Merc SL: Superpower on the road
PERFORMANCE PERFECTED: R20-million worth of supercars break for lunch during the Western Cape launch of the 2012 Mercedes SL range. Image: LES STEPHENSON
Mercedes-Benz SA dealt itself a winning hand this week – three of a kind, in spades, designed to trump the performance car market with their devastating engines, awesome handling and superior luxury.
Track breeding will out, and it shows with the new SL 500, SL 63 AMG and SL 65 AMG convertibles though their prices might give even the wealthy cause to pause before putting pen to cheque book.
The cars’ progenitors were built for the track six decades ago but morphed into road cars only in 1954. The 300 SL was voted Sports Car of the Century in 1999, though that election might have to be run again sometime soon...
Hundreds of historic units have become collectors’ items worth many times their purchase price and it seems certain that the three I’ve just been driving on the glorious country roads and mountain passes of the Western Cape will join those illustrious ranks.
“Awesome” is a word much bandied-about in and on wheels magazines and websites but the top of the trio, the SL 65 AMG with its six-litre V12 biturbo engine is good for 463kW (4800-5400rpm) and a scary 1000Nm (2300-4300rpm) which translates into 0-100km/h in four seconds.
Base price: R2 621 000.
Next in line is the 5.5-litre V8 SL 63. It makes 395kW at 5500rpm and 800Nm from 2000-4500rpm though the R100 000 performance package takes those figures to 415kW at 5500rpm and 900Nm from 2250-3750rpm. 100km/h comes up in 4.3sec and 200km/h takes only 8.6sec more with the action electronically halted at 250km/h (300km/h with the performance package).
Base price: R2 120 000.
The third of the kind selected for SA distribution is the SL 500
Base price: R1 635 000, though for an extra R135 000 come an exclusive paint job, 19” AMG-style wheel rims, sports suspension (10mm lower), more-powerful brakes and red-and-chequered flag leather interior design.
AIRSTRIP DRAG TRACK
Its engine is also a V8 displacing 4663cc and capable of 320kW, 12% more than its 800cc larger predecessor and with a claimed 22% drop in fuel consumption. Torque is up from 530 to 700Nm which makes its 0-100 time of 4.6sec in the same time bracket as the more powerful 63 and 65.
To prove it, Merc SA rented the tarred, but rather rough and neglected, Fisantekraal airstrip near Stellenbosch and laid out a three-lane drag strip for outright acceleration comparison. The V12 SL 65 - its turbos whining like a fighter jet - won each time though I kept the SL 500’s nose in front for the first couple of hundred metres before the inevitable overtaking happened.
By then the cars were running at close to 200km/h, something few buyers will ever get to experience and, frankly, might not want to try with trees and bushes not very far beyond the tar’s end...
As Merc SA’s sales and marketing boss Eckhart Mayer said: “The SL offers everything that sets a premium roadster apart from all the rest – complete everyday usability and enduring driving fun.”
Some of that fun comes from the AMG bodies being 90% aluminium and 170kg lighter than a similar steel shell and slipping through air with a Cd of 0.29. The cars have been rated as best-in-class in terms of noise, vibration and harshness.
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