Mercedes SL500

New Mercedes SL is lighter and more powerful than its predecessor, but is it a true 'Sport Light'?

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

The Mercedes SL is no sports car, but for the last few generations it’s never really tried to be. So many elements of this car fit the grand tourer bill – the relaxing ride, the excellent refinement and the effortless performance. But in trying to make it sportier, Mercedes has taken away parts of the SL’s relaxed character. But when compared to other cars in this class, none are as relaxing or easy to drive as the Mercedes SL.

Before we got the chance to drive the new Mercedes SL, Dieter Zetcshe told us that it was a model worthy of its name. By that he meant it could live up to those two letters, which stand for 'Sport Light'. 

It’s easy to see what he meant, too, as the new SL is the first production Mercedes to get an aluminium bodyshell, as well as weight-saving touches such as a magnesium roof. However, it's fairer to say that the L stands for 'Lighter', because while the SL500's 1,785kg kerbweight is 125kg less than the old model's, it's still heavier than convertible rivals such as the Porsche 911 and Jaguar XK.

So the ‘Light’ bit is taken care of – sort of – but what about the Sport? There’s certainly enough power on demand from the twin-turbo 4.7-litre V8 under the bonnet. It produces 429bhp and can sprint from 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds, which makes it just as quick as the old SL63 AMG. 

There’s an effortlessness to the way power is delivered, too, with 700Nm of torque from just 1,800rpm all the way up to 3,500rpm. Put your foot down at any speed and in almost any gear, and you’re pinned back in your seat instantly. 

As for the handling, Mercedes has done plenty to try and sharpen up the SL. Our car was fitted with sports suspension and adaptive dampers, which is supposedly the firmest set-up you can get. You certainly wouldn’t call the handling pin-sharp, but the responsive steering, well-judged suspension and grippy chassis means it’s far more agile than you might expect. 

But the SL isn’t generally known for its handling ability – first and foremost it’s a grand tourer, a relaxing and refined convertible. It still retains that character, and even our firm sports suspension provided an effortless and comfortable ride on some of the roughest roads we could find. Set the dampers to ‘Sport’ and things do get a little bumpier. 

In attempting to make the SL a sportier and better handling car, Mercedes has disturbed its easy to live with character in one particular way. It’s still relaxing compared with cars like the Porsche 911 Cabriolet, but the steering feels a little too quick compared with the rest of the set up.

There are plenty of positives though, including the fact that the SL500 is now cheaper to run. The lower kerbweight paired with a more efficient engine means fuel economy has been improved by 22 per cent, now standing at 31mpg. CO2 emissions are also down to 212g/km.

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