Since the mid 1950’s the Mercedes SL has been an iconic benchmark – it started when the original 300 SL “Gullwing” made its world premiere at the New York auto show in 1954. Since then, there have been some memorable models, with the recently introduced 604 horsepower SL65, being the most outrageous, listing at $248,000 CDN. The 2007 SL models, take the basics and ratchet them up a notch or two, especially in the power department.
The biggest changes are found beneath the hood. The SL 550 is now powered by a 5.5L, 32-valve, twin-cam (with variable valve timing on both cams) V8 that delivers 382 horsepower (which is up 80 hp from the 2006 model) and 391 pound-feet of torque (up 52). Obviously, upping the available power without changing the vehicles weight, works wonders whenever the gas pedal is matted. In this case, it drops the 0-100-km/h time from 6.5 seconds to a very quick 5.4 seconds. More impressive is the manner in which it piles on the speed when the gas is matted to pass a slower vehicle – at 4.5 seconds to get from 80-120 km/h, it is blindingly quick. More impressive is that it does all of this without increasing fuel consumption.
The seven-speed transmission has also been tweaked to make the car feel more responsive. When compared to the outgoing model, the manual shifts (accomplished through the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters) are 30% faster. The exhaust system has also been reworked to reflect the engine’s increased power – it now has a much more purposeful note, one that builds to a delightful roar whenever the gas is nailed and the engine reaches for red line.
The SL550’s brakes have been upgraded to deal with the increased power – the front and rear rotor diameters grow by 20-mm to 350-mm and 330-mm respectively. This pushes the fade limit out to the point where it will not be an issue. The better bit of news, however, is that M-B’s controversial Sensotronic Brake Control (essentially an electronic overseer that second-guessed the driver’s input and invariably got it wrong) has been dumped. The result is a pedal that’s now easy to modulate and so bringing the SL to a standstill smoothly is the simple chore it should have been all along.
The SL600 has also been reworked for the better. Where the outgoing 5.5L, twin-turbo V12 delivered 493 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque, which was enough to blast it to 100 km/h in just 4.7 seconds, the revised version pushes 510 stallions and 612 lb-ft of torque at 1,900 rpm – yes, 1,900 rpm! In spite of the fact the traction control system’s light flashes whenever the driver puts the boot to the gas pedal, the ’07 SL600 still manages to shave the 0-100 km/h time by 0.2 seconds (at 4.5 seconds, it is one seriously fast car).
Understanding just how powerful this engine really is in practical terms is not difficult to grasp when you consider the following: Mat the gas pedal on a dry highway and, after the five-speed transmission kicks down and the twin turbos spin up to full gale, the torque that floods to the fore is enough break the oversized 285/35R18 rear tires free at 140 km/h! Insane? Absolutely, but the rate at which the car surges forward is enough to make the grown man in the passenger’s seat beg the driver to do it again and again and …
To make sure all of this new power is put to the pavement effectively, especially when powering out of a corner, M-B’s active body control (ABC) suspension has been upgraded. When compared to the 2006 model, the ’07 SL’s body roll has been reduced by a whopping 60% – in the sport mode it drops the amount of roll from 3.1 degrees to an all but undetectable 1.2 degrees. Likewise, the steering rack’s ratio has been tightened by 7%, which makes it faster and more direct. The nifty part is that it does not feel twitchy because there is no body roll associated with input. Lesser systems tend to feel a little darty and can be difficult to keep in a straight line because of the direct connection between steering wheel and steered wheel.
While the new look is not exactly a radical departure – new front fascia with larger air intakes, new front fog lights, rear tail light lenses and upgraded wheels – there are enough changes to spot the new model without needing the old one as a reference point. Inside, there are some similarly subtle changes, the most appreciated being the softer leather that fills the cabin – it wraps the dash and hugs bucket seats. The one needed change that did not occur is the upgrade of the all-encompassing Comand system. The SL retains the old system, and not the new one found in the 2007 S-Class.
The other change is a small one, but one that’s sure to be appreciated by current SL owners. The hard protection cover (it defines the space in the trunk where luggage can be placed without damaging the top when it is dropped) can now be removed when the roof will be left in the upright position. While this only adds 0.8 cubic feet, the fact it removes a large obstacle makes the available space much more usable.
There is also a new SL55 model which will be detailed later.
Pricing for the SL550 is up marginally from last year’s SL500 list by $400 to $133,500, a small price to pay for the increased performance. The SL55 lists at $176,500 and the SL600 stickers at $180,000.