You know you’re getting old when the Mercedes-Benz SL550 seems like the perfect car. That might sound like a backhanded compliment to the car, but with age comes wisdom—and with wisdom, the realization that one needn’t drive at 11/10th all the time in the public domain. For more-relaxed motoring, a comfortable car that is really fast, handles nicely, and rides well is an alluring everyday proposition.
The last time we tested an SL550 was in a comparison in August 2006, when it finished first ahead of a Cadillac XLR- a BMW 650i, a Jaguar XK, and a Porsche 911. Since then, the SL has been freshened with a new grille, headlamps, hood, and rear bumper, as well as a mildly restyled interior that incorporates a refined media interface. The sheetmetal is definitely more aggressive, although the car retains the subdued elegance that a Benz ought to have—like the previous-generation E-class before Mercedes designers went all Bangle. The revised COMAND system is a vast improvement, and the Airscarf system—part of the $3850 Premium package—that wafts heat onto necks from vents below the headrests was added, allowing occupants to enjoy al fresco motoring even on a cold day.
Mature Doesn’t Mean Slow
The SL does a great job of being a comfortable cruiser and a back-road champ, an easy-to-use commuter car for Wall Street barons. But big money is a prerequisite for ownership. The base price of our tester was $104, 775, and a few options puffed that number up to $114, 175. The clear-panel panoramic roof—for endless sun chasing even with the top up—added $2000; the aforementioned $3850 Premium package bundles Airscarf with heated and cooled massaging seats, a power decklid, and keyless entry and starting; upgraded leather cost $1550; and the Sport Wheel package cost $2000 and added dark-tinted head- and taillights, silver-painted front brake calipers, a manual shift mode, and 19-inch wheels wearing Pirelli P Zeros size 255 up front and 285 in the rear.
Although $114, 175 is stiff, the SL earns its price. Top down on a sunny day, it feels like a rich man’s Miata: top up, carving through stop-and-go traffic, it’s as luxurious as an S-class. Add in superior build quality and hewed-from-a-block solidity, and it remains the gold standard in this class. We’d even say that the harder core SL63 AMG and the V-12–engined SL600 or SL65 AMG are almost too much car, given the inherent goodness of this one. Perhaps getting older—and wiser—isn’t such a bad thing.