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2003 Mercedes-Benz SL500 and SL55 AMG Luxury Sports Coupes and Convertible

Base MSRP Range: SL500 - $86,000. SL55 AMG - $113,000.

Base Invoice Range: SL500 - $80,000. SL55 AMG - $105,000.
Price Quote

MSRP As Tested: $86,655

Versions: SL500, SL55 AMG.

Vehicle Category: Luxury Sports Coupe and Convertible Roadster

Engine Location: Front Engine

Drive Wheels: Rear-Wheel Drive Rear-Wheel Drive All Wheel Drive

Engine As Tested: SL 500 - 5.0-liter, Single Overhead Cam, V-8 cylinder, 302-horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 339 lb-ft torque at 2,700 rpm. SL 55 AMG - 5.4-liter, Supercharged, Single Overhead Cam, V-8 with 493-horsepower at 6,100 rpm, and 516 lb.-ft. torque at 2,650 rpm.

Transmission As Tested: 5-Speed Automatic with manual shift option.

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): SL 500 - 15/22. SL 55 AMG - 14/20

Standard Safety Features: Driver and front passenger, front and side airbags, driver-knee airbag, child safety seat recognition system, power 4-wheel disc brakes, "> Antilock Braking System, Anti-skid, In-Trunk Emergency Trunk Release, Daytime Running Lights, Brake Assist, Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Remote Keyless Entry, TeleAid Emergency Assistance System.

Competition: Acura NSX, Aston Martin DB7, BMW Alpina, BMW Z8, Jaguar XK-Series, Lexus SC 430, Panoz Esperante, Porsche 911.

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- You must track back exactly half a century to trace the lineage of sleek SL coupes and roadsters developed by Mercedes-Benz of Germany.

The original SL -- an innovative race car labeled 300SL (the SL signifying "Sporty" and "Light") -- wore a teardrop-shaped body of aluminum stretched over a frame of tubular steel. Two small side doors hinged at the roof opened by swinging upward like the outstretched wings of a sea gull.

This swift racer became a phenomenon on the world motorsports circuit in 1952, capturing the checkered flag at Le Mans and the Carrera Panamericana.

Two years later, a production version also called 300SL debuted at the New York auto show. The daring coupe, like the racer, featured gullwing-style doors, along with bullet-shaped fenders capped by round headlamps wrapped in chrome, bumpers of chrome and a bead of chrome extending along side rails, plus side gills strafed by two chrome streaks.

Critics proclaimed the svelte 300SL gullwing coupe as a work of automotive art and it became one of the most distinctive car designs of the Twentieth Century.

An open-top 300SL roadster variation arrived in 1957 and was produced through 1962.

A second generation of SL designs followed in the period from 1963 to 1971, with the 230 and 250 plus a 280SL featuring more innovations, such as fuel-injection and a disc brake at every wheel.

The third generation for SL ran 18 years to 1989 with power increasing through 350, 380, 450 and 560 models.

And the fourth generation from 1989 until 2002 produced the SL320, SL500 and a 12-cylinder SL600. These elite convertibles carried a removable hardtop, power-operated drop-top and a hidden roll bar that would deploy instantly in a rollover situation.

Now, the fifth generation of SL designs begins with the arrival of the Mercedes SL500 badged as a 2003 model.

This car, longer and wider than the 2002 SL500, contains seats for only two in a luxurious cockpit crowned by a sleek hardtop that, at the tap of a console switch, folds through electro-hydraulic muscle and tucks below the trunk lid.

The conversion from weather-tight coupe to airy convertible consumes only 16 seconds, thanks to 11 electric motors that pleat the top, open and close the trunk deck and also drop all side windows.

New SL500, like its inventive predecessors, becomes a rolling showcase for high-tech controls and the Mercedes version of automotive wizardry as couched in trappings of luxury and comfort.

And, like the original production 300SL of 1954, this one could also be considered an automotive work of art, its design in part homage to the original gullwing SL but also a projection into the future of sophisticated automobiles.

Fluid lines of painted aluminum and plastic flow upward from the low prow over a sculptured hood that rises to the canted windshield and arcs across a pillar-less roof to the curvy high tail.

A grille etched with horizontal chrome strips marks the prow unmistakably as a Mercedes, but it's raked and streamlined to match all smooth lines sweeping rearward.

