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contents of this article
Page 1 | 2 | 3 | Specs | Pictures

1. Model Lineup 4. Driving Impressions
2. Walkaround 5. Final Word
3. Interior Features  

The Mercedes SL500 is one of the most beautiful cars in the world. From the jutting chin of its front bumper to the four-eyed headlamps to the traditional front fender air intakes to the shoulders over the rear tires to the five-spoke alloy wheels, the SL500 is not only the new style leader for Mercedes-Benz, but a new style leader for the entire segment.

Click for a larger 2003 Mercedes-Benz SL pictureMercedes says the new SL simultaneously pays homage to its legendary great grandfathers while offering a new interpretation of excitement. Now almost 50 years in production, it is an automotive icon. It dates back to the 1954-63 300SL "Gullwing" Coupe. The most recent generation of SLs ran from 1989 to 2002.
The air inlets in the front fenders were inspired by the original 300SL. The narrow, wing-like chrome gills are reminiscent of the first SL Roadsters and are echoed in the hood. The four-eye headlamp pattern has the two lamps on each side melting into one another. They represent the latest in lighting technology with a circular Fresnel lens that concentrates the light emitted by the standard xenon headlamps. From the side, the rising beltline contributes to the car's rake. At the rear, the Mercedes triangular taillights use 27 LED bulbs designed to illuminate more quickly.

The Mercedes SL has a completely new interior design, different from the CL coupes and very different from the Mercedes sedans. Two large round instrumentClick for a larger 2003 Mercedes-Benz SL picture pods carry the primary instruments, using smart, colorful graphics shared by no other Mercedes-Benz. The instru-ment panel and center console are well organized and feature the Mercedes COMAND screen that operates the sound system, navigation system, and telephone, with redundant controls on the new steering wheel. Below center, just ahead of the shifter, are the ventilation controls, similar in style to the twin round controls used in the M-Class SUVs. Voice activation for the phone, radio and ventilation system is optional.

The leather-covered seats that come with the car are superbly comfortable for grand touring, but if you need more and want more, Mercedes offers both dynamic multi-contour seats that give a continuous massage, or seats with active seat ventilation. The standard seats are larger and more sumptuous than the previous models because there is simply more room in the cockpit, with more room to adjust the seat for tall drivers and more room to rake the seat back. That'sClick for a larger 2003 Mercedes-Benz SL picture because the new automatic folding steel top design doesn't take up as much room as the old fabric convertible top. Behind the bucket seats are twin lockable storage compartments in place of the ridiculously small jump seats in the old car. The seats will adjust to anyone save a midget or an NBA starter, and the cabin feels much more open than the previous model did.
With the steel top up, the SL turns into a coupe as quiet as a church on Wednesday, allowing the occupants to relax and cover ground while the new 10-speaker sound system (with separate 100-watt amplified subwoofer) bathes the interior in sound. With the top stowed, a 16-second process, the sound system compensates automatically for the increased road noise. Mercedes worked long and hard to ensure that with the top down and the side windows down, you can still hold a normal conversation with your traveling partner even at very high road speeds.

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An interesting new feature is the optional Keyless Go card, an electronically coded card that replaces the normal fob-and-key arrangement. As long as you have Keyless Go in your pocket or purse, you simply walk up to the car, touch the door handle to unlock the car, and then, once seated, you touch the knob on top of the shifter to start (or stop) the engine. Pretty handy when you're in a hurry or a rainstorm. Passive safety features include front and side head-and-thorax airbags as well as new knee bags, and an automatic rollover protection bar that snaps up to protect you if the top is down.

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