Autos: Spotlight: Sport Light
“What brings people to Mallorca this time of year?” I asked the concierge at Son Julia (www.sonjulia.com), a restored and resplendent 24-room mansion-cum-grand hotel that had opened barely two weeks before my arrival on this Spanish-governed island in the western Mediterranean.
“We have some of the best bitches in the world,” he said matter-of-factly, or at least that’s what I thought he said. The awkward silence that followed—along with the nonplussed expression on my face—no doubt bade him to explain. “Only 15 minutes from here is Es Trenc,” he added, “the famous white-sand bitch.”
“Ah, the beaches,” I said, releasing my breath and relaxing my brow.
“Yes,” he said. “Though the water is still too cold to swim.”
What brought me to Mallorca in February, however, was not the white beaches, nor was it Son Julia’s blue-tiled indoor spa, or even the master suite’s expansive floor-to-ceiling view of blossoming almond groves. Instead, I was here for Mercedes-Benz’s introduction of its 2007 SL models: the 550 roadster, 55 AMG, and 600, the latest offerings in a series that began more than 50 years ago with the famous Gullwing coupe. As a reminder of the enduring greatness of the early SLs, Mercedes-Benz had a 1955 300SL coupe and a ’58 SL roadster on hand and at the ready for countryside cruising. The presence of the vintage vehicles also helped to demonstrate how profoundly the SL series has evolved over its five decades of production.
The 2007 models are face-lifts of the fifth-generation SLs, featuring enough nips and tucks to maintain fresh appearances. Each one offers more precise steering, a more powerful engine, and a front fascia that bears a stronger resemblance to that of a Formula 1 car. The SL550’s new 5.4-liter, four-valve V-8 base engine produces 383 hp, which is 80 hp more than its predecessor. Mercedes also has given boosts to its higher-performance models. With faster-spinning superchargers, the SL55 AMG now boasts 510 hp and accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, and the SL600, equipped with a V-12, equals that power output and acceleration. Both cars can reach 60 mph half a second faster than the SL550 can.
Performance accounts for only part of the SLs’ raison d’être. The cars’ continued popularity also emanates from their summer-to-winter adaptability. Indeed, they can transition from coupe to convertible in a mere 16 seconds with the flick of a switch—and while moving, albeit at not faster than 6 mph. In Mallorca in February, the water may be too cold for swimming at the beaches, but you almost always can go topless.