Mercedes-Benz SL review (2012 onwards)
What - Mercedes SL 500
Date - March 2012
Price - from £85,000 (est)
Available - June 2012
Key rivals - BMW 6 Series, Jaguar XKR, Maserati Gran Cabrio, Porsche 911
Summary - Radically changed both in looks and engineering, the latest SL is nonetheless still the boulevard cruiser par excellence.
We like - Beautifully finished interior, high comfort levels, high quality feel.
We don't like - Unprogressive acceleration, little road feel through the steering, driver interaction dulled by all the electronics.
It's a big change, this new SL. The design is much edgier and more complicated. Complex curves, scoops and sharp lines intersected in so many different areas it's hard to take it all in initially. There's plenty of new drama, little hint of the previous F1-inspired shape, apart, that is, from the trademark long bonnet.
Structurally the SL is now built almost totally from aluminium, with a few magnesium castings in crucial places. As a result it's around 100kg lighter than the last one, which helps all manner of things including performance, economy and agility.
Mind you, agility is a given. Like every new Mercedes, the SL is packed with computer software to control its stance on the road. The latest count - 16 different systems to keep you on the straight and narrow - is boggling.
The design is much edgier and more complicated
The SL's DNA in more recent years has been its folding hard top. This one is lighter and faster than ever, going though the whole routine in 20 seconds. A new option, Magic Sky Control, tints the glass roof at the touch of a button.
There are other innovations. Magic Vision Control is simply dozens of washer jets built into the wiper blades. The boot can be opened and closed by simply putting your foot beneath the rear bumper (as long as the keys are in your pocket). The bass speakers for the stereo are built into the aluminium chassis structure in the footwells to provide more resonance.
You get the drift. This new Mercedes is rammed full of the latest technology. Whether this actually makes it a nicer car to own or drive is debatable. It sure as hell means it's expensive.
The SL 500 has always been powered by a big V8 but now for the first time it is turbocharged. That means a big jump in power, 22%, to 435hp, yet newfound efficiencies and less weight means the SL is now more economical than ever.
Stick your foot hard down and the SL settles down at the back end, squirms a bit and lunges forward, all to a delightful soundtrack from the engine. It will never fail to impress, though finding opportunities to exploit this level of performance are increasingly rare.
Stick to cruising and the SL is truly in its element
Stick to cruising and the SL is truly in its element. Wafting around with the seven-speed transmission silkily shifting gears, there's rarely a need to take manual control by using the paddles behind the steering wheel.
There are, naturally, buttons to engage a more sporting gearchange mode. Response to accelerator movements is an issue here. In the manner of Mercedes past, the pedal will move what seems like a couple of inches before a tangible pick up in acceleration, and then the SL will take off all too rapidly.
Ride and handling
That behaviour is one of the things that counts against the SL being a proper sports car. Increase the pressure on the accelerator as you leave a corner and you are never quite sure when the power is going to kick in.
The steering provides little in the way of feedback and then there's that computer, controlling so much of the SL's attitude that driving the Mercedes 500SL is an uninvolving experience.
This is probably what SL buyers expect, and one reason they choose an SL over a Porsche 911 convertible. Mercedes tries to mitigate the issue by offering a choice of three types of suspension on the SL. The differences are subtle. Importantly the ride is wonderfully smooth most of the time.
While the exterior of the SL is a riot of complex shapes, inside it's all calm sophistication. The fascia is especially pleasing, with beautiful dials and switchgear of the highest quality.
It's a comfortable place to travel too, especially with the fully optioned-up seat package that combines lushness with a vibro-massage should you choose. Strictly a two-seater (unlike its major rivals) there's space behind the seats for coats and small bags.
inside it's all calm sophistication
Luggage space is simply gigantic with the roof up, but the loss of space when the roof is open will always be an issue on cars like the SL. Still, it's easy to access with the clever foot-waving-under-the-bumper trick; the boot will shut in the same way too.
Economy and safety
Mercedes reckons that the 500 SL will average 31mpg, which would be wonderful if true, but its still an indication of how hard the company is trying to make even its most expensive models more environmentally credible.
Great aerodynamics help here, with the SL the slipperiest car in its class by some margin. It's also the safest, Mercedes claims, not only after you've crashed but also in preventing an accident in the first place. Thank that computer for the last bit.
The MSN Cars verdict ****
We have given the SL 500 just four stars even though we suspect, for many potential owners, it will be a full five-star car. It does many things very well and one or two brilliantly.
It's pretty well unbeatable being a passenger in this two-seater. But driving the SL is a somewhat detached experience that bypasses the 'having fun' bit on its rush to being coolly efficient. Perfect for wealthy ladies of a certain age. But a long way removed from being a genuine 'sports car'.
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||3.5 V6, 4.7 V8 Turbo|
|Power, hp||306 - 435|
|Torque, lb/ft||273 - 516|
|0-62mph, secs||5.9 - 4.6|
|Top speed, mph||155 (electronically limited)|
|Mpg, combined||41.5 - 31.0|
|CO2g/km||159 - 212|
|Ratings out of five||Mercedes-Benz SL 500|
|Ride and handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|