Since its introduction way back in 1954, the Mercedes SL has offered a slice of what many would regard as motoring heaven: an ultra-luxurious two-seater cabriolet with the comfort to cross continents with ease, though with enough of a sporting demeanor to entertain when the going gets twisty. Previous generations have always erred towards comfort rather than handling, but with the all-new model, Mercedes reckons it’s got both the prestige and poise to take on the best that rivals Aston Martin and Jaguar can offer. We took to the wheel to find out if it’s true.
What is it?
The sixth generation of Mercedes’ flagship convertible. The SL sits in the higher echelons of the German manufacturer’s range of cars, offering the ultimate in luxury and desirability. For the first time in the model’s history, it is now made entirely from aluminium, which helps keep weight down, as well as improving the car’s rigidity – both of which bode well for a sporting drive. Mercedes hasn’t changed the best bits, however, namely the peerless folding metal roof and the classic roadster proportions of a long bonnet and short rear overhang.
In the UK the SL is available with a choice a 3.0-litre V6 in the SL400, or 4.7-litre turbocharged V8, badged SL500. The 500 in particular is incredibly quick thanks to 429bhp and a whopping 480Nm of torque on tap. For those craving more power, AMG tuned versions are also available, with turbocharged 5.5-litre V8 or 6.0-litre V12 motors to choose from. Whichever you go for, you’re guaranteed effortless power and a cultured – yet highly entertaining – soundtrack.
What is it like to drive?
While SLs of old talked the talk with their sporty good looks and powerful engines, they were never a dynamic match for its rivals, particularly the lithe Jaguar XK. The new car delivers on the promise, though, and is an entertaining car to drive enthusiastically. There’s plenty of grip in both wet and dry conditions and the generous grunt from the motor means there’s plenty or urge no matter what gear you’re in. Ultimately, though, the car’s sheer weight robs it of the final word in poise compared to lighter rivals, though you’ll really have to be going some to notice this on the road.
However, whether you’re just mooching around town or munching motorway miles, the SL never feels anything less of an event, and has a feel-good factor so big that you simply won’t care about its ultimate lack of driver involvement at the limit.
Of course, the SL’s main focus is on comfort, and boy does it deliver. Even on the most cragged tarmac the ride remains silky smooth, with only a slight bob from the suspension over the worst craters giving you some idea of how much the car is shielding you from surface imperfections. Make no mistake; the SL has the ride and refinement to match even the most expensive luxury saloons.
What is it like inside?
Sharing the same centre console arrangement as much of rest of the Mercedes range, the SL will be instantly familiar to current owners. That’s not to say it has the interior ambience of a rep-special C-Class saloon – every surface is slathered in either expensive-smelling leather and suede or cool-to-the-touch metallic trim. The design cribs elements from Mercedes’ flagship SLS supercar, particularly the air-vents and aero-inspired dials, and every inch of the interior feels like it belongs in this near £100,000 car. The ambience is sensitive to spec, however, with black leather and brushed aluminium giving a much more sporting feel than the more laid-back luxurious wood trims and lighter leather combos.
Is it practical?
In a nod to its overt decadence, the SL is a strict two-seater, something which may surprise when you take in its sheer size. Passengers lucky enough to climb aboard will be well catered for, though, with acres of leg and headroom. Cabin stowage is limited to a brace of slim door pockets and a reasonably sized glove box, though the boot more than makes up for this, being almost a rival for a compact saloon car with the roof up and still able to take a trio of small suitcases when all that metal and glass is folded away out of sight. It’s never going to work as a family car, but compared to its rivals – particularly the Ferrari California and Aston Martin DB9 – it is much more accommodating of both people and things.
Should I buy one?
The SL’s appeal lies in its year-round usability and ability to be just the right car for almost any situation. Its metal folding roof means you needn’t fear it being vandalised or using the car in harsher weather conditions. It’s supreme comfort and effortless power also makes it a superb Grand Tourer, perfect for weekend getaways to the south of France. What it loses to its rivals in driver entertainment, it more than makes up for in its all-round talents. If you want your hair to stand on end every time you go for a drive, look elsewhere. For everyone else, look no further.
Don't want to buy new? You can browse for a used Mercedes SL in our classifieds here.
List price: £81,915
Engine: 4.7-litre, V8, turbocharged
Top speed: 155mph (electronically limited)
0-62mph: 4.6 seconds
Fuel economy: 22.2mpg (urban), 40.4mpg (extra-urban) 31.0mpg (combined)
Emissions: 212g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: Not tested