Tak­ing a sharp Benz

Buyer power has spo­ken with the Mercedes-Benz SL facelift, writes KEVIN HEP­WORTH

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Prestige News -

THE big­gest midlife facelift in its 50-year his­tory says ev­ery­thing about the latest Mercedes-Benz SL. Just as the mid-sized E-Class got more than 1000 in­di­vid­ual changes, the 2008 up­date and up­grade of the SL has been ex­ten­sive.

It shows the look-at-me 2001 SL road­ster had missed its mark.

The penny dropped for Mercedes, ac­cord­ing to pas­sen­ger-car de­vel­op­ment chief Hans-Di­eter Multhaupt, when 60 per cent of cus­tomers spec­i­fied the AMG sports body kit for their ba­sic SL.

‘‘That is not right,’’ Multhaupt says. ‘‘To be nor­mal, only 30 per cent of cus­tomers should want the ex­tra sporty look. This time we have fol­lowed this wish.’’

So the re­vamped SL has a more pow­er­ful and ef­fi­cient V6, op­tional ac­tive steer­ing, a more ag­gres­sive front end, restyled in­te­rior and — oddly, given the cus­tomer mes­sage — a 3.0-litre en­try-level V6.

‘‘We felt we should sharpen the sporty edge of the car,’’ Multhaupt says.

Apart from the front and in­te­rior styling, the steer­ing rack and the spank­ing 3.5-litre V6, most changes are, at best, sub­tle.

The grille and gen­eral SL stance has been squared-up and un­der the bon­net — which now has power bumps sim­i­lar to the orig­i­nal 1954 300SL — is a range of four en­gines, from the 3.0-litre V6 to the 5.5-litre V12 in the SL600.

‘‘There are no im­me­di­ate plans to add the SL280 to the Aus­tralian range but it will re­main un­der con­sid­er­a­tion,’’ Mercedes- Benz Aus­tralia’s Peter Fe­dayev says.

Tra­di­tion­ally, the V8 SL500 has dom­i­nated Aus­tralian sales, but it could come un­der some pres­sure from the new high-spin­ning 3.5-litre V6 in the SL350.

With 232kW — up from 200kW in the su­per­seded en­gine — and 360Nm the SL350 will slip the 0-100km/h sprint in 6.2 sec­onds and use 9.9 litres of fuel for each 100km.

That is marginally faster (0.4 sec­ond) and marginally more ef­fi­cient (.4 of a litre) than the out­go­ing car.

It is, how­ever, con­sid­er­ably more us­able and feels a lot bet­ter than the raw fig­ures in­di­cate. Not that shabby for a mid­dle-aged ath­lete in a cor­po­rate suit.

There are no changes to the en­gines at the top end of the brag­ging tree. The 5.5-litre SL500 and twin-turbo 5.5-litre V12 SL600 re­tain their 285kW/530Nm and 380kW/830Nm out­puts re­spec­tively.

The most no­tice­able change to the cabin is the ab­sence of the deeply scal­loped dash, re­placed by a flat­ter treat­ment with clas­sic-styled di­als and new-look, three-spoke steer­ing wheel.

In keep­ing with a range of other per­for­mance mod­els — in­clud­ing Subaru — the in­stru­ment nee­dles flip from one side of the dial to the other on start-up be­fore re­turn­ing to their start­ing po­si­tions.

The seven-speed gear­box has not been changed ex­cept for a soft­ware up­grade that makes for slightly quicker changes in man­ual and blips the gears on down­shift in all modes.

An un­ex­pected ad­van­tage of that down­shift blip is that changes are smoother be­cause of equal­i­sa­tion of shift pres­sure.

The chas­sis is un­changed, but there has been some tweak­ing of the ac­tive body con­trol on the top-end cars to pro­vide sharper ride at full tilt but a more re­fined sus­pen­sion feel for gen­eral du­ties.

The big­gest sin­gle dif­fer­ence to the up­graded car is the di­rect steer — op­tional on in­ter­na­tional mod­els but likely to be stan­dard for Aus­tralian mod­els.

At the heart of the vari­able steer­ing is an idea first de­vel­oped by Dr Arthur Bishop in Syd­ney al­most 50 years ago.

‘‘The beauty of Bishop’s idea was in its sim­plic­ity and econ­omy,’’ says Michael Rapp, se­nior man­ager for steer­ing-sys­tems de­vel­op­ments at Mercedes-Benz.

‘‘There is no need to have sen­sors for speed in­put or servo mo­tors or build in great com­plex­ity that brings with it the greater risk of com­po­nent fail­ure . . . the Bishop sys­tem is el­e­gant sim­plic­ity.’’

Also op­tional on the in­ter­na­tional mod­els — and un­der con­sid­er­a­tion for Aus­tralia— is the Airscarf neck­warm­ing sys­tem pi­o­neered on the SLK and a multi-mode in­tel­li­gent light sys­tem.

‘‘I think now we have a very good blend and the right mix for our cus­tomers,’’ Multhaupt says.

‘‘They tell us all the time that they do not want a purist sporty car that you can only stand for an hour— the SL is a com­pan­ion for the whole day.’’

Road war­rior: the Mercedes-Benz V8 SL500 has dom­i­nated Aus­tralian sales, but could face pres­sure from the new high-spin­ning 3.5-litre V6 in the SL350.

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