I know, I know, you’re thinking “What the hell, they’re giving out $100,000 sports cars as courtesy cars now?!?!?” Well, yes and no. As I arrived at Phoenix Sky Harbor to get my car, they handed me the keys to an SUV, fine by me. But, being more of a car guy, traveling solo for the week, and knowing that most other players prefer the SUV’s, I asked the lady in charge if I could have one of the E-classes sitting on the lot. I figured that’s a good ride, and something new to review. She said, “Sure, but if you want I have 2 roadsters also, and it looks like you only have one piece of luggage. It’s that one over there…”
Me: “Excuse me…that one? Are you kidding me right now?”
So thanks in part to good fortune, but mostly to Rusty, my caddie, for lugging my clubs from San Diego to Phoenix, I ended up in a 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 for the week. This baby right here….
Aesthetics are always a personal thing, but I think it’s hard to find fault with a SINGLE line on this car. It has an imposing stance with the aggressive grille and oversized Mercedes Star, but still proportional to the elongated hood. The hood has air intakes on the top near the windshield which are visible to the driver, constantly reminding him that he’s sitting roughly three feet behind a raging powerplant of an engine. The fenders and doors sweep back beautifully towards the neatly designed rear of the car. The tail has modest teardrop taillights, but it’s most defining feature is what it doesn’t have: a bulging rear decklid when the top is down. The top folds so neatly into the trunk that Mercedes completely avoids the awkward rear-end that frequently accompanies convertibles. Overall, the car is beautiful, has a serious Wow Factor in the valet circle, all without being overstyled or blingy. That’s vintage Mercedes. SCORE: 5
Considering Mercedes basically only does impeccable interiors we could almost skip this category, give it a 5, and move to more fun stuff, but the SL’s interior is so good a few things need to be mentioned. One is the leather, good lord, I don’t know what kind of German steer they used to upholster those seats and interior, but it’s something else. Pure unadulterated luxury. The second is the incredible visibility out of the cabin. For a sports car or GT, it’s unmatched. You never feel cramped, never have to stretch your neck or shift in your seat to get a better angle or view of the road. And last but not least, is the Air Scarf. What’s an Air Scarf? O, it’s just a vent between the seat and the headrest that pumps hot air onto your neck, just so you can put the top down on cold clear Arizona mornings. Yuppppp. It’s damn amazing. 35 degrees out, top down, crank the heat, crank the Air Scarf, and straight CRUISE. Awesome. SCORE: 5
The Mercedes-Benz COMAND system is solid, having all the bells and whistles we’ve become accustomed to in luxury cars. I have one complaint, and one compliment. Complaint first: the buttons that take you to the main menus for Nav, Radio, Telephone, etc. are on the center console, while the knob you use to navigate those features once you get there is down on the armrest. That means you are constantly moving your hand between armrest and center console, and having to look up at the console to find the button you want. Small compliant, but annoying. BMW’s menu buttons surround the control knob on the armrest, a much better and intuitive system. The compliment is how good the voice recognition is when entering an address into the GPS. We’ve all been there, you’re driving down the road, you need to enter a destination, but your Nav won’t let you. The COMAND system takes your destination by voice, and does it perfectly.
As far as the driving systems, I like the DISTRONIC cruise-control, which uses radar to keep a proper distance from the car in front of you, then speeds back up when there’s room to run. The lane-assist is just OK, it doesn’t shake the wheel very strongly when you swerve off your lane, and eventually you just ignore it. The Blind Spot Assist is awesome, every car should have it. It basically just beeps at you if you turn on the blinker and there’s something in your way. It would save a lot of highway accidents. Another crazy feature is that you can open the trunk by waving your foot underneath it, you know, in case you have your hands full of cashmere sweaters, or money, or whatever it is people who drive SL’s carry around with them. SCORE: 4
It is SO MUCH DAMN FUN driving this car. Where to begin. I guess we’ll start with what happens when you floor the accelerator: You get slammed back into the seat as the car devours road, the speedometer needle is barely visible it’s moving so fast (0-60 in 4.5s), and the sound…O my the sound. On first listen it’s one beautiful orchestra, but actually it’s the combination of a throaty roar from the 4.6L V-8, and a screaming whir from the twin-turbos that sounds like a space ship charging up to jump to light speed. When you let off the gas, the roar subsides, but you can still hear the turbos whirring for a split second, it’s WILD. And it’s fun to drive around the neighborhood at reasonable speeds also, the 516 lb-ft of torque comes at 2,000 RPMs (not a typo), so you don’t have to be redlining it on the track to feel the car’s power.
For me though, the most impressive aspect of the car is the handling. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Sport or Comfort mode, I’ve never felt so much confidence in a car’s ability to stay glued to the road. Maybe it’s the suspension, or the Direct-steer feature that changes the wheel’s steering ratio depending on speed and cornering, but It’s perfectly balanced, has almost no sway or roll, it’s a marvel of engineering, it really is. I can only imagine how much fun it would be to drive on the track. SCORE: 5
1 bonus point goes for the sound system. Mercedes-Benz realized they had a few empty holes or spaces in the aluminum chassis, so they used them to as resonators for the sound system. I’m not going to pretend to understand how that works, but the result is sick, the sound system is off the charts good. Another point is awarded for only being offered as a hard-top convertible. This car is awesome as a coupe, but it’s tough to beat driving al fresco, and all it takes is pushing a button for 16 seconds. Best of both worlds. A final bonus point is awarded for being an iconic car. The first SL was released in 1954, the legendary 300SL Gullwing, and in 6 generations since, has defined the words Grand Touring.
As far as price and competition go, there’s not a whole to talk about regarding either. At $115,000 the car I drove is exorbitantly expensive. Is it worth the money if you’re worried about money, hell no. But if you’re not, it sure as hell is worth the money. As more of a grand tourer than a sports car, it’s hard to compare to a Porsche 911, Audi R8 or any Ferrari. And as far as GT’s go, Aston Martin’s DB9 and Vanquish would certainly be stout competition but clock in at near and above $200,000. Really that just leaves the BMW 6-series. Less expensive than the Benz (you can get an M6 for $100,000) but also less impressive. As a huge BMW fan it pains me to say this, but having driven a 650i on the track, it’s a great car, but for me it’s BMW’s least desirable offering, and no competition whatsoever for the SL.
All in all, it was a true privilege to spend a week in the SL550, the only problem I have now is that I want one…….