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THE MERCEDES CHALLENGE

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Fri, Apr 25, 2003

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

THE MERCEDES CHALLENGE

By JOHN GRAFMAN

Everyday seems like a challenge. The day seems to starts off just fine. The sun is shinning and the birds are singing. There’s food on the table and a roof overhead. Just when things are going fine, the reality of what’s going on in the world sets in. Nukes in Korea, possibilities of bio terrorism and small pox, and even as the war with Iraq is appearing to wrap up, continued threats of violence from the other countries emerge. Another week passes and another oil tanker spills a full belly of crude into the waiting waters of some unsuspecting ocean. Hell, even the tap water isn’t safe to drink. Have no fear. The Mercedes Benz SL 500 is here to save the day.

The SL 500 has so few faults that regardless of how messed up the world may seem; the view from inside the flagship is nothing less than inspiring. We live in some crazy, wild, technology driven times and this car is a reflection of that unlike virtually any other car that I can recall being in. Nearly every part of this machine has been well thought out and engineered to respond to the owners wishes. Those who would comment unfavorably on the six-figure price tag on our model obviously haven’t driven one. The SL has looks that can stop traffic, sure so does an Aztec but let’s get serious. The curvaceous, vented and flaring appearance is just a hint at the power and handling that lies within. The SL will be the benchmark in style and performance for many years to come. These may seem like heady comments however completely appropriate for this vehicle.

The SL 500 could be the poster child for capitalism. As with most of the cars with a three-pointed star upfront, a certain level of acceptance in society is associated with ownership. The SL badging elevates owners to the next tier. The level that calls the shots on what is accepted and cool. Not a bad place to be.

After arriving at a business meeting in the Hollywood Hills, high above Sunset Boulevard, I realized that the element that made the meeting so serious was the ride there. There is no getting around the impact this pinnacle of Mercedes Benz development can have on life in general. Drive one of these and you are a somebody. Instant credibility is just a seat belt click away for anyone whether they’re a sixteen-hour a day CEO or the twenty year old, trust fund, “retired”, surfer. Far beyond its overly capable ability to motor down the highway, the Mercedes Benz SL 500 influences life much the same as being the significant other to a supermodel. In their presence or not, the inspirational qualities are unmistakable and unavoidable.

One of the odder moments I had was parking next to another virtually identical SL 500 in an Orange County parking. In fact there were numerous others similar to the one I was cruising around in. How strange is it when six-figures doesn’t even buy exclusivity in automobiles anymore.

The fluidity of the design and in particular compared to the old, out going model is certainly classical and dramatic without being overly crass or flamboyant. Bold, yes. Ludicrous, no. The strakes in the ported areas are a perfect example of how a small, well-done detail can effectively enhance the overall design. A detail that is taken to the extreme as seen in the flanks of the Testarosa has not aged gracefully and rather overwhelms the overall design. The SL 500 is sporty without having to resort to ham fisted barbarianism, or an overabundance of nonfunctional styling cues.

Not to be out overshadowed, the interior is also a model of good taste. A designer can ascertain a great deal by absorbing the lessons that can be learned from this product. A couple of slight improvements I wouldn’t object to might be a redesign of the lever used to operate the convertible top. The current unit just doesn’t look up to snuff. The switch is too large to integrate seamlessly nor is it large enough to be a substantial element. I was also expecting the driver seat to move rearward and the steering wheel to tilt out of the way once the engine is off and the door opened, but that didn’t happen. Certainly the egress from the low-slung car would benefit from this. The most noticeable interior part in need of a redo is the foldout cup holders. The driver side holder that emanates from just under the stereo has a few issues, one of which is the driver side holder positions its beverage in perfect position to obstruct numerous controls. They couldn’t block more if they tried. The crushing kung-fu grip the cup holders have on flimsy containers made of paper or styrofoam could be problematic, particularly when the beverage is hovering above numerous electrical switches, buttons and components.

Aside from those few issues, the interior is top notch through and through. Just look at the finish of the header and the material quality leaps out. Many noteworthy convertibles utilize less than premium material in such secondary places however there is no skimping here. The high level of quality in fit and execution of the parts is well understood by those privileged to enjoy sitting between the coupes two doors. Those who admire from afar probably won’t know and certainly won’t truly appreciate the niceties of the heated and vented seats with a welcomed massager unit that can almost make one wish for a lengthy traffic snarl.

