Electric cars, EVs, zero emissions, sustainability, and eco-friendliness. We’re bombarded with these terms to the point that we’re drowning in eco-consciousness. Internal combustion engines and fossil fuels are bad and must be phased out.
The intentions are good, but they are becoming suffocating. Ever-tightening emission regulations have quietened the voices of high-performance machines. Driving and admiring “traditional” sports cars feels like a crime. But every now and then, a car like the SL comes along.
Yes, it goes fast, attracts attention, and takes a big chunk out of your savings. In SL55 form, it is the first brand-new SL in Singapore that costs over $1 million ($1,002,888 to be exact), its price inflated by the heftier taxes levied on super-luxury cars.
Price tag and vehicle dynamics are just the tip of the iceberg, though. It is no ordinary sports car, for the SL’s true purpose is to refresh a petrolhead’s soul.
When one thinks of a German sports car with heritage, chances are the Porsche 911, which was first launched in 1963, immediately pops into mind.
There’s another model with an even longer history though: It’s the Mercedes-Benz SL, which first debuted as a racecar in 1952.
The SL has racecar heritage, but over seven decades, its sportiness was blended with cruising ability. SL, which stands for “sport-light”, continually evolved into a topless grand tourer.
Indeed, grand is a precise term for the new car’s size. Compared to the previous SL, the latest one is 93mm longer, 38mm wider and 44mm taller. For improved stability and passenger space, the wheelbase has been stretched by 115mm to 2700mm.
The car looks cleaner, sleeker and meaner than its predecessor. Its bonnet seems lower and much wider, yet the designers have wisely refrained from giving it a massive grille and gaping air intake. Brashness is not part of the SL’s DNA.
Everything is correctly proportioned, from the signature grille to the three-pointed star and to the swell of the fenders. The rear end is surprisingly curvy, though.
Hints to the car’s performance are subtle. The “AMG”, “SL 55”, and “V8 Biturbo 4Matic+” badges are relatively small. Mercedes designers are instead letting the huge composite brake rotors (390mm in front and 360mm in the rear), red callipers, and quad-exhaust system do the talking.
DIFFERENT INTERIOR APPROACH
Modern Mercedes models have interiors designed to elicit wows from the moment you lay eyes on the cockpit, but the SL is going with a “hyperanalogue” approach.
Yes, there are still screens. But instead of the usual MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) setup, the 12.3-inch instrument panel is housed under a cowl, reflecting the SL’s sporty roots.
Dominating the dashboard is the tablet-like 11.9-inch infotainment display, whose tilt angle can be adjusted from 12 degrees to 32 degrees at a touch of a button. It helps minimise screen glare when driving with the top down.
For the first time in the SL’s history, the car has rear seats. They can supposedly accommodate occupants up to 1.5m tall, but the backrests are so upright they seem like they are canted forward.
Also, strangely absent on the test unit are soft-close doors and “pushers” that bring the seat belts closer to the front passengers.
For a car with a seven-figure price tag, is this it? Surely there must be more. One can’t blame Mercedes, though, for it does not make cars to satisfy a small market with high taxes like ours.
TIME TO DANCE
Are you tired of hearing about how silent EVs are? Do you crave drama and emotion? Then you must want a car like the SL, whose powertrain unashamedly unadulterated.
Thumb the starter button and the twin-turbocharged, 3982cc V8 comes alive with a deep bark. Petrolheads within earshot can immediately tell that an 8-cylinder was just fired up. There’s no mistaking this for any other type of engine.
The 4-litre unit kicks out 470hp and 700Nm of torque, the latter figure from just 2250rpm. Power is transferred to both axles through the 4Matic+ system with fully variable torque distribution, making this the first all-wheel drive SL.
The most ideal mode for the SL 55 is Individual, so you can customise attributes such as the engine, dampers, traction control, and exhaust. Setting the first two to “Sport” and the other two to “Advanced” and “Powerful” is about right. I also left the 9-speed automatic gearbox in manual mode.
Right off the bat, the V8 eagerly shows how tractable and rev-happy it is. The engine, along with the exhaust, sounds glorious in second gear as the tachometer needle swings towards 7000rpm. It gets real addictive real quick.
The SL might be a sleek grand tourer, but it sounds like an American muscle car when driven hard. Emission regulations are calling for the internal combustion engine to be phased out, but this V8 is giving them two middle fingers while yelling back, “Hell no, I won’t go!”
Even while idling, the V8’s pulsing is palpable. Depending how you flex your right foot, the exhaust will blare anything from low and throaty notes to a full-on throat-clearing roar. Conducting this orchestra is fun, and anticipating tunnels and underpasses is even more exciting.
Time seems to slow down in the SL55, despite its ability to get from rest to 100km/h in 3.9 seconds. The acceleration is great, but losing yourself in the drive is even better. Here, I momentarily forget about the outside world. Savouring the car’s soul-stirring abilities are more important than meetings and deadlines.
Show the SL a series of corners and it obliges your whims, with the steering wheel unexpectedly feeding back road undulations. The car’s movements are progressive and natural. The ride, even in Sport, is pliant, yet accords enough body control on twistier paths.
And when it comes to stopping, those dinner plate-size brake rotors give you plenty of confidence. The SL weighs nearly two tonnes, but it doesn’t feel like it. Only when parking does the car annoy me. Rear-wheel steering is standard, but given the wide turning circle, I swear it doesn’t work.
The SL has nine speeds, but I only use four of them, as the motor’s vocals at high rpms are addictive. Thus, with engine speeds remaining relatively high, a litre of unleaded allows me to cover just over two kilometres. Oops.
After two decades, the SL has reverted to a fabric roof as it is lighter and takes up less boot space when opened. It can be opened and closed in 15 seconds while the car is driven at up to 60km/h.
However, 15 seconds is only possible if the virtual toggle switch doesn’t “slip away” from your finger. I often found myself having to re-swipe to operate the roof. Mercedes should have kept the metal switch of the previous car, which conveniently has the one-touch windows up/down toggle beside it.
FLAWED, YET UNFORGETTABLE
The SL55 is not perfect. Its ergonomics could be better, its rear-wheel steering system further improved, and the boot should be bigger. I am puzzled at the lack of soft-closing doors, and really, given the price tag, it’s outrageous that carbon-ceramic brakes aren’t standard.
The engine’s heat also soaks into the cabin once it and the air-con are switched off. I excuse this by calling it the “SL’s embrace”, but I am irked because the air-con can’t seem to cool the cabin on a hot day.
Exotic supercars aside, there are not many luxury cars today with the SL’s heritage and V8 soundtrack. The last car I recall was the Lexus LC500 Convertible. But it doesn’t feel as solid. It also does not have the SL’s lineage.
Attraction is a funny thing because it can both heighten and dull your senses. Seeing and driving the SL makes my pulse race, and at the same time, overlook its shortcomings.
What matters most, though, is that driving it reminds me that life isn’t just about work. In here, I am freed from sustainability’s constant refrain. The SL refreshes my soul – how can I not love it so?
This story was first published in Sgcarmart.
Mercedes-AMG SL55 4Matic+ 4.0 (A)
ENGINE 3982cc, 32-valves, V8, twin-turbocharged
MAX POWER 470hp (350kW, 476PS) at 5500-6500rpm
MAX TORQUE 700Nm at 2250-4500rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 241hp per tonne
GEARBOX 9-speed automatic with manual select
0-100KM/H 3.9 seconds
TOP SPEED 295km/h
CONSUMPTION 7.4km/L (combined)
PRICE INCL. COE From $1,002,888
AGENT Cycle & Carriage Industries