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Is this 2004 Mercedes SL500 the perfect car? Fast, competent, luxurious, stylish, and built like a Panzer tank, if you can have only one car, this might be the one to pick. I can recall renting Waterford Hills racetrack years ago while a NASCAR team was testing their car. The guys from Car & Driver magazine stopped by with a car just like this SL500. For grins, we put the cars on the track at the same time. Shockingly, after a few laps the SL actually started gaining on the NASCAR stocker, and at one point, actually moved to pass the stock car on the front straight. And this all happened while running the A/C and listening to Luciano Pavarotti on the stereo belting out some brilliant aria that echoed off the walls along with the roaring exhaust notes. Do not underestimate the SL.

This particular SL500 shows just 32,914 original miles, which, on a Mercedes-Benz is just getting broken-in, yet it still carries 3-1/2 years on a 4-year warranty that cost over $4000 by itself. The Mars Red finish is eyeball popping and perhaps a little too brash on the refined Mercedes-Benz, but looking at its flanks, there’s no question that your money buys you some damned fine workmanship. The finish is as flat and smooth as volcanic glass, the color vivid and uniform, and the gaps are, well, as you would expect from a car with the three-pointed star on its nose. The styling is brilliantly executed and the sleek, laid-back nose and proportions, while recalling those of the SLR McLaren supercar, are much better executed. This one has been beautifully maintained, with very few signs of use: the nose is virtually blemish-free, the rockers haven’t been abused by gravel, and the finish seems to have seen nothing more abrasive than foul language. For a car that is now seven years old, the condition is remarkable.

Under the skin, the SL’s remarkable engineering allows it to almost defy the laws of physics. Although “SL” originally stood for “Sport Light,” that hardly describes this car. It’s heavy. But with that weight you get the reassuring feeling of permanence that only Mercedes-Benz seems able to deliver, and the bellowing 5.0 liter 24-valve V8 under the hood delivers enough grunt to make this car feel a thousand pounds lighter. Unfortunately, that wunder-motor is hidden under a plastic shroud that reveals none of the working bits. However, you can plainly see how well maintained it is, from the sparkling clean inner fenders, to the ABS module that is still shiny and corrosion-free. Turn the key and it lights off instantly, humming with restrained power and a barely audible whisper from the tailpipes. Open it up, however, and it’s an entirely different story as the standard ESP (Electronic Stability Program) and ASR (Automatic Skid Reduction) work their electronic magic to ensure that all 302 horses meet the pavement as efficiently as possible.

Underneath, there’s real technical wizardry afoot. With seven gears in the automatic gearbox, this car is always a split-second away from shattering acceleration. If you find yourself gently cruising at 60 MPH and need to overtake a slow-moving truck, squeeze the throttle and the transmission instantly drops two, and perhaps even three gears, dipping into those endless reserves of power and slings you past like a bright red cannonball. In addition to the ESP and ASR, deeply mysterious ABC (active body control) instantly adjusts the car's hydraulic suspension to keep body roll in check. Massive 4-wheel discs with ABS reliably stop the car from virtually any speed without drama, over and over and over. There's real salvation in the SBC (Sensotronic Brake Control) and BAS (Brake Assist System) braking systems: give the brakes a hard shove and they shove right back. These driver’s aids can make even the most clueless driver look like a hero, and are surely part of the reason these cars are so safe. Those gorgeous 18-inch wheels, which are styled after those on the aforementioned SLR McLaren, are in simply superb condition with no curb rash or visible damage. Tires are 255/40/18 Michelin Pilot Sport radials.

The interior is Teutonic luxury at its finest. Deep Designo Stone Nappa leather buckets are supremely comfortable and adjust in more directions than your body. The gauges are laid out in typical Mercedes fashion, in three binnacles ahead of the driver, with simple dials and pointers. The wood-rimmed steering wheel has a great feel and connects you to the road, but not too closely—this is still a luxury car after all. The wood continues on the center console, which frames the entertainment and navigation system, climate controls, and shifter. Of course, I probably don’t need to mention that everything works as it should, but it’s good to know that Mercedes’ quality remains. Thanks to the flipping, turning, twisting, retracting Vario-roof that is so balletic, even the Russian judges give it 10 out of 10, open-air motoring is only seconds away, and it seals up as tightly as a sedan. You might even be able to charge admission just to let people watch the roof stow itself in the trunk with the touch of a single button.

Documentation includes all the original books and manuals, including the owner’s manual, service guide, COMAND manual (that’s Mercedes’ electronic interface), warranty booklet, car care guide, accessories brochure, roadside assistance booklet, and a complete set of navigation system CDs.

Mercedes-Benz sold every one of the SL500s they could build, year after year. There’s surely a reason for that and it isn’t just poseurs wanting to flex their wallets. The cars are delightful to drive, and are genuine iron fists in silk gloves. With more performance than you can use on regular roads, but enough luxury that you won’t care, it’s the ultimate cruiser that can do just about anything. And there’s no mistaking that shape—arrive in one of these and nobody second-guesses you. This 2004 model is arguably more handsome than the current machines, which have had controversial styling gewgaws added that many feel aren’t as dignified as the older models. This is a substantial car, loaded with options, that has been beautifully maintained from day one and comes with a warranty. What else is there to say? Call now.

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$299.00 Dealer Administrative Charge is not included in advertised price. All prices and offers are before state, city and county tax, tag, title and license fees. Out of state buyers are responsible for all state, county, city taxes and fees, as well as title/registration fees in the state that the vehicle will be registered. Dealer not responsible for errors and omissions; all offers subject to change without notice, please confirm listings with dealer.

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2004 Mercedes-Benz SL500

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