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Now down to two models and a few more months on the market, the Mercedes-Benz SL Class folding-hardtop convertible makes a grand exit, still every bit as lovely and talented as when it made its debut almost a decade ago.
A new SL Class is on the way for the 2013 model year, but in truth the current car is one that could live on a while longer. It's a stupendous piece of engineering, with timeless looks and performance that ranges from strong to stellar, depending on which V-8 engine is underhood.It may not be as chic as some of the latest near-exotics, but the SL acquits itself extremely well at the valet stand and on the long and winding road. The SL 550 leaves little room for other pricey roadsters to outgun it; the SL 63 AMG has even more brilliant peaks of acceleration and grip, faster than an Aston Martin Vantage and not far off the mark set by the Porsche 911. (A Nissan GT-R will trounce it, but to be fair, it'll backhand some sport bikes, too.)
The relaxed side of its personality unfolds in its very well-controlled ride and in its very roomy, tony cabin. The carry-on space gets beaten by a single overhead bin on a Canadair jet, but the SL roadsters never fail for a comfortable driving position or for spread-out space, even with the top up.
Given the choice between the two SLs, we'd always opt for the SL 63 AMG, for its time-warping acceleration and its multi-contour seats and an amazingly tractable ride. But even those who slow things down a little in the SL 550 won't lack for a big V-8 burble, or for a huge array of standard features. And either way, there's the simple but brilliant AIRSCARF, which deserves some kind of Nobel of its own. Anything that adds a few days or weeks to summer is an inspiration all its own.