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MERCEDES MADNESS

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 Thu, Feb 17, 2005

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

MERCEDES MADNESS

By JOHN GRAFMAN

Set the way-back machine Mr. Peabody, we are taking a trip back to Junior High School in the nineteen seventies. We find yours truly, a skinny pre-teen killing time in class as many other kids do, doodling cars. Designing is what professionals do, doodling and daydreaming is what rug rats do.

Seated in the class with me is a transplant to the San Fernando Valley via Texas. We both had our ideas as to what was cool. I was wasting paper and pencil lead on my crude version of a de Tomaso Pantera. My classmate, undoubtedly influenced by the local fauna of his hometown, was drawing big rigs. These big trucks were the cats meow to him. I thought this kid was strange and was most likely being held back a year or two for his obvious mental deficiency.

Back to the present day, who is laughing now? Half the population in America drives around in vehicles more akin to African elephants than sport cars. Those few that have sports cars infrequently get to bring them up to any speed at all.

While the majority might side with my former schoolmate, I still am set in my ways. Nothing in my mind is going to beat out the rakish good looks and agility of a real heart and soul sports car. Mercedes-Benz does have a well-earned rep as a manufacturer of luxury sedans that are among the best, but make no mistake; they do more than produce superlative sedans.

The 2005 Mercedes - Benz SL 55 AMG is just what I had in mind sitting in that classroom many moon ago, this machine is beyond fast, and it's slippery shape is highlighted with well refined details. The interior is both futuristic and speaks to Mercedes heritage with a bevy of the latest and greatest components and all are readily easy to understand and use. The finish is impeccable in every way. The retractable hard top stows in mere moments and the low profile of the coupe becomes a bullet shaped waist high convertible looking to pierce the horizon.

While the SL has been a fairly popular choice among the in-crowd, the AMG version is a performance version of this exceptional car. Aficionados will take notice of the visual cues such as different wheels and tires, changes to the front, rear and rockers, plus exhaust and hood strakes are perhaps the most notable change alerting all that this is not business as usual. Sadly, most see how cool this car looks, but they don't understand nor appreciate the performance represented.

Looking back, in eighth grade we could only hope cars would someday be able to rocket across the earth with eye-popping velocity like the SL 55 does. This car might be the brainchild of rocket scientists like Von Braun or his descendants. AMG still to this day employs the philosophy of "One man, one engine" when it comes to creating these marvels of metal. That means that just 45 or so master engine builders assemble every motor made, at a rate of two or three per day per master. The carefully crafted engine is rated at an incredible and nearly unparalleled 493 horsepower and 516 pounds of torque, nearly enough thrust for lift off. While we might not be able to jet off to extraterrestrial bodies in outer space, we can move at unbelievable speed to charted destinations within our earthly confines.

Controlling all this madness is the mission control of transmissions, which allows responsive input from the driver when desired. The transmission is quick shifting with the AMG SpeedShift Technology five speed that operates like a conventional automatic or manually. Shifting done by a side-to-side motion of the center console mounted shifter allows it to either go up or down a gear. The transmission can also be shifted via paddles on the back of the steering wheel, left side toggles down in gear and the right side goes up. This could very well be the best all around set-up for shifting, and this might be a true rival for a conventional manual transmission.

The only gaff to perfection is a less than econo car fuel consumption level, which is responsible for a $2,100 gas-guzzler tax. Who can complain about that in a steed of this caliber? With as much raw power as the supercharged V8 supplies, the fact that this can still produce gas mileage as high as twenty on the open highway is astonishing.

With key safely in pocket, the keyless ignition is just a push of a button on the top of the shifter. While this trick is available on other three pointed star products, this is still cool in a Buck Rogers, Dick Tracy sort of way.

We opt to take this on a tour of the Orange County coastline from Newport Beach down through Corona Del Mar, Laguna Beach and Monarch Beach. While the sky drizzles droplets this was hardly enough to dampen our spirits. The light sheen of moisture on the coast highway requires the exercise of some care. Even with dry roads, the power churning from this motor can turn tires to smoke in just the touch of the pedal. The electronic overrides do a sensational job of balancing a little spin of the tires with the need to maintain control. After all what fun is it to have all this power and no ability to light 'em up? If that was the case we could settle for a plebeian SL 500.

Upon our arrival at the plush grounds of the superb St. Regis Hotel in Dana Point I fail to hand off the key to the valet. As the saying goes, out of sight - out of mind. It wasn't until he tries to start the car that he realizes something is amiss. That something is safely residing in my pocket. The valet, in a most professional manner, inquires if we might have the key. I can see that the keyless system can be fouled only by an inattentive driver and not by the system itself, as it even warns the driver to take the key with upon turning the car off and opening the door.

The St. Regis is a perfect match for the SL as it shares an inspiring first impression which becomes more so upon closure scrutiny of details. Every angle of the hotel, like the Mercedes, offers enticing views. Similar to the Mercedes, quality seems to be the calling card at the St. Regis. The staff is eager to please, and from the fountains at the driveway's entrance to the stonework inside the hotel, every inch of it creates an ambiance so suitable for the good life.

