Enter the legendary 993 Porsche 911, the last of the air-cooled 911 coupes, “targas”, and convertibles. Such examples are known for their heavy, hydraulic steering and light-weight handling that is uninterrupted by severe electronic aid and interference. Of course, the benefits of “traction control” (which is an engine management system that limits power sent to the wheels) are certainly notable, especially for saving the vehicle from losing control and possibly crashing. In fact, this model was available with one of the first traction control systems from Germany, the Porsche Automatic Brake Differential (ABD). This system manipulates power sent from left to right wheels (rear wheels only in the C2 and C2S) allowing the vehicle to be controlled more directly by the driver. Today’s traction control systems make sure that minimal to no wheel slippage occurs, while the Porsche ABD genuinely does not limit the driver, making the vehicle more dangerous than a modern Porsche, but significantly more organic and controllable at the limit.
This particular 993 is the Carrera 4S variant, with many performance enhancements and benefits over the plebeian base models. Such options include the body-shell and upgraded brakes from the more powerful “Turbo” model, as well and the upgraded Porsche Aero-Kit rear wing. It even has the massive 285/30 ZR18 rear tires for excellent cornering and agility with 31mm spacers in the rear to compensate for the wider bodywork from the “Turbo” model (minus the rear air intakes). This example is also specced with no rear-wiper and no sunroof for ultimate aerodynamics and weight conservation. Interestingly, the wide-body design does improve low-speed cornering, but it limits the top speed of the car slightly when compared to the narrower Carrera models. At only 3,274 pounds, even with all-wheel drive, the 993 Carrera 4S is a true blast from the past and a true icon in the performance car world even ’til this day. Good luck getting your hand on one, they are very rare now in 2018 and more expensive than ever (even compared to when new in some cases)!
The SL-Class by Mercedes-Benz has always been the definitive luxury GT car. It has set itself as the benchmark for all other luxury two-seater roadsters since it’s first iteration in 1954 in coupe form only, as the 300SL Coupe. Since then, the car has evolved as the leader in technology and luxury for all other luxury roadsters that followed, especially from 1990 to the present. Though technology has changed during each generation of the SL-Class, the styling has remained mostly the same since the early 1990s model, the R129. However, for the 2013 model-year, Mercedes has made it’s most drastic styling changes to its SL-Class in the past 20 years, not to mention that they’ve added a variety of technological changes as well. Has Mercedes ruined a traditionally classic-looking car with unique styling and technology, or have the changes paid off for this heavyweight cruiser? Let’s find out.
If you’re in the market for a high-end luxury roadster, then styling is probably very important to you. The 2013 Mercedes SL550, at first glance, may seem a bit off, with those enormously bulbous headlights, upright grille, and dramatic side-skirts. These elements certainly threw me off initially when I saw the videos of the car last year filmed at the Detroit Auto Show. I thought the car had gone away from Mercedes’ traditional styling of the SL and gone for something that is trying to look like no other sports car on the road. They certainly have succeeded in this area. The 2013 SL550 has serious presence. Whether you love it or hate it, this car will not go un-noticed. Upon synthesizing this analogy, I realized that the new “bolder” styling was implemented because it helps Mercedes re-invent their standard-setter. I feel that this was a very smart move for Mercedes, as there is now a lot of new competition in the segment, like the F12 BMW 6-Series.
This car may look strange to people who have only seen pictures of it, but upon seeing it in person, this car looks really cool. A large part of this coolness is produced by the matte-grey paint job (a $1200 option), which helps onlookers better see the lines and width of the car. I spotted a metallic white example of this car in East Hampton town the other week and its’ lines were certainly not as noticeable. Matte-finishes truly do this car’s aggressively unique styling justice. I predict that most people will have a different view of the SL upon witnessing it in person. Instead of saying, “Damn, they ruined the SL,” people will say, “Wow, is that the new SL?” Personally I value cars that look different. For example, several automotive journalists credited the BMW Z4 as an “ugly” car. However, the unconventional creases and curves in that car’s body gave the car character. BMW in general has toned down the styling of most of their models tremendously in the past two to four years. Now, Mercedes seems to be doing just the opposite; making their cars more interesting than ever before.
