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Modern History

The edgy new Mercedes-Benz SL550 is truer than ever to its sporting roots.

In recent years, I have spent time with my fair share of variants of Mercedes-Benz’s iconic SL roadster. This includes the cushy V-8 powered SL550 base model; the fiery turbocharged SL63 AMG; the over-the-top V-12 biturbo SL65 AMG; and even the über-limited edition, track-ready SL65 AMG Black Series. I mention this not to brag, but rather to suggest a certain personal rapport with the model.

So, it was with a mix of excitement and comfy familiarity that I recently greeted a bright red 2013 SL550 test car. Though the sixth-generation hardtop convertible is all new for 2013 (the first total overhaul since 2003), I was expecting more of a chummy reunion than a shocking revelation. Within moments of pulling out of my driveway… (actually, strike that; with a walloping 516 lb-ft torque on tap, it was more of a “peeling out”), everything I thought I knew about the SL550 went right out the panoramic “Magic Sky Control” glass roof (more on that in a moment).  

A handful of revisions in the all-important weight and power departments have yielded a radically different – and more historically accurate – SL550. Much has been made of Mercedes-Benz’s failure to stay true to the SL’s historic raison d’etre. When it was launched back in the 1950s, the “SL” designation stood for “sport lightweight” (technically, it was sport leicht) – two things the SL has not been in quite some time. Until now.

OK, so at a shade under 4,000 pounds, “lightweight” might be a stretch. But that is roughly 300 pounds less than the previous SL550, thanks to a rigid new 90% aluminum body structure. Throw in a smaller and more potent twin turbo 4.6-liter V-8 rated at 429 horsepower and 516 lb-ft torque and this lighter, tighter roadster rockets from standstill to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. That is nearly a second faster than before and also on par with last year’s SL63 AMG. In fact, with the seven-speed automatic transmission and active body control system both set to Sport mode, the all-new SL550 is so engaging that it has an AMG feel about it. Ditto for my test car’s somewhat shocking sticker price of $124,285.

Stylistically, the new SL550 is also a departure. After years of increasingly sleek silhouettes, new European crash regulations forced a more upright and angular front end. Interior fit, finish and function all blend beautifully in a spacious cabin with rich hides and elegant veneers – all of which can be bathed in your choice of natural light courtesy of one of Mercedes-Benz’s newest gadgets: Magic Sky Control, an electrochromatic glass roof panel that can be adjusted from clear to opaque with the touch of a button.

Of course, the best way to illuminate SL550’s couture-quality interior is to drop the top (which stows silently in less than 20 seconds) and take to any long, open road. There, the SL excels as the world’s reigning comfort cruiser. In that sense, the edgier new SL550 is still like the old friend I’ve grown to know and love.

For more information, visit Mercedes-Benz’s website.
:: mbusa.com

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