I’ll never forget the first time I saw a Mercedes SL 500. I was 16 and noticed it drive past, top down, as I waited in line at the movies. Even then, before I fully understood the value of a dollar, I knew it would be a long time before I got my hands on the steering wheel.
I finally drove it last week, after lusting after it for more than half a lifetime, and unlike meeting a teenybopper crush or attending a first frat party, it was everything I hoped it would be: elegant with a devil-may-care defiance.
The roadster’s mid-cycle refresh, which reaches showrooms this spring as a 2017 model, is even sleeker and more powerful than its predecessors, swapping its seven-speed automatic transmission for Mercedes’ new nine-speed automatic. Unlike previous generations, the roof on the new SL can raise or lower at speeds up to 25 m.p.h.
It looks better, too, especially compared with the most recent pre-facelift version for which Mercedes received uncharacteristic flak. Larger intakes, an elongated hood, and a diamond radiator grille add up to a beautiful car.
My drive partner and I started the day in a shiny, white V6 SL 450, winding our way through Temecula on a warm winter’s day in Southern California. We darted through the canyons, drawing upon its 362 horsepower V6 engine (34 more than the outgoing model) and its five drive modes for flat, rough and in-between road conditions. Sixteen-year-old me would have been proud.
We switched to a fierce-looking AMG SL 65 for the afternoon. We put the V12, 621-horsepower convertible to the test on hairpin turns on winding mountain roads and we survived, due in no small measure to the car’s Active Body Control, which allows it to adjust its suspension around curves as well as counter the effects of roll, pitch, and vibration when cornering, braking and accelerating. (We didn’t drive the other AMG variant, the SL63, which comes as a V8, or the V8 SL 550.)
It comes as no surprise that the SL will still be unattainable to most people, let alone your average high schooler. Pricing won’t deviate from the current models. The SL 450 and the SL 550 will clock in around $85,000 and $108,000, respectively. The AMG SL 63 and SL 65 will be closer to $150,000 and $217,000.
As we left Temecula in the rearview mirror and continued down to San Diego, I thought about driving past a movie theater to inspire the next generation, but it was a Monday, and the kids were in school.