Mercedes-Benz SL Class Convertible (2012 - ) Expert review
Read the Mercedes SL-Class Roadster convertible (2012 - ) car review by Auto Trader's motoring experts, covering price, specification, running costs, practicality, safety and how it drives.The Auto Trader expert verdict: 4.1 Mercedes’ flagship roadster sticks to a formula of subtle sophistication and effortless year-round usability. With a feel-good factor that few cars can compete with, the SL500 has plenty of ownership appeal, though it’s too mute in its feedback to appeal to keen drivers.
- Sumptuous, classy interior
- Strong performance
- Limo-like refinement
- Expensive to buy and run
- Numb steering feel
- Wind deflector restricts rear visibility
At a glance
Equipment Our rating 5/5
Unlike cheaper Mercedes’, there is no choice of trim level with SL. Standard equipment includes Magic Vision Control wipers (which use 160 tiny nozzles in the wiper blades themselves to dispense screen wash without obstructing the view ahead), FrontBass stereo (with subwoofers mounted in the aluminium structure for greater resonance), suspension with adjustable damping and torque vectoring brakes, which can brake individual wheels to increase turn in. The extensive options list includes an upgraded Bang&Olufsen sound system, reversing camera, Active Parking Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist and an electrically operated draught excluder. Of course, the Mercedes personalisation program can be used to tailor your SL to your exact tastes, including speccing items not on the options list. You’ll certainly pay a premium for that privilege however.
Exterior Our rating 4/5
The Mercedes SL retains the classic roadster proportions of its forbears: the long bonnet and a cabin positioned towards the rear of the cars length are hallmarks of the model. The newly styled headlights and grille give it a handsome, bluff front end aesthetic and improves on the ham-fisted styling of the post-facelift outgoing version. The rear end lacks definition however, with the large rear deck now flowing into a more ‘melted’ rear body. Overall, the SL has lost some individuality, and could be mistaken by the uninitiated for the lesser Mercedes SLK, with which it shares some styling themes. That said, it’s a relatively subtle looking car (aside for needlessly ‘bling’ detailing such as the bonnet vents and large daytime running lights), particularly when compared to its more ostentatious competition – something which will appeal to many buyers.
Interior Our rating 5/5
The interior will be familiar to Mercedes owners, as it uses the same centre console arrangement as most of the current line-up. While it lacks imagination, there is no faulting its usability: all the buttons are where you’d expect them to be and despite the car’s multitude of gadgets, everything is easy to decipher. The buttons, as with the rest of the interior, exudes a sense of integrity and depth of engineering, while the standard of fit and finish is exemplary. The interior design cribs elements from the Mercedes SLS supercar, notably the vents and dials. The myriad trim and colour combinations available do change the feel of the car: black leather and brushed aluminium puts the driver in a more sporting frame of mind than the relaxed wood on chocolate brown leather. The wood used is well finished and complements the interior, rather than clashing with the more contemporary design fixtures.
Performance Our rating 4/5
The SL500’s 4.7-litre motor develops 435hp and crucially 516lb ft of pulling power, which is enough to get this 1785kg convertible from 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph. It’s a fantastic motor, with bags of urge and a lovely, offbeat soundtrack. Mercedes has dulled the throttle response so it doesn’t have the lightning fast reactions of a Ferrari California. Instead you bury the pedal, wait a moment and feel the surge build and effortlessly take you down the road at a serious clip. This makes the SL easier to live with when you’re not in the mood to play. Thanks to the huge reserves of pulling power, overtaking is laughably easy, with the SL needing only the tiniest gap to exploit. The V6 engined SL350 is also potent, developing 306hp and covering the 0-62mph sprint in 5.9 seconds. Both engines are fitted to a seven-speed automatic gearbox as standard.
Practicality Our rating 4/5
The SL caters for just two passengers, but does so astonishingly well. Leg and headroom is generous considering the car’s low profile, with enough room for even the tallest drivers to get comfortable. Cabin storage space is limited to a brace of shallow (though nicely trimmed) door pockets and a reasonably commodious glove box. There is also a small amount of space between the seats and the rear bulkhead. With the roof up, the boot is very large and even when retracted, there is still enough space for a couple of small suitcases and overnight bags. Overall, all-round visibility is good, with just the electronically deployed wind deflector obstructing the rear view when raised. This being a top-of-the-line Mercedes, it does get standard fit parking sensors (a rear view camera is available as an option) to get around this problem.
Reliability Our rating 3/5
While there is nothing with the new SL to suggest that it will prove to be unreliable, it is far too new for inherent faults to have surfaced. Older models have been known to develop electrical gremlins as they age, requiring costly work to fix. The SL is protected by a three-year warranty.
Ride and handling Our rating 4/5
The SL’s sports car stance and big wheels belie superb ride quality and damping. Driven in comfort mode, it is a match for an executive limo, with no changes in road surface detectable. It’s whisper quiet with the roof up too and thanks to the wind deflector, buffet free with the roof down. Adjusting the damping into the firmer sport setting and some of the harsher ridges in the tarmac will make themselves felt in the cabin, though passengers are still well isolated from the undulations. The trade off to this is a sense of disconnection when pressing on. The electro-mechanical steering has been set up to filter out extraneous detail. It makes the SL a more relaxed cruiser but denies drivers of any feel for what the front wheels are doing. Combined with a throttle with an inch of dead travel at the top, it’s difficult to get into a smooth rhythm with the car on a challenging. Putting the gearbox into manual mode does sharpen things up somewhat, but there is no pleasure to be had changing gears via the steering wheel mounted paddles, as it takes too long to respond to your requests. Despite a weight saving of 140kg over the outgoing model (thanks largely to a body-shell made with 95 per cent aluminium), the SL is still a heavyweight. It feels a little unwilling to change direction quickly, requiring some manhandling and it gives its brakes a workout. After a thirty minute run up a mountain we had to let the stoppers on our test car cool before they would perform at their best again.
Running costs Our rating 3/5
The SL is likely to prove expensive to run as is to buy. Initially two models will be launched in the UK: a 3.5-litre V6 SL350 and a turbocharged 4.7-litre V8 badged the SL500, which will be priced around £78,000 and £97,000 respectively. Mercedes claims a combined fuel consumption of 34mpg for the V6 and 25.8mpg for the V8, though when driving the SL500 (admittedly enthusiastically) we saw consumption drop into single figures on ocassion. Despite this, the new SL comes in at 30 per cent more fuel efficient in official lab conditions than the model it replaces. Thanks to clever turbo-charging trickery, the SL500’s huge engine manages to creep into road tax band K with CO2 emissions of 212g/km. This means a first year cost of £580 with £260 payable per annum after that. The smaller engine in the SL350 means you’ll pay £165 every year thanks to CO2 emissions of 159g/km.
Safety Our rating 5/5
The Mercedes SL has yet to be crash tested, but should receive a full five-star rating. Aside from the usual airbags and active head-restraints, the SL features all of the electronic safety technology available on the Mercedes’ flagship S-Class, which is noted for its passenger occupant safety.
Why buy? Our rating 4/5
Because it has all the class and performance you could possibly want without any histrionics. The SL trades in the last few degrees of driver involvement for refinement and comfort, which will suit most buyers. Its party piece coupe/convertible roof is also unmatched by any rival.