leather—featuring heat, ventilation and massage functions.
The Mercedes-Benz SL also uses auto dimming mirrors (both interior and exterior), active headlamps with an automatic high beam feature, and a rearview camera monitoring system. The SL also features an automatic trunk lid with a foot-activated opening feature, while its integrated wind blocking screen rises at the touch of a button to eliminate buffeting in the passenger compartment when the roof is retracted.
Additionally, you’ll find Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming, the Mercedes-Benz Comand interface for most secondary functions, as well as voice activation of most secondary functions. There is also a navigation system, and a fourteen-speaker Harmon Kardon surround sound audio system supporting a six-disc CD changer, satellite radio, HD Radio, a hard-drive based digital music storage system, and an iPod/USB digital media input port.
Optional features include a set of nineteen-inch alloy wheels, soft-closing doors, adjustable transparency for the glass roof (aka “Magic Sky Control”), and Mercedes’ Active Body Control suspension system, which eliminates body roll when cornering, dive when braking, and squat under acceleration.
2014 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Road Test & Review: Design
The current Mercedes-Benz SL model is referred to within the company as the R231. Interestingly, if you’ll look back over the history of the Mercedes-Benz SL, you’ll note that with remarkable consistency, some versions of the car have been quite lovely, while others have been—well—not so much.
The models universally agreed upon as beautiful were the first generation W189 SLs built between 1954 and 1963, (which included the Gullwing coupe); the R107 SL models offered between 1972 and 1989 (arguably the most successful SL of all time), and the fluidly graceful R230 SL offered between 2001 and 2008. The visually challenged models were the oddly proportioned W113 built between 1963 and 1971 (whose looks were hampered primarily by the removable “pavilion” hardtop), the bulky R129 SLs offered between 1989 and 2002, and the current R231.
If you read between the lines in the above paragraph, you’ll note every other generation of the Mercedes SL has had styling issues. None of the cars have ever been considered outright ugly; it’s just that every truly attractive generation of the car seems to be followed by a model whose appearance is somewhat ponderous in that regard.
With the “facelift” of the sleek R230 SL in 2008, things started once again to go awry for the look of the car. In fact, it was the continued evolution of the styling of that model which culminated in the utterly unbalanced design of the contemporary R231. With the bulbous front end it inherited from the R230 update, and the less than graceful reshaping of its rear deck, the ”heaviness” of the design opens itself to the slings and arrows of detractors. The good news is if tradition holds true, the next SL should be an absolutely gorgeous automobile.
2014 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Road Test & Review: Features And Controls
Inside the Mercedes however, there is absolutely nothing to complain about. The interior of the contemporary Mercedes-Benz SL is one of the most handsome and finely crafted automotive environments on the road. Rich and supple leather hides complement beautifully matched wood veneers—both of which are nicely accented by the brushed aluminum air vents. The look is an altogether statement of refined sophistication.
That said; it is a bit on the busy side. After all, given the heavy feature content of the SL there are bound to be a plethora of controls, switches, and buttons. However, rather than a technological clusterf—well, you know—it all comes together in a nicely innate and ergonomic fashion. While you might have to look for a minute or two to figure out what some of the more esoteric buttons do, the things you need to control the car’s primary functions are presciently intuitive.
The flat-bottomed steering wheel, graced with wood and leather, harbors controls for the telephone, audio, and trip computer functions, along with paddle shifters for the manual operation of the transmission. The silver-faced gauges have something of a simultaneously vintage and contemporary appearance.
Redundant controls for the audio, navigation, and communications systems occupy the center stack, placed just beneath the Comand system’s video monitor. Speaking of which, the monitor is offered with a feature called SplitView. This allows the driver and passenger to see two different screens with wholly different information—on the same monitor. In addition to voice commands, the buttons on the center stack, and the buttons on the steering wheel; audio, navigation, and communications functions can also be accessed via the Comand system.
2014 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Road Test & Review: Comfort And Cargo
The all-day comfort of the SL’s interior is matched by few other automobiles—most of which are built by Mercedes-Benz. It’s important to note Germans who can afford to buy a car of this nature often use them to travel, rather than employ aircraft, as they can take advantage of the unlimited speed potential of the Autobahns.
For this reason, a car in this class must be capable of comfortably transporting its occupants over extremely long distances at greatly elevated speeds. This is also why the SL’s cabin is laid out so logically. You really don’t want to be hunting around for the climate control system’s temperature dial at 135 miles per hour in the rain.
The transparent polycarbonate hardtop can be either retracted or deployed in less than 20 seconds. And while its see-through nature might lead you to believe it converts the SL into something of a greenhouse, it blocks UV and infrared quite successfully. Order the glass “Magic Sky Control” version and the roof can be darkened almost completely at the touch of a button.
