Challenge of the Mercedes Racer (Part 1)
Posted by Kyle Quesnoy on Jun 8, 2008 - 2:25:04 AM
It is a rare and momentous occasion when one gets to experience not one but
three world class roadsters all over the course of a weekend. There was the
seductive SL550, the concrete crumpling AMG SLK55, and last but not least the silver
screen-gracing Mach 5 from the movie “Speed Racer.” Of course only the two
Mercedes Benz vehicles are real-life super roadsters but it is still fun to
compare the real with the semi-real from time to time. So without any further
ado, sit back and enjoy, “Challenge of the Mercedes Racer (Part 1),” as “Speed
Racer” takes on the 2009 Mercedes Benz SL550 in another exciting, albeit
hypothetical episode of “Speed Racer.”
Our SL Brigade at Geoffrey's in Malibu.
As far as real roadsters go, the SL series could be the most worthy opponent
the Mach 5 has ever encountered. Certainly from a visual standpoint, the Benz
has the Mach 5 licked. Exterior updates for this year’s SL line include a new,
more aggressive headlight cluster, a redrawn hood with twin power bulges, and a
single bar grill that harkens back to the renowned 1954 SL300. Working your way
towards the rear, you’ll discover gill-type air outlets behind the front
wheels, larger side view mirrors, and at the rear, a wind diffuser below the
rear bumper between two restyled trapezoidal exhaust outlets.
Courtesy of Mercedes Benz
Interior design and accommodations are equally impressive with a spotlight on
the new elegant yet sporty three-spoke steering wheel and the restyled
instrument cluster featuring red indicator needles that swing to their maximum
positions and back again upon vehicle startup. Watch out Speed Racer. Your
little red scarf will seem pathetic once you’ve tried the SL’s new AIRSCARF
system (optional on SL550). This neck-level heating system is built into the
headrests of both driver and passenger seats. While it can be set to three
different heating levels, it also possesses intelligence and can adjust itself
based on vehicle speed and interior/exterior temperatures.
The SL’s audio system is also new. A 6.5” color display and music storing
capability have been brought up from the C-Class division to the big leagues,
along with a six-disc in dash CD-DVD Changer and integrated memory card slot
(SD Card rather than Compact Flash as in the C-Class). Bluetooth, voice command
operation, and Ipod integration are all there as well. Let’s see the Mach 5 top
this impressive array of features.
Courtesy of Mercedes Benz
road, the SL550 can assume two distinct personalities thanks to its two-mode
Active Body Control suspension. While body roll is rarely an issue given the
SL’s wide body, low center of gravity, and its continuously adjusting dampers,
Sport mode will tighten things up even more for serious maneuverability just in
case. At relaxed speeds, you’d better leave the suspension in Comfort mode as
the ride can get a bit bumpy over even small road imperfections in Sport mode.
A driver also has the ability to adjust ride height for situations that require
extra ground clearance. At highway speeds the suspension automatically lowers
the SL’s ride height for increased aerodynamics and body control. The Mach 5’s
auto jacks are starting to look pretty primitive in comparison.
Courtesy of Mercedes Benz
SL550’s new intelligent seven-speed manumatic transmission allows a driver to
take full advantage of the 5.5 liter V8’s 382 horsepower. Sorting out the best
possible gear for a given situation can be difficult at times, especially when
there are seven cogs to choose from. Fortunately the SL’s shift computer can
remove the guessing game from the equation. Simply pull back on the left paddle
shifter for a split second (or pull left on the console shifter) and your ideal
gear will be served to you on a silver platter, whether your goal is to pass a
slower moving vehicle or slow your SL on a steep downhill grade.
To assist in the slowing are new four-channel anti-lock brakes. The only time
they felt less than race worthy was in slow moving, around town, situations. The
pedal felt a bit soft and difficult to modulate in stop and go traffic.
However, when the road cleared and the pace hastened, the Brake Assist (BAS)
along with Predictive Brake Priming did an excellent job of providing maximum
brake-pedal pressure and binding power when it was needed along the twists and
turns around Griffith Park.
Sure the Mach 5 is equipped with a whole slew of impressive imaginary
technology like the Bernoulli Converginator and Tire Crampons, but the fact
that Mercedes Benz has developed a real roadster with a feature set that could
conceivably make Speed Racer second guess his own ride, is a remarkable feat.
The Cadillac XLR and Lexus SC430 are another pair of real life roadsters to
consider but neither can match the SL550’s performance nor its luxury features,
although Mercedes Benz will make you pay dearly for the seat at the top of the
podium. Our SL550 was fully loaded and came in at $108,075. The only notable
features not standard were AIRSCARF, heated and Active Ventilated Seats as part
of the Premium 1 Package, Distronic Adaptive Cruise Control, and a Panorama
roof. But enough technical babble. Let’s get back to the show.
It seems Mercedes Benz has Speed Racer right where they want him. Will the Mach
5 be able to counter the SL550’s impressive luxury and performance or will
Speed Racer be seduced by one of the classiest roadsters money can buy? Tune in
next week for Part 2 of “Challenge of the Mercedes Racer.”