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Mercedes-Benz SL-Class road test report

Mercedes-Benz SL-Class

Iconic is a much-overused word these days, but in the case of the Mercedes-Benz SL roadster, it’s justified. For its sixth-generation SL, Mercedes-Benz has introduced numerous improvements and styling changes – not all of which are a total success – to bring the car up to date. There are three versions: the biggest seller is the V6-engined SL 350, starting at £64,980, which will make up almost three quarters of sales; the other models in the range are the SL 500, with a V8 powerplant, priced from £77,685 and the top-end V12-powered SL 600, from £104,425.

Road Test Reports Says4 star rating
A front-facing image of the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class

Image number 2 of the Mercedes-Benz SL-ClassImage number 3 of the Mercedes-Benz SL-ClassImage number 4 of the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class

Performance Performance - 4 stars

The new V6 engine in the base model SL 350, although not lightning quick, pulls well and will please the majority of buyers who opt for it. It generates 311bhp at 6,500rpm and revs up to 7,200rpm, produces 265lb-ft of torque and does the 0-62mph sprint in 6.2 seconds. The SL 600's V12 is, obviously, much sportier. The 509bhp output, peak torque of 612lb-ft and a 0-62mph time of 4.5 seconds does excite, but it's £27k more than the base model, putting it out of reach of many potential buyers. The SL is a fun car to drive, but not as sporty as Mercedes-Benz like to think it is. It's not a Porsche Boxster and is more of a cruising machine than a truly sporting drop-top. Neither does it offer quite the excitement of the Jaguar XK, which is perhaps its closest rival in a very small group of competitors.

Ride & Handling Ride & Handling - 4 stars

The SL, as befits a drop-top cruising machine, is a wonderfully comfortable place to be on the road. The ride is pretty compliant, even on some of the poorly surfaced roads we drove the test cars on. The more pronounced bumps and potholes that are often encountered on British roads aren't completely soaked up, but they didn't shake the bones as much as we'd expect. Merc's Active Body Control, a fully active suspension system, also ensures that body pitch, roll and yaw are reined in driving situations such as cornering, accelerating and braking. The new direct-steer system on the SL, the first Mercedes-Benz that the new system has appeared on, also works well. Based on a speed-sensitive power steering system, the new variable ratio steering rack means that cornering requires fewer inputs and there's a good level of feedback, which makes for more accurate turn-ins and sharper handling.

Build Quality & Reliability Build Quality & Reliability - 4 stars

Mercedes-Benz had a bit of a sticky patch in terms of its quality around the end of the 90s, as the company sought to cut costs and use cheaper components, but this is an era now consigned to history and we don't expect a return any time soon. Indeed, a recent survey of customer satisfaction rated Mercedes-Benz sixth out of 28 car manufacturers, with owners rating highly the reliability, service they get from dealers and cost of ownership. The new SL certainly feels like a high-quality product: the exterior has consistent shutlines across the car and has a high standard of build quality. The doors close with reassuring solidity and the interior also uses high-quality materials, with a choice of two leathers and five aluminium or wood trims.

Safety & Security Safety & Security - 4 stars

There's a full package of active and passive safety measures in the new SL. In the addition to the usual ABS and ESP, there's the aforementioned Active Body Control, adaptive brake lights (when braking in an emergency, the three brake lights flash rapidly instead of lighting up like a conventional brake light) and a new Intelligent Lighting System, first introduced on the latest E-Class, which has different lighting functions for different types of road and uses pivoting adaptive headlights. If you are unfortunate to be involved in an accident, though, there are automatically deployed pop-up roll bars behind the seats and four airbags – one each for the driver and passenger, plus side airbags that protect the head and thorax. In terms of security, there's the usual alarm system with immobiliser, interior protection and central locking.

Space & Practicality Space & Practicality - 4 stars

If you've paid more than £60k for your SL, you'll want to be comfortable, and the new version delivers in spades, thanks to the high level of equipment and a well-laid-out interior. Finding a good driving position is easy, thanks to electrically operated heated leather seats (soft nappa, ventilated and with a massage function in the top-of-the-range SL 600) and a steering wheel that's electrically adjustable for reach and rake. There’s also plenty of room in the cabin for the two intended occupants, despite being a roadster. The Comand system includes all the infotainment features you need when on the move, with a 6.5-inch colour display, hard disk drive (HDD) navigation system, Bluetooth, Linguatronic voice control, radio and a six-disc CD/DVD changer with MP3 compatibility. All the major control functions for the infotainment system are also to hand on the steering wheel, meaning less distraction from the road.

Ownership & Value Ownership & Value - 4 stars

The SL starts at just a shade under 65 grand, so if you can afford one, running costs are unlikely to be a deal-breaker. However, in keeping with the trend of carmakers reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, all the SLs are more efficient than the previous version. The SL 350 has a combined fuel consumption of 28.5mpg and CO2 figure of 236g/km; the SL 500 returns 23.7mpg and 284g/km; and the SL 600 consumes 20.3mpg and emits 330g/km. However, the CO2 figures mean that you'll be paying top-end road tax (Band G). The SL is not the car to buy as an investment. The previous iteration lost almost a quarter of its value in a year and 42% of its value over three years, so cruising around looking cool is an expensive business. This is unlikely to change with the new version.

Roadsters and Cabriolets comparison road tests

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