What's New for 2009
For the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren's final year of production, there's a new limited-edition 722 S model. Otherwise, the only notable addition is Bluetooth connectivity.
Those who follow Formula 1 racing no doubt know of the long-standing partnership between Mercedes-Benz and McLaren. For a time that collaboration extended beyond racecars to the road -- the SLR supercar was created as an homage to racing accomplishments of a past era when drivers like Juan Manuel Fangio and Sir Stirling Moss barreled down unfenced tracks in open-wheel speed machines while wearing little more than T-shirts and leather caps. When the SLR debuted (in coupe form four years ago, followed by a roadster last year), it was anything but retro; it boasted an ostentatious design and cutting-edge technology.
But all good things must come to an end. Although the SLR hangs on for 2009, Mercedes-Benz and McLaren dissolved their road-car partnership in 2008. In addition to the standard roadster, the SLR's swan song is a limited-edition 722 S roadster, which features a full carbon-fiber body and an even more powerful version of the supercharged 5.5-liter V8. The 722 name comes from the car driven by Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson in the Mille Miglia race in 1955 (they were piloting a 300 SLR). Only 150 of these retuned, special-edition drop tops will be made.
No matter which version you look at, the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren doesn't exactly make a whole lot of financial sense. At half a million dollars, you could park a Ferrari 599 and a Ferrari F430 in your garage for the same amount of dough. Those who want a sleek, modern supercar with stunning good looks and plenty of power to burn could also consider the 2009 Lamborghini Murciélago LP640, which is just as extreme and checks in at $100,000 less. But there's no denying that the SLR still has plenty of cachet, especially in parts of the country where how much you spend on a car is just as important as how it drives.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren is offered solely as a two-seat roadster in a single trim level. Standard features include 19-inch wheels, bi-xenon HID headlights, a heated glass rear window, heated exterior mirrors, a semiautomatic fabric soft top, six-way power carbon fiber sport seats, leather and Alcantara upholstery, aluminum trim, Bluetooth phone connectivity, dual-zone automatic climate control, adaptive cruise control and a seven-speaker Bose surround-sound system with a trunk-mounted six-CD changer. The SLR's list of limited options includes various interior and soft-top color schemes, as well as 18-inch wheels.
Powertrains and Performance
A supercharged 5.4-liter V8 (which is mounted behind the front wheels for optimal weight distribution) powers the rear-wheel-drive 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren with a visceral 617 hp and 575 pound-feet of torque. The SLR 722 produces 650 hp. 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. A brief 3.8 seconds is all it takes for this supercar to rocket from zero to 60 mph, and the top speed for the SLR is an F1-worthy 206 mph. Powerful carbon ceramic brakes and a rear air brake help to bring this beast from 62 mph to a halt in a respectable 114 feet. EPA estimates -- if there's a potential buyer who cares -- come in at a predictably low 12 mpg city/16 mpg highway and 13 mpg combined.
Although no crash tests have been performed on the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, its construction promises a very high level of occupant protection. Carbon fiber, which is extremely light yet strong, makes up a large portion of the car's structure. Steel-reinforced A-pillars and two fixed rollover bars protect the driver and passenger in the event of a rollover. Other standard safety features include airbags, knee-protecting airbags, Mercedes' TeleAid telematics system, stability control, traction control and antilock brakes with brake assist.
Interior Design and Special Features
Half-scissor, half-gullwing doors require some creative maneuvering for the driver and passenger to climb in gracefully. That can be remedied with practice, though preferably not in a public place, since all will be staring. The interior design is definitively German and accented with leather, carbon fiber and aluminum. The engine start button hides beneath a flip-up cover on the gearlever.
The SLR's race-bred carbon fiber seats offer ample support but lack the adjustability most drivers expect. Mercedes custom tailors seat upholstery to the proportions of every vehicle's owner, although those taller than 6 feet will still be out of luck when it comes to legroom. Don't plan on taking this supercar on a long road trip, either, as the trunk offers a mere 7.2 cubic feet of space -- unless, of course, you're the type to just FedEx your luggage ahead of time.
When you're the proud owner of a rare machine that boasts 617 hp and F1-inspired aerodynamics and suspension, there's pretty much only one way to enjoy driving it: fast. The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren roadster excels on challenging roads and accelerates and brakes with the greatest of ease. But there are a few drawbacks. Some might find that the steering lacks feel, and many enthusiasts bemoan the fact that the car is not available with a manual transmission. Road noise is always persistent, but that's to be somewhat expected for a car with this kind of performance. The carbon ceramic brakes are capable of bringing the SLR to a halt, but they're almost too good -- their instant bite makes it difficult to ease into braking.