Mercedes SL review

Our Rating: 
4
4.0/5.0
2016 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

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

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The Mercedes-Benz SL has been around for over 60 years in one form or another. This latest version plays to its traditional strengths by offering wind-in-the-hair thrills in a super-stylish package.

It treads the line between being a full-fat sports car and luxury GT cruiser but is able to play both parts convincingly. The SL perhaps doesn't have the drama of a Jaguar F-Type Convertible but it sounds great, looks even better and is rather practical considering its purpose.

The entry-level Mercedes SL 400 could even be the pick of the range, but if your budget can stretch the Mercedes-AMG SL 63 is definitely worth a look.

Our Choice: 
Mercedes-Benz SL 400

The Mercedes SL is a very exclusive vehicle and thanks to its enduring 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.

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The SL's understated looks belie its impressive performance figures, and after a serious weight-reduction regime compared to its previous incarnation, handling and fuel economy are much improved. A retractable hard-top roof adds a lot of extra noise reduction compared to the soft-top BMW and Jaguar F-Type while its fast operating time is ideal to help avoid those summer showers.

There's no shortage of performance either with all engines beign twin-turbocharged. The line-up ranges from a V6 up to a V12 with power outputs starting at 362bhp in the SL 400 and rising to a monstrous 622bhp in the mighty Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Predictably, the price rises too with the SL flagship hitting the £172,000 mark. 

Engines, performance and drive

3.5
The SL sits between being a full-fat sports car and luxury tourer but performance is still impressive

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 AMG tweaked SL 63 or SL 65 models and acceleration reaches supercar levels, although the handling is more suited to cruising than lapping a race track.

A naturally aspirated SL 350 was offered in the range until mid-2014, when a twin-turbocharged SL 400 model replaced it. It has 362bhp and costs exactly the same. It's a definite improvement over the 350, offering the kind of effortless performance you expect from an SL.

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.

Engines

Mercedes-AMG has updated the SL 63 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. 

If you can afford it, the £172,295 Mercedes-AMG SL 65 offers even more pace and performance with a 622bhp 6.0-litre twin-turbo V12. However, the SL 63 is the better car to drive as the 5.5-litre V8 is more responsive and lighter, making the SL feel more energetic on the road. 

MPG, CO2 and running costs

2.8
Running costs will be steep, although the SL 400 is the most efficient SL ever built

There’s no hiding from the fact that the Mercedes SL is an expensive buy, and this statement even holds up in light of its costly 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

In its most efficient set-up, with a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol engine, it barely returns 37mpg, however this is a massive 30 per cent improvement on the previous model. In short, running costs can be expected to be high and tax bills will also sting. However, it's no more expensive than a BMW 6 Series.

Insurance groups

Unsurprisingly, the SL sits in insurance group 50 because of its price and performance. Again though, if you're buying a car in this sector of the market, that's to be expected.

Interior, design and technology

3.8
Cabin is lacking the opulence of the S-Class Cabriolet but it's still a very pleasant place to sit

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 and it looks far more menacing than it did before that latest facelift. 

A recent facelift gave the SL a far more aggressive front end with more defined front and rear bumpers along with new alloy wheel designs. The Mercedes-AMG models also feature unique 'Bi-turbo' badges on the flanks and  

In the cabin, 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. 

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

As the new SL was just a facelift Merc hasn't fitted the mouse-like controller for the infotainment system, instead sticking with the old swivel wheel. It's still easy enough to use and quite responsive.

The colour display is bright but the graphics do look a little dated compared to the new systems you find in BMW and Audi model. However, it is nicely integrated into the dash rather perched on the top so makes the cabin look a lot better packaged.    

Practicality, comfort and boot space

3.7
Only seating for two, but a big boot and nifty storage feature make the most of the space on offer

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.

Leg room, head room & passenger space

The SL is more of a GT cruiser than sports car, therefore, it has the classic long bonnet and cab-rearward design but is a strict two-seater. With the roof in place there is a good amount of headroom for both passengers, with enough space for tallest of adults to stretch out, too.   

Boot

For a two-seat roadster the SL is rather practical. With the roof in place the boot measures in at 500 litres, but even with it stowed there's still 350 litres of space. Loading items isn't an issue either as a tilt function lifts the roof by 25 degrees when stowed in the boot. 

Reliability and Safety

4.5

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 for safety.

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.

Mercedes finished just outside of the top 10 manufacturers in the 2015 Driver Power survey, finishing in 11th place. Although not the best position to be in, Mercedes will be pleased to hear it finished ahead of rivals BMW and Audi, but Jaguar was way ahead in 2nd place. 

Warranty 

The Mercedes SL comes with a three-year/100,000-mile warranty. 

Servicing 

Depending on the age or mileage of your SL, Mercedes will carry out an ‘A’ or a more comprehensive ‘B’ service.

Last updated: 14 Mar, 2016