Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Driven - Mercedes 280SL Pagoda

The 280SL Pagoda is a truly beautiful machine. The Classic Car Club were kind enough to allow me and my fiancée free reign in their perfect example through the streets of east London, which turned out to be almost as exciting an experience for the Shoreditch hipsters as it was for us - you see, this is a car that everybody loves. If you want to feel like a movie star, or that everyone in the world admires you, drive a 280SL. You'll get more thumbs-ups in half an hour than you've had in the whole of the rest of your life.

The driver's seat is a glorious place to be. The dash looks as if it could have come from a fifties diner, while the steering wheel and dials before you have a marvellous, timeless quality. It's only a small car, but the feeling of space is impressive, accentuated by the vast glass area that surrounds you, and there's far more storage space in the cabin than you'd find in, say, an MX-5 or a Boxster.

The straight-six is creamy-smooth, purring gently at low speeds and barking aggressively under full throttle; the combination of light-weight and 170bhp means that the SL is quick. Not quick-for-an-old-car quick, but properly quick. The autobox (yes, a manual would have been preferable, but what can you do?) was impressively intuitive, shuffling straight into top when it sensed that you might be following a bus, and holding the gears into the enthusiastic upper limits of the rev range when briskly accelerating on the open road. It's a very organic driving experience; the best cars give you the feeling that they're an extension of you rather than just being a thing that you operate, and the SL fits into this favourable category. Yes, the steering is a little vague and the ride a little crashy, but rather than detracting from the driving experience, it spurs you on to hustle the little car as it demands to be - it is a sports car, after all - and rewards you in spades.

The mark of a great car is that when you get out and walk away, you can't stop yourself from turning back and taking one last look. The 280SL Pagoda goes one better... you don't want to get out. Ever.

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