Moreover, Mercedes has introduced several technological innovations to further place the SL ahead of its predecessors and indeed its competition. The primary technological advancement made in my opinion might actually seem very basic to most people; the SL550s’ chassis and body construction. Unlike ever before, both the body and chassis of the SL550 are 90% aluminum. It is 300 pounds lighter than the equivalent body and chassis combo from the 2011 model year. The car, in many ways, is more beautiful on the inside than the outside. Engine-wise, the SL550 has leaped forward. Gone is the naturally aspirated 5.5-liter V8 engine that has resided in various Benzes for the past 5 years. Now there is a 4.6-liter V8 with twin turbos that produces 429 horsepower and 519 pound-feet of torque. That is huge. 0 to 60 mph now takes just 4 seconds flat and the quarter mile comes in just 12.5 seconds at 114 mph. These numbers are not far off those of the new F13 BMW M6 convertible, which has 120 more horsepower than the SL550. Remarkable. Makes you wonder why anyone would need to step up to an AMG version of this car.
In addition to the engine and construction innovations of the SL550, there is now a standard windshield-washer fluid spray system that is integrated into the wipers, eliminating that annoying, blinding spray function typical of most modern cars. Also available is a new, photo chromatic sunroof build into the retractable hardtop. This technology was first seen in the ultra-luxurious Mercedes Maybach as early as 2003. Finally, it has trickled down into the SL550 as a $2500 option, though it does not open or tilt independent of the hardtop. Other accoutrements include an upgraded Bang and Olufsen stereo with 900 watts of total output with 12 speakers, a keyless entry system, active ventilated seats, rear view camera, and “AIRSCARF.” A device that blows hot air onto the occupants necks on cooler days.
Performance options are more scarce on the SL550 (Mercedes has to save some things for the AMG versions of the SL), but there is a special $4090 option called Active Body Control (ABC) that helps provide a sports car demeanor during hard cornering. Does it transform the SL into a sports car? No. However, the system does help this 4100-pound luxury cruiser corner like one. Mercedes advertises ABC as “the most advanced suspension in production.” It is comprised of a network of sensors hooked up to hydraulic shock absorbers that stiffen up in random configurations to counteract any imperfections transmitted from the road to the chassis. This technology does not only increase sportiness when driven hard in “SPORT” mode, but it also helps eliminate most vibrations transmitted into the cabin when in “COMFORT” mode. Both of these settings are selectable through a toggle switch located in the center console that comes with the ABC suspension. Very cool.
I believe that with all of these new and improved elements of the 2013 SL-Class, Mercedes will have reinvented the benchmark of the luxury roadster segment. The SL550 doesn’t do the job of a great sports car, it accomplishes something much more impressive than that. It is extremely comfortable, fast, and most of all luxurious. The SL550 is a car that will surprise you when you drive it. It looks like it will be very fast, and it is, but it is also very comfortable, and turns very well, and stops even better. I personally believe that the SL is the best roadster currently for sale. If the SL550 is what the “standard” car is, I can’t wait to drive the AMG versions.
Photos and Text by Christopher Schwagerl, Editor of www.DriveHamptons.com
The 3-series is the most ubiquitous offering from BMW, with a distinctive personality that is both revered and despised. No matter which side you choose, it is still the most popular small-executive sedan sold in North America. People sometimes look at the 3-series, and render it as a cute, posh sedan for chicks to drive around in the Hamptons, Beverly Hills, Greenwich, etc. Perhaps that is the case with the entry-level 328i (to a certain degree), but enthusiasts maintain that there is a surprising amount of power and dynamic ability in the twin-turbocharged 335i version. Are the enthusiast voices of bimmerpost.com and E90forum.com correct with their claims on the 335i? Let’s find out.
