- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2002

There was a time in my life, when I was young and single, that I coveted an early Mercedes-Benz SL. I was saving the money to buy the car, but just as I had the funds, the owner sold it to his brother-in-law. I was so disappointed and hurt. I wanted that car badly.

That automobile had beautiful classic lines that were sleek and smooth. It was a car that spoke volumes about its owner and even more about its builder. Some might say the dedication of the craftsmen, quite evident in those early cars, is no longer a part of the persona that attracts us to certain vehicles.

Granted, there has been an attitude change, but I don't know whether it is more a change in our attitude than that of the craftsmen who build fine motor cars.

I must tell you that the whole aura that once surrounded those automobiles appears to continue to envelop the new Mercedes-Benz SL500. Standing in a desolate parking lot attempting to take a few uncluttered photos became nearly impossible, as people seemed to come out of nowhere to look and talk about this beautiful automobile.

As my patience and manners were about to collapse, in drove an early model SL, just like the one I missed buying so many years ago. The feeling of remembrance quickly outweighed my anxiety. My patience returned, and I had all the time these folks wanted. Photos be damned.

The exterior design of the new SL is less angular than its recent predecessor, having a softer look, much like that of the early cars.

Large oval headlight assemblies set to the outside edges, similar to those on the Mercedes-Benz Le Mans race cars, lend an aggressive, yet elegant look.

This is a motor car that demands attention, even from the automotively challenged.

A crowning special touch on the SL is its retractable, convertible hard top. With a flip of a switch located on the center console, the trunk lid opens, the top slides back folding clam shell-like as it dives out of sight under the closing trunk lid. It is a magical few seconds, so much so that I felt compelled to perform the operation over and over. The workmanship and engineering are remarkable.

The 2003 SL is the first production car to bring an electronic braking system to passenger cars. The system works with a computer that senses the rate and force applied to the brake pedal by the driver, then applies the necessary braking force through the four electrohydraulic calipers at each wheel. While I found the system nearly seamless in its application, it did take a little time behind the wheel to become comfortable with the system's feel.

I put the new SL through a variety of tests, and each time the car performed with superior aptitude. Because the brake system works in tandem with the vehicle-stabilization system (ESP), the new SL is extremely stable in emergency lane changes or other emergency maneuvers.

Bottom line: The new SL offers safety and abilities that were not available in a luxury vehicle before.

An ultrasmooth-running engine has always been a trademark of Mercedes vehicles, and the new SL500 carries that trait forward. Powered by a 302-horsepower V-8, the SL performs so smoothly you just might think the engine isn't running at all. Of course, the fact that you are accelerating quickly to highway speeds tips you off that the engine is indeed doing its job.

A five-speed adaptive automatic transmission replicates the engine's smoothness by making shifts nearly unnoticeable. To give the SL superb response at every turn, this transmission adapts its shifting patterns according to the manner in which the car is being driven. If the driver is more aggressive, the transmission adjusts the shifting accordingly. Same for drivers who might be less hearty in their control of the accelerator pedal.

The 2003 SL500 Mercedes-Benz is a wonderful automobile. I have just found another automobile after which to lust.


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