Mercedes SL500

Is Mercedes guilty of a cover-up? It claims this is a new-generation SL, but even the designers can't deny that it's hard to spot the alterations.

It is no accident that Mercedes is unleashing its revised roadster now - the firm is ensuring that the SL is at the top of its game to go head-to-head with the latest Jaguar XK8. The new engine range is very wel-come, the driving experience has been impro-ved and, with its folding metal hard-top, the SL remains a highly desirable all-round machine. However, with entry-level cars priced from £62,885 when it goes on UK sale next month, it's also very expensive.

Is Mercedes guilty of a cover-up? It claims this is a new-generation SL, but even the designers can't deny that it's hard to spot the alterations.

Did you notice the fresh grille, larger air intakes or chrome fog-light surrounds? That said, the external changes have sharpened up the handsome lines ever so slightly. Even less has been done inside - but don't think this means the drop-top SL is new in name only.

The metal top still folds away in 16 seconds, but there's now better load bay access when the roof is stowed, optional power closing for the bootlid and a bigger, 339-litre load volume. Under the bonnet, the SL500 uses a 5.5-litre engine, rather than a 5.0 unit, and the power gains are impressive. Putting out 388bhp and 530Nm of torque, it has 26 per cent more muscle but combined economy is unchanged at 23.2mpg.

The new unit is excellent; smoother and more relaxed, yet responsive and potent. Nor is it the only reworked engine: the entry-level SL350 gets an 11 per cent power hike to 272bhp, while the SL55 and SL600 now boast 517bhp each. The 7G-Tronic transmission fitted to the SL350 and SL500 is available with the optional Sport manual mode, giving 30 per cent faster shifts. Meanwhile, Active Body Control (ABC, standard on the 500) delivers more high-speed stability and fine ride comfort.

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