The two-seat configuration of the SL means there are no issues with legroom, and the space afforded the two lucky people who get to occupy this car is so far past adequate it’s laughable. The same for head and shoulder room, they simply aren’t an issue in this car.
However, trunk space is.
The retractable top has to reside someplace when it isn’t deployed and that place is the trunk. Top up, the SL offers 10.2 cubic feet of cargo space in the cargo compartment. Lower the roof and that number decreases to 7.2 cubic feet. Mercedes does include a function for lifting the top slightly when it is nested in the trunk to make placing items beneath it easier. However, if you’re trying to carry as much luggage as you can on a longer trip, you’ll likely be running with the top up.
2014 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Road Test & Review: Safety Features And Ratings
One of the most expensive Mercedes models, you expect the SL to be a showcase of the best of the company’s technologies, and you’ll likely be satisfied with the SL’s features. Details like ABS with automatic brake drying, traction and stability control, as well as a full suite of airbags are a given.
The SL also offers infrared night vision, automatically deploying roll bars, drowsiness detection, automatic collision notification, collision mitigation with automatic braking, stolen vehicle notification and tracking, smart cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane keep assist, blind spot assist, and the Mercedes-Benz PreSafe system, which tightens the seat belts, adjusts the seats to their upright positions, and rolls up the windows—if a collision is deemed imminent.
The SL’s Magic Vision Control feature incorporates laser-cut passages along the blades of the windshield wipers for the distribution of wiper fluid directly in front of them, rather than spraying the fluid wholesale onto the windscreen. This optimizes their cleaning ability, and ensures the vehicles occupants don’t get sprayed with wiper fluid when the top is retracted.
2014 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Road Test & Review: Engine And Fuel Economy
A 4.6-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine producing 429 horsepower and 516 ft-lbs of torque powers the 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL550. Direct fuel injection, and variable valve timing are fitted to the powerplant as well.
The SL’s powertrain also includes a seven-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift function and rear-wheel drive. Auto start/stop is incorporated to help the engine maximize its fuel economy potential.
The SL’s zero to 60 time with this engine is quoted at just under four and half seconds. Top speed is limited to 155 miles per hour. The EPA says to expect 18 miles per gallon in the city, 25 on the highway, and 20 combined.
2014 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Road Test & Review: Driving Impressions
Solid, smooth, confident, fast, and agile are the dynamic hallmarks of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL550. Of course, this can be said of every version of the SL since the model was introduced back in 1954. We have had the privilege of piloting every SL ever created, including the 1950’s Gullwing, and it is remarkable how these qualities are evident in each and every version of the car ever offered.
Even with the plethora of luxury features packed into the current SL, the model still delivers the driving excitement of a highly capable sports car—which it is. At times, it can be almost surreal racing along a winding road in the SL. Your attention focused outside the car, where it should be when driving in this fashion, you forget all of the luxury features, enthralled with the dynamically visceral response of the powerful engine, exceptionally competent suspension system, and the highly responsive steering and braking systems.
This is a car plays along with you quite readily when the mood strikes you to actively engage in the art of driving. Conversely, should you be in more of a mood to relax and tootle along, or if you find yourself mired in heavy traffic, the SL’s automated systems make it more than capable of taking over the majority of the mundanities while you enjoy its rarefied environment.
2014 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Road Test & Review: Final Thoughts
A number of cars try to deliver in the manner in which the SL succeeds.
If you’re blessed with the income to support an automobile of this nature, but for whatever reason can only have one car, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL550 will give you all of the fun of a powerful sports car, endow you with all of the cutting edge technological marvels of a state of the art automobile, while simultaneously coddling you with all of the comfort and convenience features you could ever realistically require in a personal luxury automobile.
Of course, the operative phrase in that previous paragraph is, “if you’re blessed with the income”. This is by no means an inexpensive car. Further, for the kind of numbers you’re looking at when you walk into a Mercedes dealership, you could be considering some pretty exotic hardware in an Audi dealership (R8 Convertible), something considerably more viscerally oriented in a Jaguar dealership (F-Type Convertible V8 S), or a very nicely outfitted convertible with a significant pedigree in a Porsche store (911 Cabriolet).
However, pound for pound, dollar for dollar, none of those cars will deliver the well-rounded motoring experience offered by the Mercedes-Benz SL550.
2014 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Road Test & Review: Pros And Cons
Powerful engine, outstanding handling, abundant tech and luxury features, handsome interior, plus it’s a hardtop coupe and convertible in the same package…
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