2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 – Review and Test Drive

By Jonathan Spira on 21 November 2012
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“That’s one sporty car!” was written on a piece of paper I found tucked under the windshield wiper of the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 parked in my driveway.  It came from a neighbor who loves cars and always has insightful comments about what I am driving.

The 2013 SL550 Roadster made its debut in February of this year during the Academy Awards and went on sale in the spring.  It boasts several new features, among them an all-aluminum body shell (which makes it roughly 300 pounds lighter than previous models), a redesigned direct injection engine, a FrontBass audio entertainment system, and Magic Vision Control, a new windshield wipe/wash system, which channels washer fluid along the blade for better visibility.

With respect to the SL’s weight loss, everything but the windshield frame, which is made of high-strength steel, and the magnesium panel behind the gas tank is made with aluminum.

My favorite feature, however, was Magic Sky Control, a retractable hard top has a glass panel in the center that uses embedded light-blocking crystals that darken (or lighten) on command  New standard safety features including Attention Assist, which detects drowsiness and suggests a coffee break, and Pre-Safe, which detects impending collisions and works to help the driver avoid them through notification and additional brake application, and prepares the vehicle for impact.


I spent a week with the SL and in that time had the opportunity to take it on a road trip to Philadelphia and gave it a workout on the winding back roads in the Tri-State area.  To say it attracted attention would be an understatement.  It stood out, but also felt right at home.  And despite my mother’s warnings about driving a red sports car, I didn’t get pulled over despite the fact that the SL seems to be happiest at 80 to 100 mph (128 to 160 km/h).

The lower curb weight and more powerful V8 engine with 429 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque have turned the SL into a monster but it has nonetheless retained its smooth, polished character.  Despite how much tech gear Mercedes has packed into the SL, I felt as if I were behind the wheel of pure sports car from an earlier era, where fuel economy standards, 5-mph bumper requirements and the internet were not there to get in the way of the driving experience.

Touch the accelerator and hold on.  The SL550 goes from 0 to 60 mph (0 to 96 km/h) in an impressive 4.5 seconds, putting it in SL63 territory (which is just 0.3 seconds faster).  The 7-speed automatic transmission shifts crisply and allows for manual control via paddle shifters.  The automatic stop/start system works well, and almost imperceptibly contributes to the  car’s using 22% less fuel than its predecessor.

On one trip, after more than 250 miles (402 kilometers) of spirited driving on a combination of interstate and winding local roads, the SL reported fuel economy of 25.23 mpg (9.3 l/100 km).

The SL has a multilink suspension that works in conjunction with semi-active electronically adaptive damping.  The adjustable damping system can be set to comfort or sport but I found little difference between the settings.  When it came to cornering, the combination of the lighter front end with a wider track and direct steering gave the SL truly neutral handling.

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