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2006 Mercedes-Benz SL500 Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

by Annabelle Frankl

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

2006 Mercedes-Benz SL500

Refined Roadster…

Living in LA, there’s no shortage of SL500s – or 55 AMGs for that matter – driving here and there on the busy streets and highways of this bustling city. Positively common, I tell you! But, after spending a week behind the wheel, I can see why so many in this car-crazy town, would choose this roadster as their daily driver, commonness be damned! It’s simply a joy to drive.

With a 420-mile road trip to Laguna Seca Raceway planned, and the surprisingly-fickle Spring weather cooperating, it’s retractable hard-top down(in around 30 seconds), hat on and let’s get on the road. The SL500 cuts a truly elegant swath through traffic. Low, sleek, with just the right amount of fender flares and, with the AMG Sport Package, front air dam, side skirts, a rear apron and 18” AMG wheels, the car looks primed to pounce on whatever unfortunate, and lesser-powered obstacle might come between it and the open road.

The drive is a mix of major freeways, two-lane highways, and single lane roads and really allows me to experience the car at its best. It’s all too easy to potter around town – as I’m sure many of its owners do - and not realize the full potential of this car. On paper, a 302 horsepower 5.0 liter V8 with 339 ft-lbs of torque just doesn’t seem that, well, impressive. But out on the road…now that is a lot of fun! Climbing to 4,000 feet on the Grapevine, avoiding slower traffic, is a breeze. The car’s 7-speed electronic touch shift automatic always seems perfectly primed to pass the next slow-poke.

But it’s when I reach the single lane Route 46 that it’s really time to enjoy this car. RVs, tractor-trailers, trucks, buses – you name it, they’re crawling along this road. Downshifting and punching the accelerator to pass 1, 2, 4, 6 vehicles at once (on a long, open stretch of road with good visibility, I hasten to add) is simply fantastic. The SL500 makes a wonderful roar as it breezes past these slower road goers.

The pavement is mostly smooth but undulates, climbs, drops and turns, and the car’s independent 4-link front and 5-arm multi-link rear suspension is beautifully stiff and responsive. Coming over the peak of a hill, I realize a very large truck is overtaking, uphill, in my lane. He’s nearly clear but the gap is closing. Fast. Hitting the brakes reduces my worry to nil and a nasty incident is easily avoided. The 12.3” ventilated and perforated front discs – with 4-piston calipers – plus the 11.3” rear brake, with 1-piston floating caliper – bite hard.

Adding to a general feeling of safety and security when driving the car are its multitude of electronic aids. Active body control, active suspension system, Electrohydraulic Braking System (SBC), ABS, Brake Assist, ESP and Automatic Slip Control. If you do still manage to get it wrong, and if you haven’t already raised it by a button on the console, the Roll Bar will flip up in 0.3 seconds if it detects the car may roll. Should this happen, there are no less than 5 airbags in the car, and the cabin is reinforced with high-strength steel.

Cruising at speed on the freeway, with the roll bar and its attached screen, plus all windows, raised, wind buffeting in the cabin is, well, basically non-existent. My one complaint would be that rearward visibility is severely curtailed by the screen, especially at night. The cabin is beautifully-appointed. Ash-colored leather, Burl Walnut wood trim, brushed aluminum, all combine to make a classy combination. 12-way adjustable heated (and optionally-available ventilated) seats with built-in massager mean no numb points, and reduced stiffness, on a long-drive. With a tilt/telescoping wheel, too, it’s easy to find your perfect driving position and, with three memory settings, remember it. The 4-spoke wheel also holds multiple functions for the cars many menus, cruise, audio and so on and, as part of that Sport package, allows shifts from the steering wheel. An 8-speaker Bose audio surround sound system is powerful and crisp. Furthermore, the navigation system is easy to use and, best of all, allows you to fiddle with it while on-the-move, suggesting alternate routes (which I take).

All-too-quickly (no, I’ll never tell!) I am at my destination. But, therešs also the knowledge that I have an exhilarating return drive to look forward to.

2007 marks the debut of a more-powerful model, the SL550. With itšs 5.5 liter V8 making an extra 80 horses (382, at a slightly-higher 6,000RPM, up from 5,600) and an extra 52 ft-lbs of torque (391), I canšt wait to get behind the wheel ­ again - of this refined roadster.

2006 Mercedes-Benz SL500
Base Price $92,900
As Tested $103,515

Engine: 5.0 Liter 24-Valve Aluminum V-8
HP: @ 5,600rpm
Torque: 339 @ 2,700 ­ 4,250rpm
Trans: 7-speed Electronic Touch Shift
Drivetrain: Front Engine, Rear Wheel drive
Wheelbase/Length: 100.8 in / 178.5
Curb Weight: 4065 lbs
Fuel Capacity: 21.1 gal.
Fuel Requirement: 91 octane premium gas
Tires: (Fr) 225/40 R18, (Rr) 285 / 35, R18, 
            High Performance
Brakes, fr/rr: 12.3˛ ventilated/perforated 
               w/ 4-piston calipers, 11.8˛
               w/ floating 1-piston caliper
EPA Fuel econ: 16 City / 24 hwy

Options & Charges:
Bi-Xenon Headlights: $780.00

Keyless Go: $1,080.00

Comfort Pack: $1,610.00
                Includes active ventilated front 
                seatbacks, dynamic multicontour 

AMG Sport Package: $5,370.00
                    Includes Body-colored AMG-designed 
                    Sculpted front air dam, side skirts, 
                    Rear apron & Steering wheel shift
                    buttons, 18˛ AMG double-spoke wheels 
                    w/ high performance tires

Destination & Delivery $775.00

Gas Guzzler Tax: $1000.00