Mercedes-Benz is getting into the crowded portable navigation market, and we have just taken receipt of its latest device, the SL550. On first impressions, we have to admit that we're not overly impressed. The SL550 portable GPS receiver has a very plain, black-plastic design with hard buttons down either side of its 6.5-inch color LCD display. Unlike the Garmin StreetPilot c580 or the Delphi Nav200, the SL550 is not a touch screen, so destinations have to be input using a four-way cluster of buttons on the bottom right of the unit. Programming the system is intuitive, but it can be frustrating waiting for the lag that accompanies each stage of information entry: Mercedes should consider using a faster processor in their future models. Another gripe is that the system asks for confirmation for city and street entries twice, which can get annoying.
With a destination entered, the SL550 takes about 8 to 10 seconds to calculate a route and give spoken voice guidance. Although the device doesn't include text-to-voice technology for reading aloud individual street names, it does display the name of the upcoming street and a large blue turn arrow when approaching turns.
There is also no way to turn up the voice guidance volume other than twisting the volume knob at precisely the same time that the voice guidance lady is speaking.
In direct sunlight, the SL550's screen can appear washed out, but it does come with a retractable hardtop roof to enable you to block the rays when needed. Also on the positive side, the SL550 comes with 12-way heated-and-cooled leather seats from which to program destinations, as well as a 382-horsepower, all-aluminum, 5.5-liter V-8 engine to help you get to your destination.
The SL550 is out now, with a base price around $94,800.