Grinding Gears Wednesday Walkaround – 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL550

UPDATED: Words added after the walkaround!

Grinding Gears editor, David Goodspeed, with this week’s Wednesday Walkaround of the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL550.

I think if we weren’t smack-dab in the middle of one horrendous heat spell, I would have enjoyed this newest roadster from Mercedes-Benz even that much more.
Don’t get me wrong, the 2009 SL550 is quite the vehicle, just that the new glass panel panoramic roof does little to keep out the heat as temperatures sizzle in triple digits, and lowering this slick hardtop convertible’s roof to reveal open-air driving is only comfortable first thing in the morning.
This latest SL model from the tristar German automaker is a direct descendent of the classic 300SL “Gullwing” car of 1954 and styling cues can be seen in the SL550 especially up front.
For 2009, the new SL gets enhanced body styling with more aggressive front and rear fascias, twin power dome hood (with complementary power dome peaks in the new instrument cluster inside), split grille air vents behind the front wheels, air diffuser incorporated into the rear bumper and trapezoidal exhaust tips at back.
The 2009 SL is also the first Mercedes to get the new direct-steer technology, which reduces the turning ratio of the steering wheel for a more aggressive steering response while also reducing effort on the driver’s part.
The 550 designation of our tester model signifies the 5.5-liter aluminum V-8 engine under the hood, which turns out 382hp and some 391 lb. ft. of torque. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a seven-speed automatic gearbox that now offers paddle shifting on the steering wheel for added fun and sport. This powertrain combination is powerful and smooth, with shift points barely being perceptible and plenty of power in reserve.
Mercedes offers its AMG styling package on the SL550 that upgrades to 19-inch five-spoke wheels, sport steering wheel with the shift paddles, smoke-color head and tail lamps and silver front brake calipers.
Suspension duties are handled expertly thanks to independent front and rear multilink technology backed by the second-generation Active Body Control system for even tighter handling requirements and that all-out sports car experience. We found both comfort and sport settings of the ABC system to do a splendid job of reducing almost all road vibrations.
The new SL is a blast to drive once the air conditioning and ventilated seats take effect, problem is there are not too many places where you can truly enjoy the virtues of a vehicle of this caliber.
As with all Mercedes-Benz vehicles, the SL550 is loaded to the teeth in comfort and convenience amenities. Power accessories abound, eagerly awaiting interaction from curious occupants. The latest COMAND technology center incorporates navigation, audio and video duties as well as offering an onboard 40GB harddrive and indash SD memory card reader, iPod/MP3 media interface, Bluetooth phone integration and the latest in surround-sound systems.
Safety equipment and systems are leading edge as well. The 2009 SL includes electrohydraulic ABS braking with oversized disc brakes at each corner, electronic stability program with automatic slip reduction, tire pressure monitoring system and even an automatic pop-up rollover bar.
As with most sports cars these days, the new SL is saddled with a gas guzzler tax ($1,300 in the case of the SL550) thanks to fuel economy figures of 13 mpg city and 21 mpg highway.
One of the newest technologies offered on the SL platform is one we did not get to test (nor did we want to), and that is the Airscarf system where warm air is fed up into the headrests and blown on the back of the driver’s and passenger’s necks, thus extending convertible season a bit longer as temperatures outside head south with the seasons.
Pricing for the 2009 SL550 begins at $95,900 with our loaded tester coming in at more than $105k.

Categories: Autos, Reviews

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