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Mercedes fires up the 600

Mercedes 12-cylinder SL 600 breaks cover

The SL 600's twin pipe system is lovely

5.5-litre V12 gets boost from 2 x turbochargers

Sydney Opera House inspired dash

The SL 600 is a supercar - with added comfort

2001 SL 600 made 'only' 290kW and 570Nm

When Mercedes unveiled the latest SL model in its burgeoning range in Detroit, it was an indirect swipe at its primary competitor, Bavarian Motor Works.

While there is much talk about the all-new V10, which will promote the 2005 BMW M5 to one of the company's most powerful four-door sedans, Mercedes has unleashed an absolute beast in the form of the SL 600, taking away much of BMW's thunder.

Indeed, even without the tuning know-how of sister-company AMG, Mercedes has delivered an absolute killer, which eclipses the supercharged AMG SL55's power output - but not performance.

The SL 600 is now the flagship model in the SL range, and the reasoning behind such a model, in Merc-speak, is simple: "Performance, refinement, luxury."

In the world of non-PR mumbo-jumbo, Mercedes admits that the 5.4-litre V8-engine AMG SL55 is still the sportiest model on offer.

The new SL 600, however, is geared towards those who want power, but also all the bells and whistles of a luxury grand tourer - something with a more relaxed character, if you will.

Visually, both the SL55 AMG and SL 600 would look identical to the casual observer, but take a closer look and there are differences.

The front spoiler, for instance, is a much happier-looking face on the new 600, while the AMG model gets a more aggressive and almost F1-like front end.

Other features, such as a radiator grille with discreet chrome elements and silver-painted brake callipers differentiate this V12 beast from other SL models. At the rear, twin oval exhausts look awesome, while the standard SL tail lights round off a finely sculpted rump.

There's also V12 emblems on the side air intakes, bi-xenon headlamps and the light-alloy 18-inch wheels are distinguished by their exclusive rim design.

At the front, the drop-top Merc is equipped with 255/40 R18 tyres, while the rear wheels have 285/35 R18 tyres.

Showed for the first time at the Detroit Motor Show (2003), the SL 600 is based on the SL 500, with similar interior detailing.

It also packs more gizmos than your average James Bond-mobile, with things like the electronic stability program and electronic brake assist affording drivers with the confidence to push the car hard.

It also packs Mercedes-Benz innovative 'active body control', which makes use of fast-acting hydraulics at each wheel to virtually eliminate pitch and body roll.

Controlled by advanced software, the ABC ensures that the SL 600 stays level during braking, acceleration and particularly hard cornering.

At the business end of the car - that is, under the bonnet - the new SL packs a ferocious punch.

While it can't quite match the SL55 AMG's 4.4 second 0-100km/h sprint time, we think that 4.7 seconds is still seriously quick - even more so when you consider that Merc's bad-boy weighs in at a stately 1950kg. That's a lot of weight to be hauling around.

As a result of this extra bulk, Mercedes has gone down the popular forced induction path, favoured by Japanese marques such as Nissan and Toyota. The 5.5-litre V12 comes with twin-turbochargers, both fed by a single air/water intercooler, and diverts power to the rear wheels via a five-speed automatic transmission.

The 12-cylinder mill has 3-valves per cylinder (2 intake, 1 exhaust), twin-spark AC ignition and a low compression ratio of 9.0, thanks in large part to the forced induction. This masterpiece of engineering translates to a gargantuan 368kW of power @ 5000rpm, with a 6000rpm redline, compared to the AMG's 7000rpm redline.

Meanwhile, peak torque of 800Nm is simply gobsmacking, moreso when you realise maximum torque is on tap from just 1800rpm.

This massive amount of twist gains momentum at just over 1000rpm, peaks @ 1800rpm and stays at that magic 800Nm mark until 3600rpm. We are talking one seriously flat torque curve here, which provides the SL with more tractability than almost any other car on the road today.

Such a colossal glut of power and torque would probably allow the SL 600 to break the magic 200mph mark, roughly 320km/h, but, as is the case with most Merc's these days, it is electronically limited to 250km/h. Some say it's possible to de-restrict them, but you didn't hear it from us....

Rumours from the Detroit Auto Show would suggest that the new Merc will be one of the most expensive, costing more than even the AMG-tuned SL55. Still, for Mercedes it's an issue of offering more power, displacement and of course refinement, than any of its rivals, with BMW seen as enemy # 1.

And, if first impressions are anything to go by, Mercedes may have done just that with its new fire-breathing twin-turbo convertible.

Some are saying it's simply a quick-fix model to try and deflect hype from the upcoming M5, but we would tend to disagree.

The SL 600 is a hard-top convertible aimed at a slightly different demographic than that of the new M-tuned 5-series Beemer. In essence, it's more likely a case of Mercedes saying to other German automakers: You wanna play with the big boys? 800Nm or no entry, thankyou very much.

It's also interesting to note that Mercedes hasn't really dabbled too much with turbochargers lately; its favoured means of forced indcution the supercharger, aka the 'kompressor'. Is this a sign of things to come?

At the end of the day, the new SL 600 will appeal to those who want a supercar with 12-cylinders, but something that's not a hassle to simply sit in or drive. While there are exotics out there with better power-to-weight ratios, few of them offer the style and comfort of a Mercedes, and something that will really light up if pushed.

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