2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Road Test Review
2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 adds "Sport" and "Light" to classic SL nameplate
Scores High: Elegant interior, agile handling, relaxed ride, exclusivity, plenty of power
Scores Low: Stratospheric pricing, not as sporty as some rivals
Total Car Score Analysis
Descended from the 1952 300SL race car, one of the most beloved and beautiful sports cars of all time, the Mercedes SL has been a symbol of sportiness and elegance for 60 years. Mercedes calls it the very definition of the luxury roadster, and that's appropriate because, while it's a refined grand tourer, it lacks the razor sharp handling and sixth-sense road feel of competitive sports cars.
The latest changes make the all-new 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 better in just about every way. The new twin-turbocharged 4.6-liter V8 is more powerful and fuel efficient than the outgoing 5.5-liter V8, and the lighter weight made possible by an almost completely aluminum body improves handling. Though power and handling number among the Mercedes’ strengths, the quality of the interior, the comfortable ride and its overall refinement make the 2013 SL550 an enticing slice of drop-top driving. Weaknesses include the six-figure pricing and limited performance when placed against similarly priced two-seaters from competing automakers.
Taken as a whole, the new SL550 is a sporty yet relaxed way to show off your success.
The body structure of the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 is now 89 percent aluminum, and 242 pounds lighter than the last-generation body. The retractable convertible top is made of plastic and magnesium, which sheds another 13 pounds. Aside from the structural changes, the SL also gets a new look that is slightly bolder, with a more pronounced snout, a larger grille, and a more upright stance. The shape follows the classic sports car formula, with a long hood, a rear-biased cabin, and a fairly short rear deck. The car looks equally compelling with the retractable hardtop up or down. A power windscreen extendes from behind the seats to help quiet the passenger compartment with the top lowered, and Mercedes offers a unique Magic Sky Control roof to control interior lighting with two levels of tint for the panoramic glass top.
The 2013 changes make the new SL550 sportier, faster, and more fuel efficient. The new aluminum body is 20 percent more rigid and the car is 275 pounds lighter overall. The result is a car that combines sportiness with comfort, and two capable suspensions let drivers choose various levels of each. The base Agility Control suspension uses electronically controlled dampers, and the optional Active Body Control (ABC) suspension features hydraulic servos on top of the springs to counteract body roll. Both systems have Comfort and Sport modes.
With either suspension, the 2013 SL550 is at home in stop-and-go traffic or on twisty canyon roads. It rides smoothly over broken pavement and feels relaxed in traffic, but it also dives into corners enthusiastically and manages its weight to change direction again, willingly. The steering is a bit slow just off center, but a variable ratio steering gear makes the car turn more sharply the farther the wheel is rotated. This helps the car track through switchbacks without too much effort on the driver's part. We would prefer the steering to be a bit sharper, though, with more weight and road feel. We like the SL's dynamics but we prefer the sharper, quicker response offered by a certain Stuttgart competitor.
The new engine is also quite content to toddle along in traffic, but when pushed it has plenty of power, rocketing the SL550 from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. This twin-turbocharged 4.6-liter V8 produces 429 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, and it comes standard with a start/stop feature to save gas. Restarts are noticeable but not intrusive with the top down and hardly perceptible with the top up. Overall fuel economy improves to 16 mpg city/24 highway/19 overall, eliminating last year's $1300 gas guzzler tax.
The new Mercedes-Benz V8 also emits a classy, authoritative growl and shows no signs of turbo lag. It works well with the seven-speed automatic transmission, though we would also like the option of a quicker-shifting dual-clutch automated manual. The transmission has Comfort, Sport, and Manual modes. Comfort works just fine in traffic, but Sport seemed too high-strung in our driving experience. The Manual mode will hold gears until the driver shifts via the steering wheel paddles.
Interior Design and Function
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 offers plenty of space for two passengers and comfort, plus a range of amenities fit for royalty. The interior materials quality is top notch, and the fit and finish are exemplary. Supple leather upholstery is standard and buyers can opt for multi-contour seats with a massaging function and active bolsters that inflate to keep occupants in place during aggressive cornering. To keep passengers warm on chilly days and extend the top-down season, Mercedes offers AirScarf, a neck-level heating system located in the seatbacks that can counter chilly outside temperatures.
The primary control system, accessed through the central display screen, is called COMAND. It’s advanced and allows for a high level of personalized vehicle settings, but some buyers will find it fussy. It uses a rotating control knob to scroll through menus on the seven-inch display. Additional buttons help the driver find various functions quicker, but the system takes some time to master.
The SL550's retractable hardtop adds to the car's refinement. It moves up or down at the push of a button in 20 seconds and offers the isolation of a coupe when closed or the open air fun of a convertible when retracted. It does, however, take up considerable trunk space. That's not so bad because the trunk has a useful 10.2 cubic feet. Drop the top and that shrinks to 7.2 cubic feet, but there is still enough room for two sets of golf clubs. What else does an SL buyer need?
Primary Features and Options
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 comes predictably well equipped. Standard features include leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, 12-way power adjustable heated seats, a power windscreen, hard-drive-based navigation system with real-time traffic, USB port, 10-speaker harman/kardon surround sound audio system, HD radio, six-disc CD changer, satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, auto-dimming rearview and driver's side mirrors, power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, universal garage door opener, power windows and locks, power heated mirrors, remote keyless entry, and 18-inch alloy wheels.
A full suite of safety features is also standard. They include Mercedes' Attention Assist, active head restraints, bi-xenon headlights with active curve illumination, tire-pressure monitoring, front airbags, side airbags, driver and passenger knee airbags, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, traction control, electronic stability control, automatic pop-up rollbars, and Magic Vision Control wipers with the water jets mounted in the blades.
Options are numerous, but notable features include the aforementioned Active Body Control suspension, Magic Sky Control roof, AirScarf neck-level heating, and active multi-contour seats. Buyers can also get Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Parking Assist, Distronic Plus active cruise control, a rearview camera, and a 900-watt 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system.
It’s Perfect For…
Given its $105,550 price of entry, the Mercedes SL550 is unobtainium to most buyers. For those who have arrived, however, it appeals as a sports car with the comfort, refinement, and isolation to make it a viable everyday driver. It can't match the Porsche 911 for all-around dynamics, but buyers who aren't concerned about ultimate performance will find it easier to live with day to day while still offering the power and performance to enjoy an occasional blast though canyon roads.
Vehicle Tested: 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550
Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $105,500
Options on Test Vehicle: Premium 1 Package (rearview camera, ParkTronic with Active Parking Assist, active ventilated multi-contour seats, hands-free access, power trunk closer, Keyless-Go -- $4900), Driver Assistance Package (Distronic Plus with Pre-Safe Brake, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist -- $2500), Magic Sky Control ($2500), Active Body Control ($4090), analog clock ($250), illuminated door sills ($350), 19-inch twin five-spoke wheels ($500)
MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): $122,815
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The manufacturer provided Total Car Score this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Photos Courtesy of the manufacturer.