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There are a number of wrappers for Mercedes Benz's all-aluminum 5.5-liter V-8 engine: the flagship 2007 Mercedes Benz S550 relies on the 382-horsepower plant to get from private airport to movie premiere to golf club parking lot; the 2007 E550 relies on the engine to get down the autobahn at white-knuckle speeds while looking deceptively innocuous, the CLS550 four-door coupe enables well-heeled, sporty-minded parents to whisk the kids off to soccer practice in style. But for sheer good looks, the 2007 Mercedes-Benz SL550 is head and shoulders above its stable mates. The stars aligned for our week with the 2007 SL 550 and we were blessed with clement weather in which to enjoy the topless delights of Mercedes' iconic roadster. While the SL550's exterior design is irreproachable, the car's interior falls way short of what we would expect for a two-seater with a six-figure price tag.
Test the tech: Canyon carving in the Presidio
The 2007 Mercedes-Benz SL550 has the performance credentials to earn it distinction as more than just a pretty face. Its place in the elite of the Mercedes line up is confirmed by the inclusion of Active Body Control (ABC) as a standard feature (the only other vehicles to be so equipped are the S55 AMG, the S600, and the CL class). ABC is an active suspension system designed to reduce body roll in cornering, accelerating, and braking. Using 13 sensors placed around the vehicle, the ABC system theoretically detects and counteracts vertical- and transverse body roll by regulating the suspension via hydraulic servos located at each corner. The driver-selectable ABC Sport mode, activated by a button on the SL550's center console, firms up the servo-assisted suspension for those wishing to put the car through its paces in spirited driving.
For our tech test of the SL550, we resolved to join this latter group: in the interests of empirical automotive journalism, we planned to drive the car in spirited fashion for a whole afternoon, half of which we would spend in regular ABC mode, and half in ABC Sport mode. This way we could report back on any noticeable difference between the two. To ensure that we had a sufficient supply of suitably challenging roads, we set our sights on San Francisco's Presidio, located a couple of miles west of the densely packed maze of office towers and gridlocked traffic that makes the city's downtown area. With its tangle of winding roads, hairpins, hills, and straightaways, the Presidio was tailor-made for our purpose.
With a curb weight of 4,420lbs, the 2007 SL500 is more of a porker than its svelte profile suggests. The SL550 is a little ponderous when called into action off the line: even with stability control disabled, we were barely able to chirp the tires from standing.
With the ABC Sport mode activated, the handling dynamics of the SL550 are demonstrably improved and weight transfers through chicanes was noticeably sharper. In aggressive cornering, the suspension provides a satisfying pushback as the car tries to roll, leading to the car holding its line and its lateral orientation throughout the course of a bend.