Mercedes Improves the SL for 2007
When the 2003 Mercedes SL500 arrived on our shores it created quite a sensation. Its new styling and retractable hardtop roof put it in a class by itself. Anywhere I took my test car, I could draw a crowd, just by putting the roof up and down. Since that time, a number of other retractable hardtops have come on the scene, but none are smoother or faster. For 2007, the SL gets a name change—it’s now the SL550—and Mercedes has tweaked the styling and added more power.
The SL’s styling has aged well—it has a certain timeless quality about it. The changes made for 2007 are very subtle. Unless you are a dyed-in-the-wool SL aficionado, you won’t notice them. However, if you look carefully, you’ll see that the front air dam is deeper now, and the grille has three bars going across, rather than four. Also, the SL gets new clear taillights, and new wheels.
The boost in power is much more significant. Mercedes bored out the 5.0-liter, V-8 engine to 5.5 liters and upped the horsepower by 80 to 382. This has added a noticeable amount of muscle. The old SL500 was no slouch, but the new 550 model is even quicker. It will get up to 60 in about 5.5 seconds, while delivering an exhilarating roar through the exhaust pipes.
Teamed with the bigger V-8 is the seven-speed automatic from last year. This gearbox is so smooth that you hardly know that it’s doing its job. The only time it really makes itself known is when you hit the accelerator for a sudden shot of power, and it shifts down several gears to get the job done. But if you’re the type who would rather change gears for yourself, you can do that by nudging the gear selector left or right. However, there are no paddle shifters on this SL.
As you might expect, Mercedes equips the SL550 with a host of high-tech features. The most significant ones are designed to enhance the stability and safety of the car. An active suspension system eliminates most of the body lean when you bend the car into a corner. Hydraulic servos firm up the dampers on each wheel individually to keep the car on an even keel. If you flick the “Sport” switch on the console, the SL corners nearly flat, like a racecar.
Complementing the active suspension is an electronic braking system with Brake Assist. The SL’s brake pedal activates a computer to determine how much brake pressure goes to each wheel. If you need to make a panic stop, Brake Assist recognizes this, and increases the braking force, much more than you could do with your foot, to get you stopped faster.
Out on the road, the SL feels as strong as a vault, even with the top down. Yet, the car does not feel cumbersome. In fact, Mercedes quickened the steering this year, so that it is even more responsive to driver input than it was before. Top-down driving is a real pleasure. The built-in windblocker keeps most of the turbulence out of the cabin. Furthermore, the ride, while firm, is comfortable. If you can afford the price, $95,575, this car delivers a nice balance of sport and luxury.
Plenty of Power
Base price: $95,575
Engine: 5.5-ltr, DOHC, V-8
Transmission: 7-sp auto
Brakes: disc, ABS, BA
Gas Mileage: 14-22 mpg
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