What's New for 2008
The sleek and stylish 2008 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren ditches its roof and drops its top now that it's offered exclusively as a roadster.
Now in its fourth year of production, the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren continues as the ultimate symbol of Mercedes' partnership with McLaren Cars, Ltd. Born out of motorsport tradition featuring the Silver Arrows, Juan Manuel Fangio, Sir Stirling Moss, the 1955 300 SLR and Mika Häkkinen, Mercedes wanted to create a car that would honor its storied past and leave an indelible mark on the present. With such an impressive pedigree, the SLR McLaren not only had to look the part, but play it, too.
A little-known tidbit is that Mercedes' concept for this vehicle (the 1999 Vision SLR Concept) was introduced as both a coupe and roadster. For 2008, Mercedes has finally followed through on that design path and released a new convertible version of the SLR. In fact, this is the only model available this year, as the coupe has been shelved. This could be the best thing that's happened to the SLR McLaren since its debut. Whereas the coupe tried to offer both ultimate performance and ultimate luxury but came up short on both, the roadster tilts more toward the luxury side and doesn't try to be something it isn't.
Unlike Mercedes' SLK and SL roadsters, the SLR features a semiautomatic soft top. The car's 200-plus-mph top speed remains, though that is attained with the top up. The rest of the car is much the same as it was before. A flat undertray, a movable airbrake and a rear diffuser create downforce and minimize lift at extralegal speeds, and large functional side gills adorning the front fenders vent heat from the engine bay.
Priced close to half a million dollars, the 2008 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren is certainly an odd choice even by exotic car standards. One could park a Ferrari 599 and a Ferrari 430 in his garage for the same price. But we suspect that those affluent enough to consider purchasing an SLR McLaren in the first place will probably find the car to be desirable in its own right.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren is now offered solely as a two-seat roadster. Standard features include bi-xenon HID headlights, 19-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport tires (255/35 in front and 295/30 in back), carbon fiber sport seats wrapped in leather and Alcantara, real aluminum trim, a Bose surround-sound system with a trunk-mounted six-CD changer, automatic dual-zone climate control and adaptive cruise control. The SLR's limited-option offering consists of a variety of interior color schemes, three soft top colors and 18-inch wheels.
Powertrains and Performance
Mounted aft of the front wheels for optimal weight distribution lies a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 that sends a visceral 617 horsepower and 575 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels. A widely spaced five-speed automatic transmission translates the engine's brute force into motion. Steering-wheel-mounted buttons enable the driver to shift manually. Zero to 60 mph arrives in a scant 3.8 seconds. With the gas pedal pinned against the floorboard, a top speed of 206 mph is attainable. 2008 EPA estimates, should one worry about such things, are 12 mpg city and 16 mpg highway.
In place to scrub all that speed off are eight-piston front and four-piston rear carbon ceramic brakes and a rear airbrake. They are capable of stopping the car from 62 mph in 114 feet.
Although no crash tests have been performed on the 2008 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, its construction promises a very high level of occupant protection. Light yet extremely strong carbon fiber (the same material used for F1 cars) makes up a large percentage of the vehicle's structure. Steel-reinforced A-pillars and two fixed rollover bars protect driver and passenger in the event of a rollover. Other standard safety features include side and side curtain airbags, knee-protecting airbags, TeleAid, stability control, traction control and carbon ceramic antilock brakes with brake assist.
Interior Design and Special Features
After accomplishing the balancing act required to enter the cockpit due to the half-scissor, half-gullwing doors, the driver is greeted by a staid, definitively German cabin adorned in leather, carbon fiber and aluminum. The centerpiece of the interior is an engine starter button hidden beneath a flip-up cover on the gearlever.
The SLR's racing-inspired carbon fiber seats are certainly very supportive, but lack the adjustability most drivers expect. Having said that, Mercedes custom tailors seat upholstery to the proportions of every vehicle's owner, but no amount of customization will be able to help those taller than 6 feet who may find legroom lacking. With only 7.2 cubic feet of trunk space, don't expect to fit two sets of golf clubs and luggage for a trip to Pebble Beach.
A car like the 2008 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren roadster shines brightest when it's devouring countless miles quickly. The car's F1-inspired aerodynamics, powertrain and suspension allow it to excel when accelerating or braking. One of the SLR's greatest strengths is also its greatest weakness -- its brakes behave like a toggle switch, making modulation very difficult. Other minor downsides include steering that could benefit from more feel, and excessive road noise.