Mercedes-Benz is the oldest extant automotive brand in the world, having helped invent the motorcar back in the 1880s.
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY MERCEDES-BENZ
In his Top 10 hit in 1972, Albert Hammond claimed, “It never rains in Southern California.”
Never say never.
Though Palm Springs is blessed with 350 days of warmth and sun each year, on occasion, the temperature drops and the skies open. Leave it to Zeus, the capricious and mischievous god of weather, to have one of these rare precipitative periods occur on the day that I was test driving one of the most eagerly awaited convertibles of the past decade: the 2022 Mercedes SL Roadster.
It rained for nearly my entire drive. In fact, for a lengthy, high-elevation stretch of the 67-mile Palms to Pines Highway — the one that sports approximately 1 million delightful curves as it wends, scenically and dramatically, down to the Coachella Valley from the top of the San Rosa Mountains — the wind picked up, the temperature dropped, and the rain turned to sleet.
Stalwart in my conviction that rooflessness equals fun, I kept the top down for the entire journey, and all the SL’s wonders and magic backed me up and kept me warm and dry.
This convertible Benz enters production as part of a legendary pantheon. The SL nameplate (the name stands for superlicht, a Teutonic phrase implying sportiness) stretches back farther than any other in the history of Mercedes-Benz, itself the oldest extant automotive brand in the world, having helped invent the motorcar back in the 1880s.
This model, the seventh generation of the SL, follows a formula endemic to the category. A big three-pointed star fronts the grille. An elegant hood houses a well-endowed engine. The small but luxurious cabin is outfitted with the latest tech. The deck is short but hides a deep trunk. And the top retracts to let in the elements.
Or keep them out.
This SL’s features make it not only possible, but practical, to drive through a freak storm for hours with the roof down. Heated and massaging seats are de rigueur in the category, but it also has AIRSCARF — vents that blow warm air at the nape of an occupant’s neck, like a bellowing suitor — in one of three volumetric settings. And it has an integrated, screen-like wind blocker. Mounted atop the child-size rear seats, it delimits the gales and gusts, particularly with all four windows rolled up.
The SL has a number of other features that come in handy in the inclement weather. For the first time, it comes standard with all-wheel drive for enhanced traction in all conditions. It has four-wheel steering, stabilizing every turn, from parking maneuvers in the lot at La Plaza to canyon sweepers en route to Joshua Tree.
It’s also the first vehicle to be developed, from the ground up, by Mercedes’ hot rod subsidiary AMG. This is a means of taking the model back to its sports car roots. It arrives in the United States with two engine choices. Well, one engine, but two outputs. The SL55 churns out 469 horsepower from its twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8, good for a 3.8-second blast from 0 to 60 mph. The SL63 makes 577 horses from the same motor, decreasing the run up to a mile per minute by 0.3 seconds.
At the end of my drive, as I descended back toward the Coachella Valley on Highway 74, the weather cleared. It didn’t exactly get warmer, but at least the rain stopped, and the sun started to shine. I dialed down all of the various heating systems, windows, and wind blockers. Then, as I dipped below the clouds, I noticed something over my right shoulder. It was a rainbow. The giant kind I often see extending from one end of the low desert to another.
I pulled over to the side to investigate the refraction, but I couldn’t see either end. Probably because I was already sitting in the pot of gold