The Mercedes-Benz SL 400 gains more sky-walking credentials and remains one of the best smooth-cruising drop-tops around
Mercedes-Benz SL 400 2017 Review: Cruise On The Light Side
SINGAPORE – While drop-tops are all about enjoying the breeze and smelling the roses, here it’s often a case of heavy vehicles roaring up beside you in their full polluting glory. If you’re lucky, sometimes you have the privilege of the subtle hues of a garbage truck in front of you.
That’s not even counting the fact that cabriolets can shudder and thump like horse wagons, and you end up in a shouting match with your shotgun passenger because the wind noise makes civilised conversation impossible.
None of this will happen in the Mercedes-Benz SL 400.
The SL is of course Benz’s top roadster offering, being the bigger brother to the SLC hard-top. The historic nameplate stretches all the way back from 1954, with the original 300 SL ‘Gullwing’ and other luminaries like the W113 ‘Pagoda top’ of the 1960s.
The latest model, the R231, debuted in 2013 and at the car’s international launch in Spain, we said it “delivers one of the smoothest, easiest driving experiences for any sort of sports-GT car, convertible or otherwise.”
This is the facelifted model for 2017, and it trades the clean edges and straight lines of the old Mercedes design language with swoopy, organic curves, but the classic roadster proportions are still very much intact: the pushed-back cabin, the long nose. If anything, the new lines tend to emphasise the low, wide nature of the SL, which gives it a bigger sense of occasion.
There’s plenty of space in the cabin – no elbowing your passenger in the face here un/fortunately. The fact that the SL is still one of the older Mercedes models (almost every other model in the line-up other than the CLS is new-generation) means it misses out on the HD cockpit feature seen on the larger, newer Mercedes cars (like the new E-Class coupe which is a super-competent GT ) but it’s less of an issue here since most of us will agree that a roadster needs ‘real’ instruments.
Plenty of headroom and lots of adjustability means the SL will fit drivers of all shapes and sizes, and there’s also a welcome spread of cargo storage options: Door pockets, two spacious central spaces underneath the armrest, shelves behind the seats and an additional locker on the passenger’s side. 345-litres of boot space means you can fit plenty of luggage for two, and there’s a convenient automatic folding system which lifts the roof separator out of the way.
It’s probably the most refined two-seater around, with nary a hint of road and wind noise entering the cabin. With space to stretch out, and to stow things, it’s really like a dual-seat business class jet almost, thanks to the fact that the interior remains impressively silent even with the top down. That operation takes 14 seconds and works at speeds of up to 40km/h, while there’s also an automatic wind deflector as well.
All this hides the new brawn the SL 400 packs. It’s the entry level model, with the V8-powered SL 500 and SL 63 AMG above it in the range, but it replaces the SL 350 that had the old 3.5-litre, naturally aspirated V6. The new engine is the familiar twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 seen across the Mercedes range, now with 26bhp and 174Nm torque more than previously.
The more powerful turbo V6, and the new nine-speed automatic shave a whole second off the car’s 0-100km/h, now healthily in the sub-5.0 second timing bracket. The V6 delivers a startlingly loud bark when starting up, and a pleasing purr that grows into a roar. If you engage Sport+ mode the exhaust note becomes clearer and it even backfires when lifting off, but the SL is no bruiser of course.
That’s because the car isn’t particularly light, it being a large, hard-top, and having a kerb weight of 1,735kg, it’s actually heavier than an E 300 Coupe, at 1,685kg. It’s nose is a little remote, something endemic to long-prowed roadsters, and the front end loads up very heavily under braking, but you can push the SL surprisingly far before it begins to bite back, and keen drivers won’t be left hanging in the wind.
What the car does excel at, and rewards, is smooth, fast driving. Its well setup suspension irons out bumps and promotes effortless and quick pace, but not rough inputs and demands for split-second direction changes. That sort of thing is the perfect ground for the ‘Hammer’ like AMG GT sports car instead, while the SL is all about fast, tranquil and fun open-top motoring that leaves the driver with more smiles and less stress.
Considering the original ‘SL’ name was to have stood for ‘sporty’ and ‘light’, that’s evolved after half a decade or so, to become ‘super luxurious’.
Mercedes-Benz SL 400 AMG Line
Engine 2,996cc, 24V, V6, twin-turbo
Power 333bhp at 5200-6000rpm
Torque 480Nm at 1600-4000rpm
Gearbox 9-speed automatic
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100km/h 4.9 seconds
Fuel efficiency 7.7L/100km
Price $460,888 with COE
For more information flip to the CarBuyer Guide