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Thursday, December 12th, 2013

Zero to 60 in the 500 Benz

So I took the 500 Benz out for its weekly exercise the other day (it spends the rest of its time under wraps, and yes, I still owe you a June->October-slash-maybe-November-too update), found myself entering the 5 South freeway from the Dodger Stadium exit, and realized that I had stumbled upon a pretty level and lengthy on-ramp with no one behind me.

"Self," I barked, "Let's get zero to 60 on camera and analyze the hell out of that video."

I got my iPhone ready and punched it. Not the phone; the throttle. No brake-torquing, no "5 feet of rollout like on a dragstrip," just a sudden right-footed stomp. We need to talk about what happened.

First of all, I didn't actually punch it until at least 0.53 seconds in, according to my video editor. You can see here that the oil pressure and tachometer needles haven't budged from their positions at the start of the video, which means no throttle input yet. The official punch may not have come for a few more hundredths—my editor's not fancy enough to advance a hundredth at a time—but the oil pressure needle has just started to move by the next viewable frame at 0.57, so you know, let's just call the starting time 0.53 and move on.

The illuminated warning light, by the way, is the one that means "an exterior light bulb is out." I inspected the lights that day and couldn't find any bad bulbs, and I've driven the car since without a recurrence, so I'm chalking it up to cobwebs after a week on the shelf.

Here we are at 20 mph. Note that the time is now 2.47, which means zero to 20 mph took 1.94 seconds.

That's really not fast. In fact, it's pretty slow. But you didn't need me to tell you that; just watch the video. Twenty takes forever! I've always noticed this about the 500 Benz: it's a dog off the line when you floor it. My sense is that there's a programmed-in delay as the computer switches from normal mode to all-hands-on-deck (the throttle is electronic, of course). Some cars are programmed to leap off the line in order to feel fast, and well, this ain't one of 'em. My parents' 1998 Accord LX is champing at the proverbial bit by comparison.

If you want a little hard data for context, I found some acceleration results that the state of Michigan got for a bunch of vehicles—probably candidates for official use, judging by the models. The top 0-20-mph matches for the 500 Benz are the Chevy Impala V6 (1.94 seconds), the Dodge Charger V6 (1.95 seconds) and the base Ford F-150 with the 3.7-liter V6 (1.96 seconds).

Want to know what these jalopies did zero to 60 mph in?

Impala: 7.46

Charger: 7.81

F-150: 7.75

We'll return to this directly.

Okay, there's 60. And if you're wondering (you should be), every "Your speed is..." roadside radar display I've passed has confirmed that the 500 Benz's speedometer is dead accurate, so I think we can trust the numbers.

Time shown: 6.73 seconds

Time shown minus official starting time = 6.2 seconds, ergo...

Official 500 Benz 0-60 time: 6.2 seconds

Which is in line with the results reported when the car was new.

Now glance back at those Impala/Charger/F-150 times.

What the shucks?!

Basically, in addition to its initial electronic thumb-twiddling, the 500 Benz has got some tall-ass gearing. Jackrabbit starts were not on the engineers' list of things to nail. What the car does do, however, is lay fairly solid waste to any acceleration run that starts at or above 20 mph. If you watch the video again, 20 is when the tachometer hits 3,000 rpm, and that's where the engine suddenly snaps to attention. Then, on the 1-2 upshift (at 45 mph!), the rpm only drop to 4,500, which is right in the M119's wheelhouse. And the revs don't leave that wheelhouse till you lift off. From 20 mph on up, it's a different animal.

To wit, take a look at how the 370-horsepower Charger 5.7 did in those Michigan tests. From 0-20, it crushed the SL with a 1.61-second spurt. But its 0-60 time was 5.95 seconds, meaning it did 20-60 in 4.34 seconds. And the Benz? 6.73 - 2.47 = 4.26 seconds.

How about that.


1. I haven't tried brake-torquing it out of respect for the drivetrain components, but if the computer allows the revs to climb to, say, 3,000 rpm at rest with the brake depressed...that could theoretically shave a few tenths. (And since the car magazines always do this, and also use rollout, I'm now wondering why the SL500 wasn't clocking high fives to 60 in those tests—maybe the extra weight of the hardtop held it back?)

2. With a more aggressive rear axle ratio, high fives might be a cinch. According to the always awesome Ken Rockwell site, the 500 Benz's ratio is 2.65:1, which is quite low for a performance car.

3. The 500 Benz has always felt like a strong example of its breed, and I am pleased this evening to provide concrete evidence of such.

Anyway, then I went to Malibu Seafood for lunch, as usual. Check out the fearsomely large Sonata parked behind me! Fun facts:

Length: Benz = 176 in, Sonata = 189.8 in

Height: Benz = 50.8 in, Sonata = 57.9 in

Weight: Benz = 4100 lbs, Sonata = 3300 lbs

That's something I don't talk about enough in my car reviews: density. The R129 is about as dense as they come, and I do mean that as a compliment.

This was right when the recent cold snap started, so the temperature was like 58 degrees (yeah, you got me, the photos above show 76 degrees; this was actually a different day, but what's a 500Benz.com narrative without continuity?). With the top down, I had to dress up like I was back home in Maine: jacket, gloves, the whole deal.

Okay, the jacket was a fleece. But still.

That'll be all for now.

posted in: Driving Impressions  Videos  

1 comment

or to comment.

December 12th, 2013 | 2:51pm hollywood time | #1

dadman says:

What pizazz - to see and seize the opportunity! In addition to enjoying the throttle-stomp, needle-gyrating, G-forces action, I was impressed with your ability to take complex connections and condense them to understandable pieces and share the fun you were having with your armchair audience. I could feel how fast you were going simply by closing me eyes and listening to the beast. Bravo!

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