- The Washington Times - Friday, July 12, 2002

Mercedes-Benz boasts that the world's most-advanced technologies are found throughout its 2003 Coupe/Roadster SL500. But a close inspection revealed a blunder dealing with safety.
I'm not sure if the error was an engineering oversight or simply a disconnected wire; nevertheless, the warning light indicating an unfastened seat belt did not illuminate when my belt wasn't fastened. While most manufacturers offer better belt-warning methods, I couldn't help but notice the SL500 didn't advise me to buckle up.
When it comes to safety overall, however, this coupe/roadster combination is in a league by itself. For example, the brake pressure can be fully applied the moment the driver's foot hits the brake pedal. If a microcomputer determines that the driver's foot left the gas pedal very quickly and hard braking is required, full power is applied as soon as the driver touches the brake pedal, resulting in a 3 percent shorter stopping distance.
Hard braking while in a turn can sometimes be a disaster. However, with the new braking system on the SL500, increasing pressure on outside wheels and restricting pressure on the inside wheels, the front wheels won't lock up as readily. Also, because the new braking system is smoother, the wear on the brake pads is evenly distributed.
Mercedes-Benz engineers also found a way to keep the brake pads dry during wet weather. They also improved the stability-control system along with the new braking methods. I suspect that in the future other manufacturers will be offering similar braking systems, but for now, the SL500 is years ahead of its time.
This braking method also works in unison with an active suspension system to reduce body roll when cornering, making this car a delight to drive. While crash avoidance is at one end of the spectrum, occupant protection is at the other with all kinds of air bags, belt tensioners, belt-force limiters and an automatic rollover bar.
One can enjoy the choice of driving either a roadster or a convertible. As a roadster, the SL500 sports a solid, secure hardtop that provides a quiet interior, ideal for listening to an upscale Bose eight-speaker sound system featuring a six-disc CD changer, plus AM/FM and weather band. This car is also prewired for phone and voice controls.
My tester also had a navigational system and Tele Aid emergency calling, plus two leather seats that provide all the comforts of home. These heated seats have 12-way adjustable positions that could be programmed and saved in three-position memory, including the position of the tilt and telescopic steering column. With the hardtop in place, the dual climate controls offer the choice of interior temperatures, plus dust and pollen filters.
Push a button and the top retracts into the rear leaving a smooth-looking convertible with a stylish body resting on 17-inch alloy wheels. Even though the top folds down and away, there is a trunk for carrying cargo. The space will accommodate more than one golf bag and a suitcase.
At the front end is a powerful 302-horsepower, 5-liter V-8 engine that is capable of exciting acceleration. What's even more enjoyable is the TouchShift manual gear selection on the automatic transmission. This allows the driver to select a gear best for up- or downhill situations.
Now comes the bad news: Base price is $85,990 and my tester with a few options costs $94,070. But even if you can't afford it, this car warrants a close inspection. And while you're at it, check out the safety belt warning light.


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