The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is an interesting vehicle. In AMG form, it is hugely powerful - lairy even - and (at almost 400 grand for the SL63) certainly not even remotely affordable for the majority of us. In entry level SL400 form though, it’s a calm and classy boulevard cruiser, capable of a spirited drive well beyond what you might expect, but equally comfortable rolling top down though the CBD garnering the attention of passersby when you’re crawling through traffic.
The 2015 SL-Class range now comprises the SL 400 we’ve tested locally at launch (starting from $229,000), the SL500 (starting from $312,000), the SL63 AMG (starting from $399,00) and the range topping SL65 AMG (starting from an eye-watering $481,000).
Let's take a closer look at the SL400. It’s hard to argue that a quarter of a million dollars is cheap, but the new SL does get some improvements range wide that will entice the potential buyer. Digital radio is now standard, as is tyre pressure monitoring. The already excellent Harmon Kardon audio system has been upgraded to eleven speakers as well. So, while it isn’t ‘cheap’ in the truest sense of the word, the SL400 is undeniably the best value model in the SL-Class range.
As tested here, the SL400 replaces the previous SL350, which also happened to be the volume seller in the SL range. The SLK range might have stolen some of the SL’s lunch in the past few years in terms of sales, especially with buyers who wanted - or needed - to downsize, but there’s still a genuine appeal to the bigger two-door convertible that’s borne out by a short stint behind the wheel.
Further evidence that larger capacity, naturally aspirated engines are going to struggle in the next few years, comes in the fact that the SL350, which was naturally aspirated, has been replaced by the SL 400, which isn’t naturally aspirated and is also smaller in displacement terms (3500cc versus 3000cc). Despite that, the new model is more powerful and more efficient than the model it replaces.
The 3-litre, bi-turbocharged six-cylinder engine is a cracker, with a raspy and intoxicating note that muscles up as the revs rise. The same engine - that is whisper quiet under the E-Class bonnet - somehow manages to morph into a capable sports performer under the SL’s long snout. Its no lightweight sportscar the SL, but it’s a whole lot sportier than you might initially think. The charge from 0-100km/h takes 5.2-seconds behind the wheel of the SL400, 0.7-seconds quicker than the SL350.
245kW and 480Nm ensure you’ll be able to get up to speed, and stay there with the required pace, and an ADR fuel claim of 7.8L/100km on the combined cycle is impressive for a two door of this bulk. The efficiency and turn of speed is in part thanks to the combination of the bi-turbocharging system and high-tech direct injection.
The now requisite seven-speed 7G-TRONIC Mercedes-Benz automatic gearbox is buttery smooth at any speed. Mercedes-Benz does have access to a nine-speed automatic within its armoury, but decided that the seven-speed ‘box is more than apt for the SL-Class. Currently irrelevant in Australia, but impressive nonetheless is the fact that the engine meets stringent Euro VI emissions standards.
We didn’t punt the SL especially hard during our country drive into the Yarra Valley but one thing is patently clear. This is a very tight and beautifully executed drop top. Roof up on bumpy roads and there’s not a squeak, rattle or shimmy to be heard or felt at any speed. The cabin is serene too as you cruise along sedately between 80 and 100km/h, road noise barely entering the cabin. Drop the top, and there’s no nasty scuttle shake or sloppy body control to contend with, such is the intrinsic rigidity of the platform beneath the retractable hard top.
The adjustable suspension deserves special mention as it is (somewhat surprisingly) compliant enough to be left in ‘Sports’ mode all the time. ‘Comfort’ mode softens things a little and you will notice the difference over really poor surfaces, but even on coarse chip country roads, the suspension works beautifully in the sportier setting such that I probably wouldn’t ever bother with the comfort mode. The SL400 is never uncomfortable, no matter what is going on beneath the tyres.
The cabin is beautifully designed, finished to the standard you’d expect of a Mercedes-Benz and laid out to perfection too. I like the door mounted seat controls, the extra legroom and seat movement afforded by the longer SL platform and the fact it is so easy to get comfortable behind the wheel. A stint in the passenger seat illustrated there’s just as much comfort and ambience on offer for your significant other as there is for the you, the driver.
Take a look at the exterior of the SL400 from any angle, and it’s hard to believe it’s a three year old vehicle. Originally released in 2012, it’s no less attractive or alluring and it’s a vehicle that makes a statement regardless of whether its stationary or on the move. The side profile especially is just right, with the long bonnet working perfectly with the comparatively short boot to create a swoopy, hunkered down profile.
Speaking of the boot, there’s enough storage beneath the roof cavity for two larger soft bags, if you’re heading off for a weekend away and want to enjoy the weather. With the roof up, the boot is deep and wide, which means it’s big enough for everyday requirements. In this instance, you get the best of both worlds with the SL-Class.
The 2015 SL400 is a vehicle that is difficult to fault. Once again, Mercedes-Benz has hit the nail squarely on the head, delivering a vehicle that should appeal to the target buyer in a manner exactly as intended. It’s too expensive? I can’t afford one? It’s a physically large vehicle? Thats about all there is when it comes to gripes.
There’s still something traditionally appealing about a big, two-door, convertible that has a potent engine and RWD. The retractable hardtop only adds to the attraction for those buyers not keen to lower the roof as often as others - you get the best of both scenarios. If I had the money, I’d be tempted to buy the AMG model in SL63 trim but talk is cheap. And the cheapest (in relative terms) SL is the SL400, which does the job perfectly well. I can’t help but think the SL-Class is a classic sports tourer for the person who has ‘made it’.