Mercedes SL350

Entry-level Mercedes SL gets a 3.5-litre V6 engine producing 302bhp

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

The new Mercedes SL350 differs from its more powerful brother in a few key areas. The performance isn’t as readily on tap – though it still feels quick – and the lower kerbweight has improved its agility. In every other way, and in every way that will matter to an SL buyer, it’s just as good. The refinement is unmatched in this class; the ride-comfort is worthy of a limousine and the lowered running costs mean it won’t cost the earth to own either. 

If there is such a thing as a ‘cheap’ Mercedes SL, it’s the SL350. This entry-level model comes with a 3.5-litre V6 producing 302bhp and a price-tag that's likely to be over £10,000 less than the SL500's. 

In terms of performance, the two cars aren’t split by as much. The SL350 sprints from 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds, while the bi-turbo V8-powered model completes the same sprint in 4.6 seconds, but the way this power is delivered is the biggest difference between the two. 

Where the SL500 is happy to deliver a huge hit of acceleration in any gear and at any speed, the SL350 needs to be revved to get the best out of it. That takes away some of the SL’s relaxed driving experience, but adds a new depth of involvement.

Changes to the handling are minimal, with the SL350 feeling a little lighter on its feet and keener to change direction. Both are far more accomplished than their predecessors, but without the heavy V8 engine at the front, the SL350 is certainly the more nimble of the two. It corners in typical SL fashion though, which means plenty of grip and little drama, but next to no feedback. 

But the SL has always been comfort-biased, and the SL350 boasts the same pillowy-soft ride as the more expensive SL500. Our car was equipped with the optional Active Body Control suspension, which does improve handling, but it’s just as comfortable as the standard suspension, so specifying it may not be worthwhile. 

Refinement is excellent, and with the roof up you’d be hard pushed to notice you were in a convertible. There’s virtually no wind or road noise, and squeaks and rattles are notable only by their absence. 

Compared to the old SL350, this new model is 140kg lighter, and that helps in achieving the fuel economy figure of 41.5mpg, which is 30 per cent better than the outgoing model. The seamless 7G-Tronic gearbox and stop/start system also play their parts. 

The surprise is that two cars that differ only in the engines that power them can feel quite so different on the road. The added agility and rev-happy nature of the V6 engine mean the SL350 has more of a sports car feel than the SL500, which is the more GT-inspired of the two.

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