Remember that scene in the 1979 romantic comedy 10? You know the one I’m talking about: A love-struck Dudley Moore hops across the beach toward a cornrow-braided Bo Derek, barbecuing the soles of his feet on the hot sand in the process.
For me, the automotive equivalent is sliding into the leather seat of a convertible that’s been left—top down—stewing in the midday Florida sun. Especially if you happen to be wearing shorts.
There are no expletives to adequately express the pain of fricasseed thigh flesh. And grabbing hold of the wheel to provide leverage to extract yourself doesn’t help, not when it’s also as hot as the inside of a lava-spewing Mount Etna.
This all-too-common experience is why I’m nominating the 2017 Mercedes-Benz SL550 as the Official Convertible of the Sunshine State. How come? Its hip-caressing seats and thick helm feature heat-reflecting leather designed to stay cool when broiled from above.
Apparently, there’s a special pigment added when the hides are being treated that can reflect infrared rays, keeping the leather cooler by as much as 36 degrees. That’s a lot. Think of it as SPF50 for your upholstery.
This solar-resisting leather technology isn’t new, but it’s just one of a million reasons this new-look SL deserves a place in your driveway.But does it work? You bet. I tested the SL in sweltering conditions, leaving it out in 90-degree heat while I sat inside an air-conditioned Starbucks. When I returned, I braced myself for the inevitable scalding, but while the leather was toasty, it was definitely manageable. After five minutes with the ventilated seats on max, all was pleasant.
The “new look” is the key feature of this latest iteration of Mercedes’ evergreen roadster, now entering its sixty-fourth year of continuous production.
For 2017, the Mercedes stylists changed pretty much everything in front of the windshield, making amends for their less-than-stellar 2013 refresh. This latest SL is sure to turn heads, outfitted with a bolder grille, sexier headlights, and larger bumpers.
If this new Sportlich Leicht (that’s German for SL) appears longer, leaner, and lower, that’s because it is. The car’s overall length has been stretched by just under an inch and lowered by half an inch.
But the true beauty of this latest SL550 is the glorious way it drives. While its 4.7-liter, twin-turbo V-8 remains unchanged, it does get a new 9-speed automatic to heighten the fun factor.
Adding two extra ratios is like adding a Red Bull to the transmission. The car now feels crazy fast instead of just fast. Stomp on the right pedal when the red light goes green and the sensation of right-now acceleration is breathtaking.
The spec sheet boasts that the SL speeds from zero to 60 in a mere 4.3 seconds, but it feels faster—and that’s off the line. Amble along at a steady 50 mph and hit the gas. The 9-speed kicks down two, maybe three gears—I couldn’t tell, it was too quick to count—and the car catapults forward. It’s insane.
If you can find a challenging curve in Florida, the SL’s Active Body Control suspension will work effortlessly to cancel out any body roll. The car will simply sweep around the turn as if it’s running on invisible rails.
As before, the SL550 continues as a masterpiece of roadster practicality, with its broad, comfy seats, useful storage space behind the front pews, a decent-sized trunk, and a glass-roofed, retractable metal top that lowers or raises in 18 seconds. For an awe-inspiring transformation, press a button to transition the optional Magic Sky Control glass roof from clear to opaque.
What does it cost to slip into the hot seat of the SL550? A cool $111,725. Though the heat-reflecting leather will ensure the seat never gets too toasty.
- PRICE: $111,725
- ENGINE: Twin-turbo 4.7-liter V-8
- Power: 449-hp
- TORQUE: 516 pound-feet
- TRANSMISSION: 9-speed automatic
- 0-60: 4.3 seconds
- TOP SPEED: 155 mph
- LENGTH/WIDTH: 182.3/82.6 inches
- WHY WE LOVE IT: Because it combines scintillating performance with real elegance.