Introduced more than 50 years ago, the iconic Mercedes-Benz SL-Class has earned an envious reputation for delivering world-class levels of performance, style and luxury. While the original model held true to its "Sport Lightweight" moniker, Mercedes-Benz engineers subsequently ignored the SL's curb weight and considered "diet" a four-letter word -- until now.
The all-new, sixth-generation SL returns to its roots with a comprehensive weight reduction spearheaded by a new lightweight aluminum unibody. Checking in about 300 pounds lighter than its predecessor, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 doesn't just perform better, it does so using less fuel. And this weight reduction comes despite a two-inch increase in overall length and width.
The centerpiece of the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 is undoubtedly the new 4.7-liter V8 engine. With the help of twin turbochargers, this robust power plant churns out 429 horsepower and a staggering 516 pound-feet of torque. Acceleration is menacing, and gear changes from the new multi-mode seven-speed automatic transmission are smooth and precise. Helping the SL deliver better fuel economy than its predecessor are the engine's smaller displacement, direct fuel injection and a new start/stop feature that shuts down the engine during complete stops (and automatically restarts it when it's time to move again).
While the engine and resulting acceleration are both remarkable, the new electric-assisted Direct-steer system leaves something to be desired in terms of steering feel. The system's speed sensitivity and comprehensive feedback filtering are suitable for leisurely jaunts around town and long-haul highway miles, but we found the artificial steering feedback to be a weak spot during spirited driving.
On the design front, the SL550 takes an evolutionary step forward for 2013 and remains true to its heritage. The SL's freshened exterior is complemented by smoothly contoured sheet metal, prominent bi-xenon headlamps with crisp LED lighting accents, and fender-filling 19-inch wheels. Inside, the SL's new technological marvel is an electronically controlled panoramic roof. Magic Sky Control -- first seen on the SL's little brother, the SLK -- allows the driver to alter the transparency of the glass roof with the touch of a button.
Even the SL550's windshield wipers receive an overhaul in the form of Meceredes' new Magic Vision Control. Designed to eliminate that split second of zero visibility created by the wide spray of traditional washer nozzles, Magic Vision Control sprays an even stream of washer fluid through -- and just ahead of -- the wiper blade.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL is also the automaker's first vehicle to feature mbrace2, Mercedes' second-generation infotainment system that provides access to popular mobile applications such as Facebook and Yelp. Though Mercedes-Benz reps claim their COMAND system's central controller is the safer alternative to conventional touch-screen displays, having the option of checking Facebook at freeway speeds certainly isn't going to make anyone a better driver. Audio innovation includes a 14-speaker harmon/kardon audio system with Frontbass, a new system that mounts the subwoofers inside the firewall for additional weight savings and a cleaner sound.
The new 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 starts at around $106,000 with Pre-safe collision avoidance system, automatic high beams, Magic Vision Control, harmon/kardon Frontbass audio system and a panoramic roof. Notable options include the self-parking Active Parking Assist feature, Magic Sky Control, lane keep assist and a hands-free trunk that opens and closes by simply waving your foot in the vicinity of the rear bumper.
Expect the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 to hit showroom floors in May 2012.