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2005 Mercedes-Benz SL600 Review

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SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Mercedes-Benz

MODEL: Mercedes-Benz SL600
ENGINE: 5.5-liter V12
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 493 hp @ 5.000 rpm/590 lb.-ft. @ 1,800-3,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 100.8 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 178.5 x 71.5 x 51.0 in.
TIRES: 255/40WR18 front, 285/35WR18 rear
CARGO: 10.2 cu.ft.
ECONOMY: 13 mpg city/19 mpg highway/12.8 mpg test
PRICE: $137,640 (includes 4720 destination and delivery charge and $2,600 gas guzzler tax)

For many years, my wife has been telling me that her favorite car was "that small Mercedes - the two-seater." This story has going on since long before the SLK was ever conceived, so I knew she meant the SL-Class car. The last one we drove was the SL300, with a 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine. So when the schedule showed a new SL600, I knew she'd be pleased. She was.

Actually, I had a choice of vehicles, either the SL600 or the SL65AMG. I opted for the "less powerful" of the two. While the SL600 has a healthy 493 horsepower and 590 lb.-ft. of torque, the AMG-tweaked SL65 has 604 hp and 738 lb.-ft. of torque. I felt that was too much for even me who's always asking for "more power."

My wife complained about the seats in the SLK we had a week earlier, but had no such problems with the SL. Both the driver's and passengers' seats were 12-way adjustable heated and ventilated leather seats, with a three-position memory ($3,750 extra for black Nappa seats). Once we had the sets in a position we thought was ideal, we could set the memory and the seats remained that way for the entire test. And the leather had a great smell, like my old baseball mitt when it was new.

Our tester weighed more than two tons, so the big V12 engine was ideal. Long gone are the days when the SL sports car from Mercedes meant small and light. Now it's a big two-seater sedan almost, with all the comfort and attributes. But it's still an SL. Acceleration was exhilarating and fun. We could tear away from stoplights and reach 60 mph in a mere 4.5 seconds. The top speed is electronically limited to something around 150 mph, but you have the feeling that you could go much faster (if you could find a road on which to do it), and be exceedingly safe doing it. With the weight and a superb suspension (four links in front, five links in the rear), ride quality is excellent on the highway and byway. We tried the SL600 on our favorite mountain roads and no corner was too tight, no twists able to make the car deviate from its flat stance. While my wife and I don't often agree on cars, we agree don this one.

As I said, the SL600 is a two-seater. There are two small seats in the rear that are good enough for "two children without legs or an adult if he's a suitcase." In fact, the rear is a glorified parcel shelf, but it does increase the miniscule 10.2 cubic feet cargo capacity. With the top up, you can store a decent amount of cargo, like suitcases for a weekend getaway or groceries for a few days, but it's not designed to carry cargo. With the top down, trunk volume is compromised considerably in favor of a place to store the hard top. Personally, I'd prefer to drive with the top down and forget about carrying capacity.

For $137,000, you'd expect almost everything. The SL600 was fully equipped, with an abundance of power accessories. We had a navigation system that was able to locate my street, so it passed the "Heilig test." The audio system was a Bose AM/FM/Weatherband radio with a 6-disc CD changer. There was also an integrated phone system.

One feature I like about Mercedes-Benz radios is the ability to choose the station directly. You punch in * and the frequency of the station you want and you're there. Of course, you have to know the frequency to make it work. I have trouble, however, working with the memory function of the sound system. I doesn't seem to be intuitive. I'm lucky in that I know all the frequencies of the stations I want, so it isn't a problem.

For a smallish vehicle, the SL600 has a lot of airbag safety and security. I counted two normal front air bags, two to protect the thorax and one for the driver's knees. There's also a pop-up rollbar that deploys when the vehicle senses a rollover.

And being a Mercedes-Benz, there's an alphabet soup of driver assists that includes SBC (electronic braking system), ABC (antilock), BAS (brake assist), ESP (electronic stability program), and ASR (automatic slip control.

While the SL-Series Mercedes probably aren't going to see race tracks like their famed ancestors, they can still thrill their owners with extraordinary handling and power combined with great luxury to create the car that my wife calls her new favorite.

2005 The Auto Page Syndicate