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Mercedes-Benz SL500 (Old)

10th Dec 2009 8:00 am

 The SL500 is a very useable, well-rounded sports car

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  • Make : Mercedes-Benz
  • Model : SL

The SL 500s design has a sense of rhythm and cohesiveness that makes the SL ever so special. The interlocking ovoid lamps, the slatted grille, or gills, used on all sporting Mercs and the tight-fitting flared front wheel arches deliver class that is seldom attained. The SL is the first road-car application of the company’s Sensotronic Brake  Control (SBC) system  -a system which sends electronic instructions to the individual brake calipers on the basis of pressure applied on the pedal and the ability of the wheel to cope with the braking force. The system can brake wheels individually, balance braking forces in corners and provides faster, harder braking due to the use of a pump that is constantly maintained at a higher pressure. 
 
The SL’s also features an Active Body Control (ABC) suspension system, which mixes conventional springs and dampers with a hydraulically-controlled servo cylinder that controls the car’s dynamics for the best possible ride and handling compromise. 
The hydraulically-controlled servo cylinders located in each of the wheel struts, acting on data acquired from a host of sensors, exert pressure to counteract even the slightest movement from the body. 
 
Ride height is also adjustable and with a mere press of a button you can feel it rise by about 30mm. 
SL stands for Sport Light, and Mercedes has made liberal use of aluminium and special steels but the SL still doesn’t live up to its name and tips the scales at a scarcely believable 1.8 tons! Packed with reinforcements to make it rigid and safe, the SL is actually heavier than a Tata Sumo! What’s amazing is that the SL uses all its technology to make it feel lighter than a Honda City. 

 Full of swoops, dips, rises and hooded binnacles, the SL’s interiors are attractive and make the car very look adventurous. The central console with its array of switches look like they were freshly lifted off the Starship Enterprise -the headrests look a generation ahead and the brilliantly detailed tacho and speedo have dials that look great. The ‘recycled’ cheap-looking black plastic buttons and four-spoker steering wheel remain a Merc constant. Strictly a two-seater, the SL however offers space and levels of comfort and convenience not found on other D-segment saloons. 

Driver ingress is aided by a steering that gets out of the way and seating only two, the SL has acres of legroom on offer. Everything is adjustable by a phalanx of electric motors. Seat height, lumbar and thigh support, and even the inside rearview mirror is electrically adjustable. You can even have cold or hot air blown out of the leather seats. With the roof, rear windscreen and pillars stowed in the boot, the SL does lose out on boot space which shrinks to a mere 235 litres and restricts the amount of luggage you can carry — a couple of small soft bags at best. Also, no spare — just a collapsible space saver and an electric air pump. But we found these quite easy to use.

 The SL gets astonishingly close to perfection and proves that Merc’s decision to develop a hybrid suspension system comprising active and conventional components was spot on. 

Crawling around town on the ultra low-profile 255/45-R17 tyres proved that they provide excellent ride quality. It’s only at low speeds and over sharp irregularities that you feel a lack of compliance and the ‘thuds’ filter through to the driver with the odd creak clearly audible from the arms and joints of the Vario-roof. 
Up the pace a little and avoid those really bad potholes and the SL’s springs, dampers and active hydraulics do their stuff and keep all body movements in check. 
 
And when you get to the road you’ve been waiting for, you realise that the SL is agile in a way something the chubby side of 1800kg has no right to be. A quick 2.6 turns from lock to lock gives the steering precision and accuracy and the driver the confidence to aim it down a road with aplomb rather than steer it defensively in reaction to its size. 
There’s no need to select the ‘sport’ button to firm the suspension up. The SL senses when you want to go fast and firms things up for you. Also, so adept is the car’s active suspension at dealing with all the road can throw at it, and its refusal to roll and pitch, you are stunned by how much speed you can carry into a corner.  Exiting wide sweeping corners at 190 is a walk in the park for the SL500. Corners you’d normally tip-toe through at 80, even behind the wheel of a grippy saloon, can easily be dispatched at 120, no sweat. 
 
In the SL each corner, each lightly trafficked highway is an invitation to play, a chance to get that silly grin on your face. Other tech that helps delivers great bags of confidence while carrying these high speeds through corners is the SBC braking system that applies more braking force to the outside wheels. The 300mm-plus ventilated discs all round have unbelievable bite and the sweetly-tuned ABS system even allows you a degree of wheel lockup before it cuts smoothly in.

Mercedes-Benz SL500 (Old)
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