THE DAY-TO-DAY DRIVE:
I’ve spent the past 8 months driving a Monaco Blue BMW 335xi (xi so it’s all-wheel drive) with a Sport Package and the 17-inch sport wheels and tires that come with the package. This car is seriously fast and fun. It is not far off of an Mitsubishi Evo in terms of speed, with quarter mile times in the mid 13s and 0 to 60 in under 5 seconds bone stock. Its dynamics through the corners are quite good with heavy steering feel and excellent precision. Only when pushed quite hard with DTC (Dynamic Traction Control) turned off does the car start to under-steer. It does so quite badly when sudden and drastic inputs are made from the steering wheel. This can be attributed to the narrow, non-staggered 225 section tires, which are Bridgestone Run-Flats. The mechanic at a local BMW dealership mentioned how a new set of Michelin or Dunlop run-flats would provide much better grip and also less tire-noise. Strangely, a 335i with rear-wheel drive that a friend of mine has with my same Bridgestone tire setup tends to produce less under-steer. Also, the all-wheel drive or “xDrive” as BMW calls it, in my 335xi can be awkward to launch or pull out of a dig. Plainly, if you don’t absolutely need all-wheel drive, don’t go for it and pick a rear-drive example that will also return 2 to 3 miles per gallon more than with xDrive.
That said, the 335xi was still a very competent sports sedan. It is easy to tell that this car was engineered for sport driving much more than for luxury wafting. Even with relatively small 17-inch wheels, the car had a noticeably firm, yet still supple ride. It definitely had a harsher ride than my friend’s 2008 Audi A4 S-Line I recently rode in with 18-inch wheels on normal tires. Run-flat tires, in general, are way firmer than regular tires of comparable size. So, before selecting a 335i with 18 or 19 inch factory BMW wheels with run-flat tires, go for a test-drive in a model with those larger rims to make sure they do not produce too harsh of a ride for the roads in your area. 18s should be fine regardless, but 19s on run-flats beware!
ON THE INSIDE:
The interior is superb, with the highest quality materials of ANY small executive sedan from ANY manufacturer. People have often criticized it’s “staid” appearance, compared to a 2009 or newer Audi A4 or Mercedes C-Class. True, both competitors’ interiors do have more outright style when it comes to interior design, but so does a new Chevrolet Camaro and that doesn’t mean it’s a good all-around interior! The touch of every surface in the 335xi just feels of significantly higher quality than the A4, with more stitched leather and vinyl on the doors and dash. The C-Class’ interior rounds out the bottom of the trio, with way too much plastic everywhere in my opinion. It looks great, but looks aren’t everything. The 335xi’s cup-holders are also fantastic. Why other automotive reviewers find them to be sub-par, I have no idea. Both cup-holders fold out slickly from the dash and are elevated high up well within the driver’s field of vision while driving. Each perfectly holds a bottle Vitamin Water or soda can (and indeed a oversized 99-cent can of Arizona Tea from 7-Eleven).
The standard audio system is great also. An E90 335i can be outfitted with a Harmon/Kardon audio system for around $875 and very few used examples have it (especially on the earlier model years). The most common stereo system found in a 335i will be the base Logic 7 system with synthetic surround sound and 8 speakers. It thumps. It is very clear, has strong bass and has a clear, yet small, iPod interface (an option on top of the base audio but quite a common one) even without the iDrive screen. Also, there are programmable EQ settings, and the ability to change from “Logic 7 Surround” to “Logic 7 Off,” and a unique setting, “Cinema.” “Cinema” seems to work the best on a wide variety of music, from complex techno/dubstep to heavy metal. This system may be great with all of its adjustability and sound quality, but it isn’t quite as strong as that found in the Mercedes C-Class. The C-Class’ base audio system seems to be as (or slightly more) clear, but noticeably more powerful. Personally I’m a bass guy, and when the 335xi’s system’s bass is cranked up, it sounds a slight bit tinny. I compensate this by turning the bass down a couple of clicks from MAX and everything is fine, but just fine. The base-line stereo advantage goes to the C-Class. I haven’t heard the upgraded system in the BMW, but I’m sure it’s far better than the sound of the basic unit and maybe even better than the C-Class. One thing is for sure; the stereos in both cars are definitely better than the system in that 2008 B7 Audi A4 S-Line I mentioned earlier.
