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Cups runneth over in big personality Mercedes-Benz SL

MOTORING

It is so important to stay hydrated.

Do so in the new Mercedes-Benz SL and you destroy hundreds of thousands of euros of development work from the company’s engineers.

The SL takes the “Sport Leicht” name very seriously indeed, with an obsessive range of weight-saving innovations, including all-aluminium construction.

The new SL 500 is 125kg lighter than the previous model, despite being even larger.

That, combined with the direct-injection twin-turbo V8 engine, also helps the SL 500 to a 21% improvement in fuel efficiency – despite having more torque than the old SL 63 AMG.

These are impressive results. These are also big things.

There are little things, too. Like an electrical system trimmed by 4kg and wheel nuts that are 250g lighter per piece.

Or Magic Vision Control, a new windscreen-wiper system with tiny jets in the wiper arms that squirt exactly the right amount of water in front of the blade – and in exactly the right direction, going one way on the first stroke and then the other as the wiper arm returns.

Magic Vision ensures a perfect clean every time and not a drop of overspray on your expensive haircut.

Watershed moments
Magic Vision is extremely efficient, which has allowed Mercedes-Benz engineers to trim 1.7 litres out of the SL’s washer bottle, saving even more weight.

I cannot help but be amazed by the pursuit of engineering excellence in the SL and the painstaking way in which every kilogram has been examined.

I cannot help but feel this is an absurd way in which to build a $265,000 sports car whose primary reason for being is status and luxury. But lessons learned here can be applied elsewhere, no doubt.

I am not a profligate person, so I feel bound to honour the hard work put into the SL by Mercedes-Benz.

Which is why I quickly realised that by taking two small bottles of water with us in the car on the media launch drive for the SL in Melbourne, we were undoing all the weight-saving work accomplished in the world-first Magic Vision system.

So I insisted the water bottles stayed at the hotel. It was a hot day in the city and I felt a little dry. But I worked through that and we went out to help save the planet in our twin-turbo V8 convertible.

Stop making sense
The SL is not supposed to be a sensible car. But there is so much about it that appeals to the head.

The 4.7-litre twin-turbo V8 is ridiculously thrifty in open-road running, the on-board systems (such as audio/sat-nav) are superb, the roof will fold down in just 19 seconds and, when it’s up, you have a boot as big as a C-class sedan.

To open it, you just wave your foot under the rear bumper. Although you probably should think twice about adding luggage to this Super Lightweight roadster.

The SL is a truly enormous machine but it is not an imposing one to drive. Good manners go hand-in-hand with the SL name and that has not changed with the new model.

Going fast slowly
There is actually something more absurd than a luxury roadster trying to be environmentally sound.

And that is driving a high-performance car in the state of Victoria, where you can be ticketed for 3km/h over the posted limit.

As I had been ticketed the previous day in New Zealand for driving 27km/h over the posted limit in a car that used to be a Mercedes-Benz (a Chrysler 300C), I was circumspect about speed in the SL.

I was not alone. Australian colleagues with local knowledge, who I have seen drive at unrelentingly feral pace in other places at other times, always stick to Victorian speed limits with religious fervor.

The signposts are not generous, either. At one stage, on a beautifully flowing piece of tarmac with excellent visibility both ways, I turned to my driving partner and said: “This cannot be the speed limit.”

I was being witty and ironic of course. The cruise control was locked on 80km/h. Correct.

The SL 500 can rocket to 100km/h in under six seconds and spin its rear wheels at will. Irrelevant on this drive. But if you have to be in Victoria, the SL is still a superb conveyance.

It’s as good as wafting along at low speed as it is at warp speed. The world seems like a better place from the cabin of an SL and, if you get bored with learner-driver velocity, you can caress the leather and enjoy the Airscarf blowing hot air on the back of your neck.

The interior quality is exceptional in this new model; in that respect, it’s surely the most impressive model Mercedes-Benz makes. Some of the interior styling cues are straight from the SLS AMG, the SL’s smaller supercar cousin.

Yes, that’s right: the SL is larger than the exotic and extravagant SLS gullwing/roadster.

There’s so much about the SL that appeals to the head. Very German. But 60 years of heritage, a string of famous forebears and a hint of completely justified arrogance means it tugs at the heartstrings as well.

The SL has always had a huge personality. Really, the little details mean nothing next to that.

Except for one: the two-seat Mercedes-Benz SL 500 has three cup/bottle holders. That is ridiculous in so many ways.


MERCEDES-BENZ SL 500

What exactly is it? The sixth generation of Mercedes-Benz’s iconic roadster and the first new one for a decade. It’s larger than the previous model, yet 125kg lighter thanks to all-aluminium construction.

Powertrain: 4.7-litre twin-turbocharged V8 producing 320kW/700Nm. Seven-speed automatic transmission, rear-drive. Combined fuel consumption 9.4 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 5.9 seconds.

Anything interesting in the equipment list? Ten years is a long time: the previous SL, launched in 2002, fell well behind the rest of the Mercedes-Benz range in terms of technology.

Incredibly, it did not have a reversing camera, the Distronic Plus cruise control system or Pre-Safe.

The new SL picks up all of that, as well as innovations like Magic Vision Control wipers and patented FrontBass audio, with bass speakers located in the firewall.

More by David Linklater