Despite its stratospheric price, the R129-generation Mercedes-Benz SL had a three-year waiting list when we tested the six-cylinder automatic in 1990. But we weren’t quite sure why.
The 300SL-24 auto used the world’s first five-speed auto-shifter. It used a set of additional planetary gears as an overdrive ratio and worked beautifully with the exceptionally smooth 24-valve straight-six at full throttle. But while the urban slush was seamless, there was a marked lag at startup. The brakes, however, were tireless.
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Grip was impressive and oversteer on take-off showed the chassis had rare agility, but power slips were snatched away from the driver by traction control braking individual rear wheels and moderating throttle. The steering was direct but lacked feel and weight to do the chassis justice. The ride was superb, however.
The plush, ergonomic cabin sought after for driver legroom and rear seat space. Only with the hardtop in place of the canvas roof did the SL avoid excessive wind noise.
For: Nice ride and handling, ergonomics, hood design
Versus: Cramped interior, uninspiring performance
What happened next
The 300SL was discontinued in 1993, when the “SL” was changed from suffix to prefix, but its innovative five-speed automatic survived in the six-pot SL 280 and SL 320. The R129-gen SL was replaced by the R230 SL, with its retractable hardtop, in 2001, which itself gave way to the R231 (2012-2020). The SL’s brief hiatus ended with a new fully AMG-developed R232 version, which debuted in 2021 and goes on sale this year.
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This notice was published: 2022-05-23 04:01:23