Photos by S Shubham
Twenty-five years is a long time. In 1998, when Motoring came into being I was a teenager dreaming of sports cars, and in Bombay there was a team which was putting out a magazine like none other. Not one which would talk about how much legroom or boot space a car has, or can five people sit comfortably for long hours. No sir, or madam, or whoever you identify as, Motoring was about how a car or motorcycle made you feel. You can call me biased, but even today I don’t think any magazine or website or YouTube channel has cracked this like Motoring has. Completing twenty five years as a print magazine in a world which would download an app to breathe, if there was one, is an even bigger achievement than just existing for twenty five years.
Looking back, it almost seems like watching a time-lapse of technological marvels. When the first issue of Motoring hit the stands, the hottest tech gadget was a clunky mobile phone with a charming monochrome display, and going online meant torturing your ears with the symphony of dial-up Internet. Fast-forward to today, and there is a digital issue of Motoring which could be designed on a smartphone (thankfully, it isn’t), and the automotive industry is fighting (not very hard if you ask me) to save the internal-combustion engine.
The V8 isn’t celebrating twenty-five years, but stay with me. For me, the V8 is the rockstar of engines — big, bold and unabashedly itself. Over the years, as environmental tunes started playing louder, my beloved V8 has had to remix its classic hits. It slimmed down its big-block physique and, like an ageing but stylish rockstar, swapped its leather pants for something more comfortable and kinder to the environment. Today, it holds a place of pride alongside gadgets on roads, everyone’s favourite EVs who are like K-Pop and whatever Gen-Z listens to. Yet, despite the EV hype, continuing with the rockstar analogy, the V8 is more like a classic vinyl record — rare, expensive, only for those who really appreciate the essence of music, not its bit rate.
To mark this milestone, I wanted to write about Motoring and the car that stood out for me in 2023. In a world where cars are about fitting into a market segment, the Mercedes–AMG SL 55 is truly a star that shines bright. On the roads of Delhi, it was almost like George Clooney had walked into the middle of traffic. People did double takes, took their phones out, barely managed not crashing into someone or something, and started recording. Those not recording were grinning ear to ear and giving me thumbs-up signs. To those who say that Indian car buyers do not care about design, they need to drive the SL 55 in traffic. It’s just drop-dead gorgeous, and with the top down it could make Mona Lisa smile wider. However, its appearance is not the only reason why I wanted to write about the SL 55. It is, unsurprisingly, the V8 — which isn’t just an engine; it’s the charismatic lead singer, the main event, the cherry on top of an incredibly irresistible cake.
Courtesy the 4.0-litre V8, the SL 55 doesn’t purr to life, it barks and then settles into a soothing growl. Well, it did soothe me. Over the five days I spent with the SL 55, I did not come up with any excuse to avoid meeting anyone in person. I drove through manic traffic jams from Gurgaon to Delhi, every day, more than I have done in any week in the entire year. It was also the most silent I have been in any car this year, and did not moan about the traffic at all. If I had to, I just sat there, listening to the V8 idle. It is genuinely musical, and despite the excellent sound proofing of the soft top, the burble always managed to seep in.
On full chat, in Sport+ or Track mode, the engine’s roar could wake up your ancestors. It is spine-tinglingly exhilarating. Put the top down, and this rockstar gives you an opera of horsepower, a symphony of combustion that pops, spits and crackles through the air; 0-100 kph in 3.9 seconds has never felt real-er, and despite the almost two-tonne weight, the SL 55 feels unbelievably quick. There are very few cars that remind you of riding a superbike, and the SL 55 is one of those rare cars. It is nimble, agile, and seriously fast.
Most people who admired the SL 55 with their phones must have thought with this low ground clearance, this must be a weekend car for the rich and the famous. At ₹ 2.35 crore, ex-showroom, it is definitely for the rich, but it is as versatile as it is vivacious. The road to my apartment complex has two mountains masquerading as speed-breakers on each end, and over the years I have winced multiple times when crossing them. The SL 55 is the only performance car which breezed over both of them without pausing for breath. With the top up, which I had more than I wanted to, the SL 55 is as quiet as any other Mercedes. The frills of a touchscreen, Burmester, Car Play, ventilated seats and all, are all there. The top takes 15 seconds to open, and close, which is less than the time I take to choose which song to play. There are rear seats, but let’s not pretend they are for people — perhaps just right for a designer handbag or a small pet which fits in the said handbag.
The SL 55 will not be the highest selling car this year or in any year thanks to its price, but it is the only car this year which is a celebration of the spirit of Motoring, pun intended. The specs or how it stacks against competition are not the reasons you buy an SL 55. You buy it because it makes you feel excitement, appreciation, thrill and happiness; things that Motoring has made me feel over the years as well. And just like Motoring, the SL 55 may not be perfect — but it is undeniably special.