Mercedes SL review : Not an outright sports car, but a great cruiser

(+)
  • Comfortable
  • Smart interior
  • Clever roof
(-)
  • Better looking rivals
  • Not the sportiest drive
  • Small boot with roof down

The Mercedes-Benz SL is one of the German firm’s key cars, so there was plenty of pressure to make this latest one a pretty darn good car.

Thankfully, that does seem to be the case: the critics seem to be very impressed with the car’s improved build quality, the far lighter weight when compared with the outgoing car, along with the superior performance and fuel economy. However, if it’s an outright sports car you’re after, you may want to look elsewhere. 

Cheapest to buy: SL 400 AMG Line petrol

Cheapest to run: SL 400 AMG Line petrol 

Fastest model: SL 65 AMG petrol

Most popular: SL 400 AMG Line petrol

Interior

High quality interior is pleasing, but folding roof limits storage space

The SL’s interior is, as you’d expect from a Mercedes, certainly built to a high standard you’d associate with a Benz, especially one at this price range. Whilst one tester did criticise it for looking a bit ‘ordinary’ when compared with more exotic rivals, it’s still fabricated out of high quality leathers and metals (and, in the AMG models, there’s some carbon fibre in the mix as well), with plenty of styling nods to the SLS supercar.

Practicality is also pretty good for a two-seater – even with the roof up, the driver and his/her passenger should find there’s more than enough headroom on offer, whilst leg and shoulder space isn’t what you’d call shabby either. There’s also quite a lot of storage space on offer in the cabin, with plenty of cubbies and such to stow your stuff in.

The only major niggle, though, regards the boot – the 505 litre boot is pretty good, but that’s reduced significantly to 364 when the folding hard-top is stowed away, which makes it quite shallow when you’re driving around with the roof down. Still, at least it’s big enough for a few sets of golf clubs or a suitcase or two.

Driving

There’s no denying its capacities, but it is relaxed

All the experts agree that, being a GT car at heart, the SL makes a fantastic long distance cruiser. With the roof up, the impressive noise and wind insulation makes the SL feel almost as refined as the executive S-Class saloon, and there’s very little wind buffeting with the roof down, with the wind deflector doing exactly what its name says it’ll do very well indeed. The ride quality’s also pretty good, even on the spring setup that comes as standard on all models.

The SL, though, does make quite a good sports car as well, especially if you opt for one of the AMG variants. Body control is very good, the new almost entirely aluminium structure is incredibly rigid so there’s no perceptible flex in the chassis, the steering is sharp and direct and even the diddy 300hp V6 has enough poke to make the SL a brisk car.

That said, it’s by no means the sharpest car in its class to drive, with several critics saying the steering was a bit too vague for their liking, the automatic gearbox was also slow to respond on rare occasions and, being a car that weighs 1.7-tonnes in its lightest guise, you can feel the car’s bulk when you start pushing it hard.

Put simply, while it is dynamically capable, there are superior rivals when it comes to going quickly around a corner and being that bit more ‘engaging’ when you’re driving your drop-top. Try thePorsche Boxster for another German rival with a more of an engaging drive.

Engine

Wide range of options including a storming V12

The engine range is pretty limited in the SL: there’s only one V6, two V8s and a bonkers V12 on offer in the coupe-cabrio Mercedes, and all of them are petrol. Still, all the critics agree that they’re pretty good all-rounders, and suit the car’s relaxed and sporting qualities very well indeed.

Most buyers are expected to plump for the cheapest model in the range, the SL350 with the 3.5 V6. Whil it is noticeably down on power when compared with its turbocharged siblings, the experts say it’s got enough poke to offer decent, if not exactly scintillating, performance and, thanks to the claimed 41mpg and relatively low road tax, it’s also the cheapest of the lot to run.

That said, the larger capacity engines are all frugal enough, considering the power and performance on tap, and – much like the SL350 – are all surprisingly smooth and refined at less frantic speeds, which bodes well for long distance journeys.

And, if it’s outright performance you’re looking for, the AMG models are definitely work a look at. The 63 AMG model has more than 530bhp to play with, and the 65 AMG’s 621bhp is just astonishing! They are the most expensive and least frugal in the range (and, if you leave the traction control off, more susceptible to shredding the rear tyres to pieces) but, if you can afford the car in the first place, it’s likely that won’t be much of a problem for you.

Value for money

It’s posh and you pay for that. SL’s value is likely to stay strong

Saying a Mercedes that’s comfortably worth more than £70,000 is ‘good value for money’ does sound a bit odd, but in quite a few ways it is. Standard equipment levels are generous, with stop/start, Mercedes’s ‘Magic Vision Control’ (which is M-B’s modest way of saying there are fluid nozzles in the wiper blades, so you’re not squirted or sprayed when the roof or windows are down), climate control and the innovative new ‘FrontBass’ stereo system all coming on every model.

Some of the standard tech is also just as good for most buyers as the optional extras – for example, quite a few critics reckon that, whilst the optional adaptive suspension setup is great, the standard springs and damping are so capable that it’s more than adequate for a sports-GT car.

However, it’s worth pointing out that – as you’d expect from a modern German car – all the optional extras are pretty pricey. Still, at least for most of them, such as the Bang and Olufsen stereo, you do pay for what you get, and it should retain a decent portion of its value come resale time.

Conclusion

Mercedes-Benz has had 60 years or so to hone the SL, and it’s easy to see that this is the best one to date. The build quality is as you’d expect from a car at this price range, it’s good to drive at almost any speed and it’s incredibly capable as both a sports car and a long distance cruiser.

You can argue that there are other cars at this price range that are better to drive, such as the Porsche 911 Cabriolet, but very few rivals can match the Merc’s impeccable blend of sportiness and refinement and long-term usability in one package.

It’s a bit expensive, especially if you opt for the more performance orientated models in the range, but if you’re in the market for such a car – especially one that’s a bit more ‘mature’ and ‘grown-up’ when you want it to – we reckon you should put the Mercedes-Benz SL near the top of your “Posh Cabriolet Shopping List”.

(carwow.co.uk)

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