Brake by wire may be the next big thing in car technology. Unlike in every other car on the market, when you press down on the SL’s brake pedal, you don’t pump hydraulic fluid to operate the brakes. Instead, the pedal connects to an electrical sensor, and a computer interprets how quickly you want to stop by measuring the speed of movement of the pedal, the attitude of the car, and various other parameters. The pedal, however, is arranged to simulate the feel of a conventional braking system; for the driver it feels normal. /media/61/assets-image-020403193821jpg-photo-11131-s-inline-image.jpgp>

In the Sensotronic system, brake application remains hydraulic, and the computer directs distribution of fluid from a reservoir maintained at constant high pressure. It controls the brake on each wheel separately, allowing an ideal division of labor between front and rear wheels and, indeed, from one side to the other if the brakes are applied at midcorner./media/61/assets-image-020403193821jpg-photo-11131-s-inline-image.jpgp>

The throttle is also electronic and intelligent, adapting the pedal response to the driver’s style. By comparison, the speed-sensitive power steering is quite conventional, but a rack-and-pinion system is new for the SL, and it’s a solid reason why the new model is so much better to drive than its predecessor. The steering system is lighter than before, but most of the new technology has added weight. Using aluminum for the fenders, trunklid, door skins, and that long hood did something to compensate, but the new SL500 is still 66 pounds heavier than the old one. /media/61/assets-image-020403193821jpg-photo-11131-s-inline-image.jpgp>

This new car is so laden with fascinating technology that we almost forgot about its engine and performance. To begin with, there is only an SL500 with the 302-hp V-8 engine from the CL500 and S500 and its attendant five-speed automatic transmission. It is exemplary in smoothness and performance. The company boasts a 0-to-60-mph time of 6.1 seconds (a touch quicker than before) and a governed maximum speed of 155 mph, but those numbers don’t tell the whole story./media/61/assets-image-020403193821jpg-photo-11131-s-inline-image.jpgp>

Selecting the ABC sport mode stiffens and lowers the suspension, making this SL one of the most confidence-inspiring cars on a winding road. Body roll through corners is negligible, and the SL500’s multifarious control systems help the driver to achieve optimal traction, braking, and lateral grip. If we have a criticism, it is that this efficiency comes at the expense of excitement. The new SL is a precision tool but not a riot of fun./media/61/assets-image-020403193821jpg-photo-11131-s-inline-image.jpgp>

The car’s new style and its smooth cabin furnishings are still those of an opulent two-seater that was designed for Rodeo Drive. It doesn’t seem quite right to use this car for blasting across mountain passes. But just as it combines the qualities of a coupe and convertible, the new SL is both a luxury cruiser and a fast, accomplished driving machine. It makes the definition of a sports car irrelevant./media/61/assets-image-020403193821jpg-photo-11131-s-inline-image.jpgp>

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