Mercedes SL review

Our Rating: 
2012 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The Mercedes SL is a status symbol, and the latest model has the usual blend of style and performance

Acceleration, high-quality finish, electronic driving aids
Price, unremarkable looks, poor efficiency

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The Mercedes SL is a very exclusive vehicle, and thanks to its popularity with the upper classes, it also brings its owner a certain amount of prestige. Slotting nicely in the middle ground between its rivals, namely the sporty Porsche 911 Cabriolet and luxury BMW 6 Series, it offers drivers a sporty character but doesn't sacrifice comfort. It’s understated looks belie its impressive performance figures, and after a serious weight-reduction regimen compared to its previous incarnation, handling and fuel economy are much improved. A retractable hard roof adds a lot of noise reduction compared to the BMW and its exceptionally fast operating time is ideal to help avoid those summer showers.

Our choice: Mercedes SL 500

Engines, performance and drive


The large V8 petrol engine in the SL 500 is blisteringly quick, accelerating from 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds and up to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph. Opt for the SL63 or SL65 models and acceleration becomes supercar-worrying in its pace, although the handling is more suited to cruising than lapping a track.

A naturally aspirated SL350 was offered in the range until mid-2014, when a twin-turbcoharged SL400 model replaced it. It has 329bhp – 27bhp more than the 350 – and costs exactly the same price. It's a definite improvement over the 350, offering the kind of effortless performance you expect from an SL.

In early 2014, Mercedes updated the SL63 with more power and fitted a limited-slip diff as standard. It used to be eye-wateringly expensive – and it still is – but these changes have ensured it looks like better value compared to its rivals. 

The driving position is very comfortable and offers plenty of adjustments. Visibility is also surprisingly good whether the roof is up or down, however the electronically controlled wind deflector can obstruct the rear view when raised. The car is much lighter than before and features a 57mm increase in track. This really improves handling, and although the SL can’t quite match a Porsche 911, it isn’t a million miles off.

MPG, CO2 and running costs


There’s no hiding from the fact that the Mercedes SL is an expensive buy, and this statement even stands true in light of its over-priced rivals. When you look at its fuel consumption it’s enough to make a Toyota Prius driver faint. In its most efficient set-up, with a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol engine, it barely returns 36mpg, however this is a massive 30 per cent improvement on the previous model. So running cost can be expected to be high, and tax bills will also sting. However, it's no more expensive than a BMW 6 Series.

Interior, design and technology


The sixth-generation Mercedes SL has quite a bit to live up to. Over the years the SL design has been evolved rather than reinvented, and the body has been smoothed out compared to the previous model, which highlights a desire to stay true to the original. A long bonnet and small cabin cries out traditional roadster, but sadly from a distance it is all too easily confused with an SLK. In the cabin nevertheless, the Stuttgart manufacturer lives up to its heritage, by tastefully blending fine leather, metal trim and aero-inspired instruments to create a feeling of grandeur.

Practicality, comfort and boot space


When you think about the Mercedes SL, forget the need for four seats, non-mark material and useful things like resistant plastic bumpers to squeeze into a parking slot. The SL instead focuses on giving driver and passenger ample room inside the cabin, while the boot - which has 350 litres with the lid down - is more than big enough for a couple of small suitcases. Parking sensors are standard and to get the most out of the British summer, the hard roof comes off in 20 seconds.

Reliability and Safety


The Mercedes SL hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP, but thanks to a large array of airbags and electronic safety features, as well as the German brand’s excellent reputation, potential buyers can be sure it will rate five stars. It's brimming with driver aids such as adaptive braking, stability control, anti-skid mechanisms and traction control, and it also includes a system that detects when the driver is feeling tired. Older versions of the SL developed a few electrical gremlins after a few years, but this new models seems to be holding up very well.

Last updated: 19 Jun, 2012