Gavin Foster | October 8, 2003
So what�s the most striking thing about the Mercedes-Benz SL500? The 225 kW five litre V8 engine? The electronic playground that allows you to watch television, use satellite navigation to get to your destination or play your favourite music at full volume without distortion? The sexy bodywork?
I found the thing that impressed the hell out of Joe Public was the Vario folding tin-top. During my week with the car I developed being a poser into a fine art. Slide the silver missile into the parking slot at Pick �n Pay and watch the old lady in the Citi Golf next door battle to clamp her unwieldy anti-theft devices to the gear lever and steering wheel. Then, as she steps out of her Plebwagen, hit the button to put the Merc�s roof up. The boot opens, the windows close, what looks like a brief episode of Robot Wars takes place above your head and 15 seconds later the open roadster the old duck was gaping at has been replaced by a sleek coupe. The reverse process is just as impressive. I hit the button to stow the roof in the boot at a traffic light one day, and the family of seven crammed into the ageing Corolla in the next lane shrieked and whistled so loudly I thought Becks and Posh must have pulled up behind me.
How about a look at this Merc's rear-end? Just as good-looking as its front. (Photograph: Gavin Foster).
Apart from its entertainment value the Mercedes SL 500 is indisputably one hell of a car. The V8 engine produces enough steam to get you up to 100 km/hr in under seven seconds, and the top speed of 250 km/hr (electronically limited) is enough to get you locked up for a fair number of weekends. Traction control, ABS and active suspension help keep you out of the ditch when you get carried away through the twisties, while the stunning Distronic cruise control system dispenses with the menial chores of applying the brakes and accelerator to compensate for other traffic on the road. Sensors detect obstacles ahead and a computer backs off the gas or taps the brakes when necessary, and then gets the car back up to speed when you pull out to overtake.
Comfort levels in the car as tested are as high as you�ll see anywhere. The seats are electrically heated, and can be activated to give you a gentle back-rub by inflating and deflating every 20 seconds or so. There�s an on-board television - in the interests of safety the picture disappears but the sound stays on as soon as you start moving - and there�s a satellite navigation system. Keyless-Go means that you needn�t jingle those Kruger Rands in your pockets while looking for a key - as long as you have the transponder on your person the car will recognise you, and the doors will open at a touch. Push the starter button on top of the gear lever, the engine will fire up, and away you go.
The one small problem with the Mercedes-Benz SL500 is that not many of us can afford the R1.3 million price ticket. Financed at prime rate over 54 months, payments would be around R32 300 per month, with insurance adding R3 000 or so to that. I think I�ll pay cash for mine, and buy a house with the R 444 200 I save in interest charges.
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