A SL600 at rest in
Newport, Rhode Island.
Mercedes-Benz USA sold 221,610 vehicles last year. In addition to setting another all-time sales record, 2004 marked the 11th consecutive year that they have eclipsed the previous year’s record. While some have commented that these records have been achieved by offering Mercedes-Benz models that appeal to an ever-widening audience careful examination of the sales results show that this is still a great time for fans of the traditional vehicles that Mercedes is known for.

Take the 12-cylinder SL600 for example. Year-over-year sales nearly doubled when 929 examples were retailed in 2004 compared to 497 the previous year. Pretty impressive when you realize that growth like that represents an increase of roughly 55 million dollars at retail pricing. Your publisher, John Olson, and I recently had the chance to share just such a vehicle for a week. My comments on the SL600 follow this story.

Nearly as impressive was the sales growth of the CLK55 AMG Cabriolet. Its sales grew nearly 64%, adding another 13 million dollars to MBUSA’s ledger. Across the board AMG sales fell slightly in 2004 compared to 2003 but the business still represents a very nice piece of change. Full availability, as well as new AMG models coming in 2005, should continue the prominence that AMG enjoys. As a product line, AMG models represented more than 4% of MBUSA’s sales in 2004.

To help keep the buzz alive AMG sent Michael Pfugfelder, one of their 45 master engine builders, to the Chicago Auto Show. While there he assembled two 604 horsepower AMG 65 series engines, one each day of the media preview. That special demonstration was tied to the debut of the S65 AMG four door sedan for the American market. Other new AMG models recently announced include the E55 AMG station wagon, the world’s fastest station wagon and an enthusiast favorite in Europe where it is already on sale, and the CLS55. If the spy photos are to be believed there will be a CLS65 offered in the future as well.

As mentioned above John and I recently had a chance to share some time in a SL600. The occasion was last fall’s Gull Wing Group Convention in Newport, Rhode Island. Even though the tight confines of the Newport area prevented experiencing the true capabilities of this car, the time spent with it was pleasurable and memorable.

As the current owner of a previous generation R129 SL, and as someone who has owned at least one example of every previous generation SL, I was eager to experience what the 5th generation R230 SL was like to live with for a few days. The fact that the model provided was the top of the line SL600 only heightened my curiosity.

Jim and John (r) enjoying
the sun in a SL600.
The first thing that stood out was how truly exemplary the brakes were. Combining Sensotronic electrohydraulic technology with 14.2” front rotors and 13” rear rotors provides some truly impressive capability. In a car that does everything well its braking ability stood head and shoulders above other features in my mind.
Mercedes-Benz USA sold 221,610 vehicles last year. In
Equally innovative was the retracting hardtop with its easy-pack feature. Easy-pack allows the hardtop to be raised slightly while it is stored in the trunk thus allowing access to the luggage area that is below the top. This was my first experience with a retracting hardtop SL and it proved especially useful for the cooler autumn nights that I experienced during my time in New England.

Overall the SL600 had a well detailed feel to it. I particularly enjoyed small touches like the Alcantara (suede-like) material that is used on the windshield pillars and headliner. Also the beautiful french seams on the dash and door panel tops reinforce that you are driving something special.

This was my first experience with the latest generation Mercedes DVD navigation system. It offers a “birds-eye” view and is a vast improvement over their earlier systems. I was even able to master simple functions without having to crack the rather extensive manual. Included in this system are symbols that denote the location of hospitals, Mercedes-Benz dealers and 9,000 golf courses.

All-in-all this is a great car that is a worthy successor to previous generation SLs. When some convention free time presented an opportunity to cruise the fabulous mansions of Bellevue Avenue I felt right at home driving this car. The Great Gatsby would have loved this car.