The SL 55 is also a prime example of the good life. So few machines replicate the throaty roar of the motor, the seats conform and support the body like a cocoon, and the use of the best hides and materials inside are definitely a delight for the senses. The audio system is well suited to the car, and the steering wheel controls makes life easy, however I would like a fader control to direct a little more of the music to the rear. The Benz is almost sensory overload, borderline orgasmic. And while many can point at the cost of the car and argue that it should for that price, price alone is no guarantee of quality.

This is a very user friendly semi-exotic. Even relatively commonplace devices, which might not be easy to comprehend without referring to an owner's manual, like GPS, are so straightforward that we manage to figure it out and master it in just a few minutes. Furthermore, in conjunction with GPS the street address is readable in the gauge cluster that tells the driver the street and heading the car is traveling on is simple yet perfect. The optional Parktronic feature provides both audio and visual aids in parking. Residing at the center of the dash, the illuminated display is a simple graphic allowing quick reference of impending collision on either side of the car. Basically any concern a driver has, the SL 55 answers with exceptional clarity.

The suspension masterfully conquers the opposing forces of firmness and comfort and offer adjustability to suit the needs of the occupants. Weather damage combined with highway budget shortages causes many streets and highways to become arrays of imperfections and potholes. You wouldn't know it in the SL as it absorbs most everything with grace, providing only enough feedback for me to consider it as informative and not disruptive or harsh. The active electrohydraulic suspension can be raised enough to clear steep driveways or slightly flooded streets and other obstacles.

Sadly, in day-to-day use, I can only stretch the envelope on the SL's capability so far, as the other cars on the road become problematic. For instance, while the massive drilled and vented discs can bring this machine to a rest from high speeds in far less distance than one would expect, the cars that follow might not be able to do the same. One must use the capacity of the AMG judiciously to avoid problems brought on by the lack of attention by the rest of the motoring public. When the roads are void of lesser automobiles, this car shines like virtually nothing else and creates that rare feeling when man and machine become one.

This being an AMG version of an already superior vehicle does start to get the best of me. While I admit to nothing with respect to unlawful behavior, the youthful exuberance I harbor inside did need a little convincing of the AMG magic.

In a nutshell, the Mercedes Benz SL 55 has the ability to overshadow nearly 99.9 percent of the cars on the road. This car not only exceeds in acceleration, stopping and handling, it does so in a way that allows a driver like me to become on par with far more exceptional pilots. I'm able to negotiate turns of various radii at speeds well beyond what I have ever taken those same turns at before. All the while the car never raises an eyebrow. I have a sneaking suspicion that the car is well below its threshold for losing its grip, but then again, I'm not looking to find out! The forward thrust is enough to cause sore necks for the co-pilots who are not paying attention. This is perhaps one of the best blends of racecar and regular everyday car as there has ever been, and certainly the closest I have ever witnessed from the driver's perspective.

I have many miles under my belt at this point in life. My guess is at least enough to get to the moon and back a time or two. Yet, the miles I put on the SL 55 AMG are the ones that are the most impressive. The SL 55 allows me to finally turn to my inner child sitting in that dull classroom years ago and say, "Hey kid, dreams can come true".

For more Mercedes information please go to www.mbusa.com

For more hotel information click on www.stregismonarchbeach.com

SPECIFICATIONS

Price: Base $121,500, as tested $129,130

Engine type: Hand built aluminum 5,433 - cc 90 degree V8, chain driven SOHC per cylinder bank, 3 valves/cylinder, supercharged and intercooled

Horsepower: 493 @ 6,100 rpm

Torque: 516 lb.-ft @ 2,750 - 4,000 rpm

Drive configuration: Front engine / rear-wheel drive

Transmission type: Five speed electronically controlled automatic with "Touch Shift" feature, exclusive "SpeedShift" with shift buttons on steering wheel

Suspension: Front: Independent four-link, active electrohydralic with load-dependent spring rates, gas-charged shocks, coil springs, level control Rear: Independent five-link, active electrohydralic with load-dependent spring rates, gas-charged shocks, coil springs, level control

Wheels and tires: Front: 18 X 8.5 five spoke or multi spoke design, 255/40ZR/18 Pirelli Rear: 18 X 9.5 five spoke or multi spoke design, 285/35ZR/18 Pirelli

Brakes: Front: Vented discs 14.2 X 1.26-inch diameter Rear: Vented discs 13 X .90-inch diameter

Electronic, power assist, four-channel ABS anti-lock, Brake Assist, electronic brake proportioning

Overall length: 178.5" Overall width: 71.5" (without mirrors) Overall height: 51" Curb weight (lbs.): 4,235

EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 14/20

Top Speed (mph): 155 (electronically controlled) 0-60 mph: 4.5

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