On Wednesday of this week I drove 3 1/2 hours from Minneapolis to The Dells, WI… about the halfway point between Minneapolis and Chicago, to meet the new owner of this lightly used (just over 5,000 miles) 2012 model Mercedes Benz SL550. It’s the longest single stint I’ve put in behind the wheel of an R230 series Mercedes-Benz SL (2003 – 2012). The 2012 model is the last of that series, the most highly evolved of that series, and an absolute joy to drive. Click the YouTube screenshot above or think link to watch the Road Trip Video! (commentary begins at about second 20).
Despite what some people say, what might be printed in the marketing material, these aren’t really ‘sports’ cars in the true sense of the word, not like a Porsche 911 is a sports car or a Ferrari 360 Modena is a ‘sports’ car… sports cars are brutal, uncomfortable things, impractical for every day use, but absolute perfection on a race track. The Mercedes-Benz SL is a grand touring car… it handles beautifully and has plenty of power, but it’s a much more civilized machine. You can get in this car and tool around town at 25 – 35 mph comfortably or you can get on the highway and cruise at 75 mph all day in complete comfort.
You can adjust the Active Body Control suspension to be extremely tight and responsive if you want to really take to the twisties, you can use the steering wheel mounted shifter paddles if you want to decide when to shift gears (even though you’ll never be as quick or smooth as the computer controlled automatic transmission in Sport mode). This is a car to throw an overnight bag in the back of and cruise to a vineyard, the lake house or wherever else you might want to go.. the further away, the better.
The 3 1/2 hours I had behind the wheel of this car were comfortable and fun. I tried to find excuses to get off the highway, just to have another chance to apply the gas, liberally, as I cruised up the on ramp to re-join traffic. I kept the cruise control set at 74mph the whole time, a brisk pace, but I certainly wasn’t the driving faster than everyone on the highway. As I would cruise up on someone going slower, in the fast lane, they would see this low slung, black car with huge the huge three pointed star in the grille, bi-xenon headlamps on and immediately get over in the right lane… even though I was only going a couple of miles per hour faster, I think the car is perceived by other drivers to be going a lot faster than it really is. It is certainly capable of a lot faster… it just looks fast when you see it, but it’s the smoothness of the car that’s so amazing. Heavy and steady as you cruise down the highway.
Starting with the 2009 model year, SL class cars got all the latest electronics from Mercedes-Benz along with a cosmetic refresh. Sitting in the driver’s seat of a 2009 and newer you can’t help but notice the bulges in the aluminum hood, they do add a mystique to the view out the front windshield, and, I suppose, do something for the airflow over the hood, as Mercedes-Benz engineers never do anything without a real functional purpose behind it.
Interior enhancements for 2009 and newer cars include the hard drive based system that runs the navigation, music register, iPod connector, voice control… all the latest stuff, so, I hooked up my iPod, put on some Bob Marley, activated the Harmon/Kardon Logic7 Surround Sound system and daydreamed about green little Caribbean islands, I just watched a great documentary on PBS about the history of Reggae in Jamaica, so I have been on a bit of a Marley kick the past few weeks.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this SL road trip was that I was easily achieving just shy of 25mpg with the cruise control set at 74mph. The 382HP engine was much more fuel efficient than I expected in real life. The EPA window sticker says you’ll get considerably less than 25mpg on the highway in this car. While going through a couple of construction zones I reset the cruise control to 60mph… average fuel economy went to 26.2 mpg at that point… so decent gas mileage is certainly possible.
So, I met my customer from Highland Park, IL at a McDonald’s restaurant in The Dells, WI where he bought me a cup of coffee and I laid out the paperwork for the transaction. He signed everything, gave me his check and the keys to the 2009 Mercedes-Benz GL450 he was trading in… this was my ride back home to Minneapolis. The GL450 is certainly a comfortable ride, safe, great visibility… but it’s quite a change from teh fighter plane like handling and low seating position of the SL…. it took some getting used to on the return trip.
We have already seen the first of the R230 cars fall below the $30,000 mark on the used car market. Since the 2013 models have already been release, the new body style, we will soon see the R230s drop in price even further from where they are today. They are very modern cars, light years ahead of the R107 models and much more advanced than even the R129 series SLs from the 1990s and early 2000s. As my customer and new found friend from Highland Park left the McDonald’s parking lot with a wave and a smile I thought… everyone ought to own a Mercedes-Benz SL at some point in their lives… and if you’re going to get one… the R230 series are some of the best.