Clear polycarbonate covers shield each flanking twin-bulge headlamp cluster that houses high and low beams, integrated parking lamps and directional signals. High intensity xenon headlamps are the standard but bi-xenon lamps are also available.

Fenders rise in muscular bulges crowned by the headlamps in a design that suggests the gullwing 300SL, and an impression of the gullwing's gill strafed in chrome appears on the SL500 behind each large front wheelwell.

Although modern bumpers and side rail trim match the color of the car body, a ripple ridge in highlight rings the SL500 at its base in a manner similar to the strips of chrome that wrapped low around the gullwing SL.

This design, without question, immediately scores among the most artistic to come out of Mercedes-Benz, and, considering the entailed list of high-tech mechanical hardware encased by all of that curvaceous car metal, it's certainly the most sophisticated -- and it carries more computer-controlled electronic hardware for safety and operation than virtually any other car in the world.

There are devices aboard to stabilize forward movement and tire traction, smart brakes and adjustable suspension settings, plus multiple air bags to cushion the human cargo.

Designers also added an electronic brain that can out-think a driver and make intelligent decisions regarding car movement and its safe operation. The system employs microprocessors that connect to on-board sensors measuring the vehicle's forward and lateral motion, tire rotation, passenger load, even conditions of a roadbed and traffic. These miniature computers filter all data, then set into play various equipment based on need or demand.

Sensors in the suspension system determine vehicular payload, speed and road conditions, and they can adjust dampers on shock absorbers to smooth out or firm up the ride quality. Still other devices measure wheel speed and lateral acceleration and can brake an individual wheel to correct potential skidding or spinning of the car.

Even the optional adaptive Distronic Cruise Control is smart: It draws on Doppler radar to measure the distance to a car ahead in the coupe's path, then adjusts the throttle or applies brakes to maintain a pre-set distance between the two vehicles.

A dash-mounted navigation system integrates a guidance system with Global Positioning Satellite reckoning and hands-free telephone and audio controls. The driver can interact with this intelligent system and use it to control the audio, dial phone numbers or figure out where to go.

The SL500 also has electronic brakes in a first of a kind brake-by-wire system dubbed Sensotronic Brake Control.

Power comes from a 5.0-liter V8 that delivers 302-hp at 5,600 rpm and 339 lb-ft of torque sustained from 2,700 to 4,250 rpm. It propels the coupe from zero to 60 mph in just over six seconds, utilizing the Mercedes five-speed automatic transmission with one-tap clutch-less TouchShift feature.

Our drive in the SL500 across Arizona's Sonoran Desert reveals it has the quick behavior of a sports car but also the smooth and plush ride quality of an elite luxury car.

The elegant interior features a cockpit with twin seats separated by a console and trimmings in fine leather, elegant wood and strips of polished aluminum. Power controls everything, and seats have internal ventilators.

Optional Keyless Go brings a keyless card the operator carries like a credit card. It unlocks the driver's door and allows the engine to start by simply stepping on the brake pedal and depressing a button set atop the shifter lever.

The MSRP for a 2003 SL500 comes in at $86,655.

Pros: Performance, handling, luxury and technology

Cons: The is a VERY expensive vehicle!

Ratings (1-10)

  • Style: 10
  • Performance: 9
  • Price: 7
  • Handling: 9
  • Ride: 9
  • Comfort: 9
  • Quality: 9
  • Overall: 8.9


Where Built: Germany

Major Options: glass roof, heated seats, larger tires, navigaiton system, obstacle detection system, special seats, tire pressure monitor, upgraded stereo, Xenon headlamps,

Seating: 2

Number of Rows: 1

Crash Test Ratings:

  • NHTSA Frontal Impact/Driver Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Frontal Impact/Passenger Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Side Impact/Front Seat Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Side Impact/Rear Seat Crash Test Rating: Not Yet Tested
  • NHTSA Rollover Resistance Rating: Not Yet Tested

  • IIHS Frontal Offset Crash Test: Not Yet Tested

Length in Inches: 178.5

Warranties: 4 years/50,000 miles bumper-to-bumper, 4 years/50,000 miles corrosion, unlimited years/unlimited mileage free Roadside Assistance, 4 years/50,000 miles Free Scheduled Maintenance.

Weight in Pounds: 4,045

Towing Capacity in Pounds: Not Applicable

Gas Tank Capacity in Gallons: 21.1

Destination Charge: $720