Ever mindful of the marque’s reputation for automotive safety (it had pioneered the use of crumple zones) the R129’s engineers added a raft of driver safety aids including optional ASR (anti-skid control) and ADS, an active damping system. The former used computer technology to assess throttle inputs and, if necessary, limit them by backing off and momentarily braking the affected wheel. The ADS, on the other hand, controlled the damping rates in response to driving conditions, applying one of four settings between soft and hard while on the move and reducing the SL’s ride height by 15mm as soon as its speed exceeded 120km/h to improve stability and reduce drag.
Both aids may be widely adopted in today’s luxury cars, but they were leading edge 28 years ago – much like the ‘pop-up’ roll bar which could be raised on demand or relied upon to automatically shoot up (in a ⅓ of a second) if the roll bar’s control module sensed that the car was in danger of turning over.
Also new for the SL range was an electro-hydraulically operated soft top that could be raised from behind a set of neat, folding body-coloured panels at the flick of a button (while entertaining onlookers). Or drivers could opt to fit the standard aluminium hardtop (as with previous SL models) that transformed the open-top sportster into a snug-feeling luxury GT.
Inside there were plenty of new gadgets, including climate control and ten-way, electrically adjustable seats that featured clever ergonomic thinking in their operation, which was by seat-shaped buttons as well as memory settings. Another first was the new SL’s built-into-the-seat inertia-reel seatbelts, which were automatically height adjustable with the headrest. There was also a driver’s side airbag and an electrically adjustable steering wheel, while ABS and cruise control were familiar fitments for owners of late model R107s.