Day 4: Grand Touring
The storm was brewing and we were headed right into it.
Provinces Checked Off
A feeling of considerable disappointment washed over me as the convertible hard top did its acrobatics overhead, fastening itself to the header. The Magic Sky function of the panoramic roof cycled from opaque to transparent automatically, but it just isn’t the same as having the SL550 al fresco.
My driving partner and I had held out as long as we could – making it to within 50 or 60 km of our destination in Regina, having set out from Winnipeg this morning with the sun shining and the top down. For the most part, it was another sensational day, with the temperature just right to enjoy topless motoring, even at elevated speeds.
But shortly after crossing into Saskatchewan, we could see the western sky ahead darkening. The previous few hours had given us a wild southerly wind that put the Mercedes-Benz crosswind mitigation system to excellent use, but the storm was brewing and we were headed right into it.
Once the drops did start to fall, we persevered figuring (rightly) that at the speed we were travelling, the rain would simply go up and over the cockpit (the speed limit on the Trans-Canada Highway in much of Manitoba and Saskatchewan is 110 km/h, so we were, ahem, reasonably close to that pace). The rain was far from becoming a deluge, and eventually subsided, leaving only the ominous dark clouds to threaten us further, while we made a quick bathroom break.
Leaving my driving partner in the car to respond to some emails on his phone, I ran into the service station, the key still in my pocket. Upon returning to the car a few minutes later, the rain was coming down once again, harder than before, and my poor, soggy (but good-spirited) friend gave me a smile while we scrambled to close the top as quickly as we could.
With more than half the distance across Canada already covered without driving a single kilometre without the roof down, breaking our otherwise perfect record was disappointing.
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Nevertheless, the aging Mercedes-Benz SL550 roadster won us over with ease on this trip. It should be noted that although the new R231 body is technically considered a next-generation model from the pre-aluminum-body W230 SLs, its overall shape and switchgear controls suggest it was a very thorough update if not a complete reinvention.
Aesthetically it’s aging very well, now wearing more aggressively swept lights and a new grille shape reminiscent of its more sporting AMG GT cousin. The safety and amenities have all been updated through a constant evolution, adding features like the seat-integrated AirScarf neck vents and massaging seats, as well as active safety from lane-departure mitigation and adaptive cruise control systems.
It’s the drivetrain, though, that Mercedes’ engineers have blessedly improved over the years. This car’s 449 hp twin-turbo V8 doesn’t sound like a lot of power [For a $126,000+ two-seater perhaps – Ed.], but the 516 lb-ft of torque available from 1,800–3,500 rpm makes it a thrilling rocket ship on the road, working up and down through its new nine-speed transmission.
Where the upcoming AMG GT cabrio will be the German marque’s new performance roadster, and the S550 cabriolet the luxury convertible in the Mercedes lineup, the SL550 slots nicely between the two. It’s softer than the AMG, but lighter and more compact than the heavy-cruiser S-Class four-seat convertible.
When the sun is shining (and truthfully, even when it isn’t), the SL550 makes for a solid, fast and comfortable grand touring machine. After logging several hundred kilometres in it today, it was tough to give back the keys.
Fortunately, there are still more interesting convertibles in store for tomorrow’s drive through Alberta.