Space inside the cabin is pretty good in general. The rear-seat can accommodate adults in and around six foot with little trouble, however, passengers any taller than that may want to call shotgun. Truck space is perfectly acceptable for what most people will need (12 cubic feet). In front there is plenty of adjustment to get comfortable and the seats, whoa they are amazing. These sport seats and those of the E92 M3 especially, are some of the best seats in the automotive world (definitely better than those I found in my mom’s Audi A6, ugh!). No matter what, you must order the “Sport Package” to get these seats in the 335i. They have adjustable leg supports and side bolsters that hug your waist when activated; very cool. They aren’t quite as cunning as the active sport seats found on the E60 M5 or even the M3, but they are still superb.
TRANSMISSION AND MPG:
My car has the automatic transmission. It is a pretty good automatic. Changes are smooth and silky, not like the SMG on the M5, but at the same time they feel awkwardly placed at times of very hard acceleration. To circumvent this issue, whenever I want to pass someone, or just simply floor the engine, I slide the shifter left into “sport mode.” This amps up the throttle response and causes the transmission to hold the revs higher and low gears longer. In sport mode, this car absolutely flies in comparison to regular drive mode. Unfortunately, sport mode is a very fuel-thirsty alternative to just leaving the shifter in “drive.” Using only sport mode for a whole week, I averaged something like 14.7 miles-per gallon in driving around town, ouch. Shifting with the steering wheel mounted paddles is much more fun and fuel efficient than both drive and sport modes. The shifts are not nearly as crisp or quick as those of a M-DCT, but are well-within the boundaries of satisfying. Normally, I average around 17.5 miles per gallon during aggressive driving, with the paddles, all running through BMWs’ xDrive all-wheel drive system (remember, go rear-wheel drive and save up to 3 mpg) in mostly city driving. Shifting in the gate takes a little getting used to as it is on back to front, when compared with nearly all other “slap-stick” style automatics. Ironically the 335i is the properly set up transmission for racing, because pushing on the shifter for downshifting while trying to slow down from 130 mph is far easier than pulling on it.
ENGINE AND AFTERMARKET TUNING
As good as all of the aforementioned features are, the engine is by far the best. The 335i has a 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline 6-cylinder motor (called the N54). With a conservative baseline of only 300 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 300 lb ft of torque from 1400 to 4500rpm, this leaves a huge amount of room for improvement from aftermarket tuners. Even with 8.8 lbs of boost at stock settings, sub five-second zero to 60 times are possible. For enthusiasts who want more power, but also don’t want to break the bank, piggyback tunes are available from aftermarket companies like Burger Tuning for around $500. Such tunes generate in the neighborhood of 100 extra horsepower by means of 14 to 15 lbs of boost running through the turbochargers. This number only goes up more when front mounted intercoolers, free-flow exhaust, and cold-air intake boxes are fitted to the car (as does reliability). I recommend purchasing the ones from Dinan, because any pre-existing BMW warranty will not be broken with their modifications installed. This is because Dinan and BMW are nearly as close as AMG is to Mercedes, well not quite, but at least BMW and Dinan have worked out terms with their respective warranties.
The biggest downside to the 335i BMW as a car to own has always been its notorious reliability issues. First-year models (2007) were perhaps the worst, of which 15,000 335i Sedans experienced high-pressure fuel-pump failures. BMW filed a recall on all affected vehicles some years ago, as long as each of the vehicle’s existing warranties were still intact and valid. Reliability problems got better as the N54 motor aged, but all models of the years 2007 to 2010 may be affected by faulty fuel-pumps. Spending more money on a low mileage 2011 or newer 335i (with the single-turbo “twin-scroll” version called the N55) is a much more reliable investment. However, tuning options for the N55 are more scare and weak than those of the N54.
The 335i certainly is a true performance sedan. For anyone who is interested in purchasing a 335i, it would be wise to purchase a 335i with the N54 motor under BMW’s Certified Pre-Owned 100,000-mile warranty program, where all mechanical failures will be covered free of charge. Just remember to disconnect whatever ECU (electronic control unit) tunes each time you service it as to not void your warranty. The mechanics at BMW are savvy to most ECU modifications, so be careful. Dinan is the only tune BMW service managers are “OK” with. There is also no harm done in buying a newer N55, just be prepared to shell out more money and acknowledge a lack of tuning availability (if you care). With either car, you will not be disappointed.
Written by Christopher Schwagerl, Editor of DRIVEHAMPTONS.COM