As one might expect, the engine and transmission are a treat. Coupled with an advanced, well-matched suspension, I felt beyond confident. Being aware that the limits of this vehicle are so far beyond the realm of what would be attainable on city streets, there really wasn’t any needed to push it to the bounds of adhesion. I never felt that this car was ever losing its composure even when it was being exercised. The SL has the solidness of a linebacker and the moves of a ballerina. On the streets of Beverly Hills and the San Diego Freeway and throughout Los Angeles the Mercedes behaved and operated as a car of this price ought to. Surgical strikes through traffic are simple, just point and go. No delays in throttle or sway in body. The top folds into the trunk so smoothly and quickly that you can’t help but be impressed. Even when stowed, the trunk access beneath the roof panels is just a touch of a button away. When the trunk lid is opened, a switch mounted in the exposed area pops the stored roof panels upward allowing easy access to whatever lies beneath. Oh those crafty Germans. It seems they thought of everything, so why do they struggle on cup holders? Obviously if this is the worst of what we can find with our suave tanning machine, then we have to admit that those guys at Mercedes Benz really did their homework.

Balancing a car like this with a world slightly off kilter makes good sense. Not only is it easy to appreciate all that this machine does so well, but also the SL 500 puts most of life's complicated issues in their place. Besides the SL 500 gives the rest of the automotive world something to aim for. Now there’s a challenge!

For more on Mercedes Benz please go to www.mercedes-benz.com

2003 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class SL500´ Technical Data Vehicle type Two-door, two-passenger coupe/roadster with power retractable hardtop Engine 90-degree V8 Engine material Aluminum Valvetrain Chain-driven single overhead camshaft per cylinder bank, three valves per cylinder (two intake / one exhaust) Displacement (cu. in./cc) 303 / 4,966 331.9 / 5,439 Bore (in./mm) 3.82 / 97 3.82 / 97 Stroke (in./mm) 3.31 / 84 3.62 / 92 Compression ratio 10.0:1 9.0:1 Horsepower @ rpm 302 @ 5,600 rpm Torque (lb.-ft.) @ rpm 339 @ 2,700-4,250 Intake system Sequential fuel injection, electronic throttle control, 2-stage resonance intake manifold Belt-driven supercharger, sequential fuel injection, electronic throttle control; Max boost – 11.6-psi (0.8 bar) Engine management ME 2.8 engine control with phase-shifted twin sparkplugs per cylinder, two coils per cylinder Max. engine speed 6,000 rpm 6,500 rpm Transmission Five-speed electronically controlled automatic with driver-adaptive shift logic, Touch Shift selectable manual control Stability control Electronic Stability Programming (ESP) integrating single brake application, throttle intervention Traction control Full-range ASR uses rear brakes and throttle intervention to control wheelspin Suspension Four-wheel independent Front Upper and lower control arms, active electrohydraulic with load-dependent spring rates, gas-charged shocks, coil springs, level control Rear Five-link, active electrohydraulic with load-dependent spring rates, gas-charged shocks, coil springs, level control Steering Speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion, hydraulic power assist Turns, lock-to-lock 2.95 Turning radius (ft.) 36.2 35.7 Wheels 8.5x17-inch (8.5x18-inch front, 9.5x18-inch rear w/Sport pkg.) choice of 5-spoke or monoblock designs Brakes Electronic, power assisted 4-wheel vented discs with 4-channel ABS anti-lock, Brake Assist, electronic brake proportioning Exterior dimensions (in./mm) Wheelbase 100.8 / 2,560 Length 178.5 / 4,535 Width 71.9 / 1,827 Height 51.1 / 1,298 Curb weight (lbs.) 4,045 Aerodynamic drag (Cd) 0.29 Interior dimensions (in./mm) Headroom 37.7 / 957 Shoulder room 54.0 / 1372 Legroom 42.9 / 1089 Capacities Cabin volume (cu. ft.) 57.8 Trunk volume (cu. ft.) 11.2 (with roof open: 8.3) Fuel tank / reserve (gal.) 21.1 24 Performance 0-60 mph (seconds) 6.1 Top speed (mph) 155 (electronically limited) Fuel mileage, city/hwy (EPA estimates) 15 / 22

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