With The Wind in Our Hair…

When Mercedes-Benz Canada asked Homefront to test drive the 2011 SL550, we chose Langdon Hall, the elegant country house hotel in Cambridge, as our destination.

By Helmut Dostal

hf_MercedesSL550_bThe route offers a combination of highway and narrow, winding country roads, suitable for experiencing the SL550’s multiple driving modes. But first, let’s talk about the exterior and interior finishes of our test car. Drawing on design cues from the remarkable 1955 300 SL Gullwing, the 2011 model features the characteristic twin power domes, a low, powerful-looking stance (the bottom clearance can be increased when navigating bumpy roads like the one into Langdon) and a retractable hardtop that disappears into the trunk in a mere 16 seconds.

The exterior paint colour on our test-drive car drew second looks for its new matte designo magno Platinum finish and was a hit with the younger crowd. The interior is meticulously finished and offers every conceivable option a serious roadster enthusiast might wish for. The infinitely adjustable seats with heating and cooling options come with pulsating air pads that will massage your back and have twin built-in fans in the leather headrests, providing warm air around your head and neck during open-air diving in cooler weather.

hf_MercedesSL550_aWhat didn’t we like? The dual temperature control rings on the dash look and feel flimsy and out of line with the rest of the solid interior. The car still has an ashtray and cigarette lighter, probably a concession to some foreign markets. The retractable hardtop works perfectly but, as with most roasters, takes its share of trunk space, but there’s still enough space to fit the proverbial two golf bags.

But let’s get to the real meat, shall we? Under the long hood of the SL550 beats a strong heart—382 hp to be exact. If this seems not quite enough for your trip around the corner to fetch milk, the 550’s cousins are available at 518 hp for the SL 63 AMG and a blistering 603 hp for the twin turbocharged V12 SL 65 AMG. The seven-speed 7G-TRONIC/automatic transmission is geared for a 0-100 start at 5.4 seconds and a top end of 210 km/hr. Oh yes, and the drive to Langdon Hall was top-down marvellous!

Aside from enjoying the expected pleasures of a summer break at this Relais and Chateaux property, we’ve come to experience The Spa at Langdon’s latest introduction, Valmont facial treatments. An exquisite, anti-aging skin care regime from the Swiss bio-technical wizards at Valmont, these products promise powerful cellular regeneration properties and visible results!

hf_MercedesSL550_dSo, after tea in the conservatory, it’s off to “The Spire,” the nicest spa suite here, for the 120-minute signature Bliss Energizing Treatment. Part one is said to be the stress-relieving bit—much appreciated after a busy week in the city. Digital pressure relaxes the feet, legs and arms precedes a facial massage that’s a light-handed combo of kneading and pinching. Masterfully blended with a “wake me up” application of ice-cold jade stones, this step is designed to re-energize the facial circulation. My face is tingling—no fear of nodding off to sleep now. An anti-aging hair treatment with Valmont’s repairing oil and a hearty massage get my scalp buzzing too. The finishing touch with a mask and sublimation serum gives my hair newfound lustre and smoothness.

Later in my stay, I’m treated to a Hot Stem Thai Massage, an extraordinary blend of Hawaiian Lomi Lomi, acupressure, Thai Yoga Massage and, most interestingly, Thai Hot Stems. Filled with mystical organic herbs from Thailand, the stems are heated and pressed into various parts of my body. The smell is intoxicating, to say the least. I close my eyes and pretend I’m in Koh Sami again. As the oils from the herbs release, my therapist suggests that I’ll be nicely de-toxed and relieved from any pain or inflammation I didn’t even know I had.

The only thing I’m good for after this mind-emptying hour and a half is to lounge by the pool that sits grandly behind the chef’s kitchen garden. It’s pretty here and, for a city dweller, somehow comforting to see the well-tended rows of produce that I’ll be enjoying this evening in Langdon’s fine-dining room.

Hope the folks at Mercedes didn’t mind getting “a little bit of Thailand” when we returned the car. My therapist had given me the Thai Hot Stems to take home and use again and there was a distinctly herbal scent wafting from my luggage!   www.langdonhall.ca

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