FIRST DRIVE: Mercedes-Benz SL

FIRST DRIVE: Mercedes-Benz SL

What is it?

Arguably the most American of all Mercedes-Benz cars. Well, it certainly sells in the biggest numbers in the USA, particularly in California and Florida.

After all, the convertible hard top, big silky smooth engines, uber-luxury interiors and the undoubted appeal that the Three Pointed Star holds to, shall we say, the “older generation” of wealthy buyers means sales in California and Florida pretty much just make themselves.

I mean, seriously, Mercedes salesmen probably just sit around drinking coffee and waiting for them to come tottering in clasping a cheque and asking to use the bathroom whie they are there. Job done.

The newly facelifted SL is actually more than just a new face, but that new face is a massive improvement over the old one. The angrily downturned grille, new headlights, double-fluted bonnet and big, aggressive lower intakes transform the SL from a frumpily awkward large two-seater into a boldly aggressive weapon, while tweaks to the rear bring a sense of cohesion to the SL that it has lacked for quite some time now.

What is its opposition?

Big, powerful RWD coupes and convertibles like the BMW 6 Series, Bentley Continental, Audi S5, Maserati Gran Tuismo and Ferrari California.

What powers it?

Mercedes has tweaked the twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 in the SL 400 so that it now produces 270kW of power and 500Nm of torque. The 4.6-litre twin-turbo V8 SL 500 has also been tweaked for 2016 and now punches out 335kW and 700Nm of remarkably silky smooth and civilised power. Both the SL 400 and SL 500 feature Mercedes 9G-tronic nine-speed automatic transmission.

If, however, you taste in large luxurious two-seaters heads more towards the insane, then the heavy hitting AMG is for you. The SL 63 packs the thoroughly mighty 430kW/900Nm twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8 hooked up to Merc’s sportier AMG Speedshift MCT 7-speed transmission.

What has it got?

So much…

Little has yet been released about the SL’s local specification before its appearance on our shores in July, but some of the stuff that is available is impressive.

Perhaps the biggest new option (possible a standard feature on NZ cars) is the ‘Curve’ function in the Active Body Control package. This essentially utilises the adjustable suspension to actively lean the car into a corner, bringing higher corner speeds, superior ride comfort and better control. It isn’t massively noticeable, but it does make an impressive difference. Plus, it is just freakin’ cool…

We will know more about local specifications and features before the local launch date.

Der neue Mercedes SL, San Diego 2016, Pressefahrveranstaltung, Mercedes-AMG SL 65 Active Body Control, designo selenitgrau magno, Leder designo titangrau pearl/schwarz.The new SL San Diego 2016; Mercedes-AMG SL 65, Active Body Control, designo selenite grey magno, designo leather titanium grey pearl/black

What’s good about it?

While the SL is undoubtedly aimed at, shall we say, the older generation of drivers, that doesn’t mean that Mercedes have necessarily restrained its potential appeal solely to that demographic. And that is arguably the SL’s greatest trick yet.

Despite its weight, the SL in all guises can tackle a corner with remarkably tenacity. The AMG is, of course, the most proficient at this.

All models of SL are lavishly equipped, remarkably comfortable and confidently powerful. Plus, it now looks great.

What’s not so good?

It is a hefty beast and the SL 400 and SL 500 (without the Curve function) like a good, heavy lean on the tyres during cornering.

Despite its size, it still suffers from frustrating ergonomic and storage issues that plague all two seat cars, plus with the top down, the boot is a two small suitcase proposition at best.

Der neue Mercedes SL, San Diego 2016, Pressefahrveranstaltung, Mercedes-AMG SL 65 Active Body Control, designo selenitgrau magno, Leder designo titangrau pearl/schwarz.The new SL San Diego 2016; Mercedes-AMG SL 65, Active Body Control, designo selenite grey magno, designo leather titanium grey pearl/black

How much does it cost?

Again, there is no word on local pricing yet, but the current car starts at $267,800 for the SL 500 and tops out at $430,390 for the SL 65 AMG, with the SL 63 AMG sitting in the middle at $350,390.

Australian prices are looking like they are dropping slightly, but we have no word on NZ pricing as yet.

First impressions?

The new SL is a mighty impressive beast. While it goes without saying that the ride is simply fantastic, the ability of the the big guy to rip through corners is startlingly impressive.

The SL 400, with its lower weight V6 in the nose, is impressively composed, surprisingly powerful and eager (plus it sounds utterly fantastic for a V6!), with a relaxed demeanour and an impressively sharp turn-in.

The V8-powered SL 500 is perhaps the perfect expression of the SL’s nature, with the mellow bellow of the V8 allied to a relaxed, yet remarkably responsive and adjustable (even slightly tail-happy…) attitude through the corners.

The thoroughly mental AMG SL 63, however, takes things to a new level, with huge amounts of grip and a super-aggressive and unapologetically loud attitude to acceleration. Its aggression is seemingly unending, while every gear change is accompanied by more ridiculous acceleration, even when you think that – surely to God – this gear will finally see it run out of breath, on this side of sanity, it simply never does.

While the SL 400 makes the most sense (and will almost certainly be the best value-for-money option), the SL 500 holds the most “SL-style” appeal, with its relaxed demeanour and its ability to hustle at will. The SL 63 is superbly aggressive, utterly mental and thoroughly brilliant, but the sad fact is that the vast majority of people who will buy it will do so simply because it is the most expensive SL available.

That is a shame for two reasons – firstly, the SL 500 is far more likely to suit them and, secondly, it is simply a waste of the SL 63’s staggering abilities.

Still, either way, the new SL is a startlingly capable car that, while seemingly more likely to appeal to a similar customer based on that for Werther’s Originals, boasts a far, far wider appeal indeed.

Anything else?

Here is the European brochure for the SL: SL Roadster Brochure

Here is the Autocade listing for the SL: Mercedes-Benz SL

Here is an oddly similar article I wrote for www.stuff.co.nz.

Share This