Favourite getaway car: 2014 Mercedes-Benz 500 SL Roadster For long journeys to lazy days
Fast-forward to Christmas Eve 2014. The old folk – Nikolas-Claus Snr. and wife Mary, or Father and Mother Christmas, retired recently because it became too much. They are, after all, well past 600 years of age.
Their son, Nikolas-Claus Tannenbaum (Christmas Tree in English but shortened to “Christmas” for the Anglicised surname), has taken over the business; now rebranded as Giftopia Christmas Worldwide (GCW) to reaffirm its global reach and to keep it front-of-mind as industry leader.
A self-propelled, GPS-guided titanium sled replaced the ancient wooden sleigh some years ago. That was when reindeer power made way for Infinite Improbability Drive as pioneered in Douglas Adams’ “Hitch hikers’ guide to the galaxy”. Because of that, the reindeer you may or may not see, depending on your own level of child-like innocence, are Virtual.
Drone ‘copters carrying region–specific parcels replenish the sled in-flight at planned waypoints. Saving time and wrapping costs, gifts are presented in patented Santabags; all magically sealed with wish bows personalised to each recipient. Thankfully, requests for ponies, bicycles and baby domestic animals have been largely replaced by pleas for portable electronics.
As always, the journey begins at the first stroke of midnight on Rabi (pronounced Rambi) Island, Fiji, on the 180-degree antemeridian. Moving on from ages past, however, GCW has developed a time warping app. that adjusts human consciousness to accept an annual 48-hour night as normal.
Hi. I’m Merida (Merry), Nicky’s business partner, main squeeze and C.O.O. of Giftopia. Because the poor dear will be exhausted after that long night, despite sleeping through the 25th and possibly Goodwill (Boxing) Day, I will be doing the driving during our after-Xmas holiday in the KZN Midlands. We have no kids of our own yet, and because we need some ‘alone’ time away from all those elves, our wheels this year will be a two-seater; the 2014 Mercedes-Benz 500 SL Roadster.
Built almost entirely of aluminium with magnesium fuel tank shield and roof mechanicals, it weighs 110 kilograms less than its predecessor despite having more safety equipment. That means it’s quicker, more nimble, has a lower centre of gravity and uses less fuel. For those who care, it also sells for less than it did at launch. And namedroppers might like to know that famous SL-owners have included Steve Jobs, Demi Lovato, Jeremy Clarkson and Ice-T.
Replacing the old five-litre engine is a new 4 663 cc V8 with twin turbochargers – one on each bank of cylinders. That, and other new technology means it’s more fuel-efficient, develops more power and pumps less carbon dioxide into the air. Our tester’s real-life evaluation cycle yielded 12,3 l/100 km, although he drove about a third of the way with its top down and ‘provoked’ it occasionally. In other words, he treated it as you or I would, rather than as a laboratory experiment to build bragging rights.
Standard features include Attention Assist that suggests you stop for coffee when your driving style becomes erratic, the active multi-contour seat package, and Active Parking Assist to aid entering and exiting parking spaces. The roof, that opens or closes in 20 seconds, has an electrically powered draught stop. That helps keep my flyaway hair in place, and breezes under control, when I drive topless at some pretty hectic speeds. Interpret that any way you choose!
Then there are the safety aids like Pre-Safe brake loading that prepares the brakes for emergency use if a dangerous situation is developing, Active Lane Keeping Assist and Active Blind Spot Assist. Inside there’s the COMAND online connectivity system with its DVD changer and 17.8-centimetre screen, start-stop to save fuel at traffic lights, dampers that adjust themselves and an amazing sound system.
Moving on, intelligent lighting dips for traffic automatically, keyless starting and hands-free access means you don’t have to scrabble for keys in lonely parking garages and Magic Vision Control feeds washer water directly to each windscreen wiper – on the side it’s sweeping toward. Then there’s the stuff you already know; like power-assisted everything and more braking kit and airbags than you could shake a candy cane at?
Big, lazy V8 power loafs along at 1800 rpm in top at 120 km/h when you’re feeling laid-back, awesome overtaking ability wafts you up into heavy-fine numbers before you realise what’s happening and its ass gives a wicked little twitch when you get cheeky with the right foot. The familiar E-S-M selector is still there; E for easy driving, S for getting your sportiness on and M works together with the selector paddles when serious manual-shift driving is called for. It’s raw power that rewards whoever tames it.
Road tests on convertibles usually avoid banalities like cargo space and practicality. That’s because, apart from the occasional golf bag or minimal luggage for lost weekends, no one really cares. But since you asked: The boot should hold a couple’s weekly groceries and a lidded box behind the passenger chair looks big enough for Nicky to stash a change of clothes and his vitamins (I have plans). For other bits and pieces, there’s a bi-level glove box and narrow door bins. My Bentley Platinum sunspecs go in a dedicated compartment.
Finally, there are no elf-friendly cup holders in this car. Yay! Mercedes-Benz SLs are meant for fast, long distance cruising to exciting destinations; not multi-hour traffic jams. I’m glad someone was paying attention.
Test car from MBSA press fleet
Price: R1 550 244 (Dec) R1 602 300 (Jan)
Engine: 4663 cc, DOHC, 32-valve, dual turbo V8
Power: 320 kW at 5250 rpm
Torque: 700 Nm between 1800 and 3500 rpm
Zero to 100 km/h: 4.6 seconds
Maximum speed (governed): 250 km/h
Real life fuel consumption: About 12.3 l/100 km
Tank: 65 litres
Boot: 235-356 litres
Warranty and maintenance: 6 years/100 000 km
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