Last year I had what you could say the ultimate test drive in a Mercedes-Benz SL 500. As part of the Mille Miglia Tribute to the Tribute I drove 1,600 kilometers across Italy in just four days. Now Mercedes-Benz released an updated version of the Mercedes-Benz SL and as you can imagine I am very excited to give it a try.
The Mercedes-Benz roadster carries the legendary SL badge and comes with a fold-able hard-top as standard. The latest generation Mercedes SL has been on the market since 2012 and is internally referred to as the R 231 model.
The facelifted and updated SL model range has received some significant upgrades on virtually every part of the car, from the suspension to the roof. We went to California to check out the new Mercedes SL and see if it lives up to our expectations.
Engines & Performance
The new Mercedes SL is available with four different engines. The entry level SL is the SL 400 that comes with an upgraded 3.0 liter V6 engine. The Mercedes-Benz SL 400 delivers 367hp and 500Nm of torque. Next in line is the SL 500 with its potent 455hp strong V8 engine that produces 700Nm of torque. The two AMG models in the SL line-up have also received the mid-life treatment and are available as SL 63 with a 5.5 liter V8 (585hp / 900Nm of torque) and SL 65 with a 6.0 liter V12 which produces 630hp and a whopping 1,000 Nm of torque – ideal to kill any pair of tires with ease.
Performance wise the new SL 400 sprints from 0-100 km/h in 4.9 seconds, the SL 500 does it in 4.3 and the SL 63 and SL 65 in 4.1 and 4.0 respectively. Top speed is limited to 250 km/h as standard for all models. But straight line performance isn’t everything and the largest change compared to the predecessor can be found in the cornering and handling department.
But since the new SL is essentially a facelift the most obvious change is found in the design. For the front of the Mercedes-Benz SL the designers took inspiration from the legendary 300 SL and the Panamericana in particular. The new steeply raked radiator grill gives the SL a unique face in the lineup and I have to say I like it – a lot!
New front- and rear lights and large air intakes round up the exterior changes to give the SL a fresh new appearance. Inside the SL provides a sporty yet luxurious ambience, with the large air vents and arched dials as most eye-catching. The only thing that really reminds of us of last-generation Mercedes-Benz cars is the infotainment control pad with analogue phone controls.
The SL 400 and SL 500 both come with Mercedes-Benz’s new 9G tronic gearbox. This helps reduce fuel consumption and shift times. In reality you hardly notice the 9G shift and when cruising on the highway it drops a few gears effortlessly as soon as you put the pedal down.
The AMG models come with AMG’s 7G Speedshift gearbox which characteristics change depending on the drive mode you are in. In Comfort it shifts up quite quickly to reduce fuel consumption and offer a comfortable ride. In Sport+ it shifts down as you brake and warrants a lovely exhaust blip. Using the paddles however the somewhat dated gearbox shows its weaknesses and feels a bit sluggish. For the time being though this is the only gearbox that can cope with the huge amounts of torque available in the SL 63 and SL 65.
The interior of the new SL hasn’t received as much of an update as the exterior but it is still a pleasant place to be in, sporty yet luxurious. Available features include seat heating and seat cooling, an air scarf blowing warm air around your neck, an electronic wind deflector, adaptive cruise control and various infotainment and audio options. Sadly the Mercedes-Benz signature sound system made by Burmester is not available on the SL yet.
The fold-able hard-top can now be opened and closed up to 40 km/h, although for safety reasons the process can only be initiated at a near standstill. Previously the boot separator had to be closed by hand but this now goes automatically which is a good addition as well.
To test the new Mercedes-Benz SL we flew down to sunny California and there are two good reasons why Mercedes-Benz chose this particular location for the launch of the new SL. First of all the US is responsible for more than 50% of the sales of the SL and particularly in California hardly a day goes by where you won’t see a dozen or so on the road.
But maybe even more important the SL convertible was an idea of an American car dealer that requested a convertible version based on the successful 300 SL Gullwing and Panamericana SL race car back in the 1950s.
Our journey begins about 20 miles South of Los Angeles in Newport Beach. Here 20 brand new SL models are waiting for us. And we receive the keys to a brand new SL 65 AMG to start the day. The 65 AMG is the gentlemen’s and highway cruiser pur sang. The large V12 engine boasts tremendous levels of power but does it work with ease and in relative silence. New are flaps in the exhaust which allowed the AMG engineers to create different sound profiles for the various drive modes. In the AMG models those include comfort, sport, sport+, race and individual. As you switch from Comfort to Sport or Sport+ you will notice the SL 65 AMG gets louder but it never overdoes it. The SL 63 AMG with its V8 engine and louder sound track feels rawer and nimbler in comparison.
After the SL 65 AMG we switched to a SL 400. This comes with the same 3.0 liter V6 that can also be found in the recent C-Class. It is very punchy and offers direct throttle response. The model we tested came with the optional ABC suspension (which is recommended) and the curve function. This system drops the suspension on the inside to give a unique speedboat like experience when turning into a corner.
Although I did enjoy the SL 400, I personally would always opt for one of the V8 versions of the SL. Last but not least I got to drive the SL 500, a car I drove for 1,000 miles on the Mille Miglia Tribute last year. The engine is still as good as it used to be but the new drive programs and updated suspension along with convenience features like the adaptive cruise control with lane assist make it an even more attractive car for everyday use than before. It sounds great every time you start it.
The Mercedes-Benz SL is pretty unique in the sense that it doesn’t have any direct competitors from Audi, BMW or Jaguar any more. The SL 65 AMG might compete with the likes of Aston Martin or Bentley due to its higher price point and the SL 400 might have some overlap with the Jaguar F-Type although a comparison wouldn’t be fair as the SL is far more luxurious than the F-Type.
What to Spec?
We selected some options we would tick on the SL order sheet for your convenience.
AMG Driver’s Package – Raises the speed limit to 300 km/h on the SL 63 and SL 65 AMG models
AMG Night Package – Adds black design elements all around the car which give it a more masculine look.
Electronic Wind Deflector – A must have.
Adaptive Cruise Control + Lane Assist – Makes your daily commute a lot more comfortable, the same system that is currently used in the S-Class.
Vario Panorama Roof – A panorama roof that can change color at the touch of a button, just a toy but a pretty cool one.
Seat cooling – Keeps your back cold during hot summer days.
The new SL is much more than just a facelift. All important elements of the car have been updated and we particularly like the new front end styling reminiscent of the 1950s SL Panamericana racer. The additional safety and convenience systems up the levels of comfort as a daily driver. The new sound profiles available thanks to exhaust flaps make the car more emotionally versatile too. The curve function in the SL 400 and SL 500 is a nice gimmick but for us the Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG is the car to have.