Mercedes SL500

Our verdict on the lighter, more efficient and more powerful Mercedes SL roadster

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

The new Mercedes SL is a welcome return to form for one of the longest-running cars on sale. It’s better in almost every way than its predecessor. Mercedes has delivered a sharper driving experience, while the V8 engine is more powerful and uses less fuel, thanks mainly to a 125kg drop in weight. It’s still no sports car, though – more of a GT. And we wish the styling was a little bit more adventurous.

It’s nearly 60 years since the first Mercedes SL was introduced. The name stands for ‘Sports Lightweight’, yet as successive generations have piled on the pounds, the car has become more of a large and luxurious grand tourer.

Now there’s an all-new SL, and behind the conservative styling you’ll find a state-of-the-art aluminium bodyshell. And at 1,785kg, it’s 125kg lighter than the model it replaces.

We drove the SL500, which will be the most powerful version until the SL63 AMG arrives. It has a twin-turbocharged 4.7-litre V8 that produces 429bhp. That’s 49bhp more than the old SL500, yet fuel consumption has been reduced by 22 per cent, to 31mpg. The entry-level SL350, which has a 3.5-litre V6, does even better – making 302bhp while returning 41.5mpg.

It’s hard not to love a car that sounds this good. Progress is accompanied by a raucous V8 soundtrack, and the engine is just as happy to burble slowly around town as it is to flex its muscle on the open road.

A sharper driving experience was one of the main priorities for the new SL, and it’s immediately clear that the stiff aluminium construction has improved things significantly. We drove the car on some rough Spanish roads and there was no sign of the scuttle shake that usually affects open-top cars.

Our test model was fitted with the optional Active Body Control system, which gives excellent ride quality combined with roll-free cornering. But the SL is still a Grand Tourer rather than a true sports car: you’re reminded of its significant weight whenever you try to press on a bit.

The full equipment list is as long as your arm, but highlights include a Front Bass system, which uses the bodyshell as a subwoofer, as well as wiper blades with tiny holes that apply screenwash, so you don’t get splashed with the roof down.

Plus, optional Magic Sky Control allows you to switch the roof panels from transparent to opaque at the touch of a button.

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