One of the premier grand tourers on the market, the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class hardtop convertible balances impressive levels of power and performance with world-class luxury and technology. Though its styling may not suit all tastes, in nearly all other respects the SL is hard to fault.
Hard-core power junkies will want to check out the two extra-strength models in the SL lineup - the 530-horsepower SL63 AMG and the 621-horsepower SL65 AMG.
The latest in a distinguished line of roadsters that dates back to the 300SL of 1957, the SL was designed to be the ultimate expression of hedonistic athleticism, a pampering luxury machine that also happens to possess sports car levels of output and acceleration.
Ooutside, graceful long-hood/short rear-deck proportions provide a visual link to the SL's illustrious forebears, although the blunt, upright nose - a concession to European pedestrian safety regulations - and insectoid headlights blaze an unfortunate new stylistic path.
No complaints can be lodged against the cabin, which features an elegant, flowing dashboard design punctuated by circular air vents that originated on the SLS AMG Gullwing supercar. Material quality is consistently top notch, from the French-stitched leather to the generous sweep of fine wood trim extends from the center console across the dashboard into the doors.
The SL's folding hardtop, although heavy, holds many advantages over a traditional cloth roof, including better insulation, increased theft protection and a coupe-like look when raised.
Cargo space is also a strong suit for the SL, with 10.2 cubic feet available with the top up and 7.2 cubes with it lowered.
Naturally, the SL is available with a wealth of high-tech features designed to assist and delight owners.
The standard mbrace system includes a host of cloud-based goodies, including a concierge service, location-based traffic and weather updates, stolen vehicle location assistance, automatic collision notification and more. Available apps add internet browsing, Google local search with street view, Yelp reviews, Facebook access and news reports. Owners can even use an mbrance smartphone app to remotely lock, unlock or locate their SL-Class.
Mercedes' Magic Sky Control is available as an option, bringing with it a panoramic transparent folding roof that can be dimmed at the switch of a button (a normal glass roof is standard).
To make the most of the open-top experience, a FrontBass audio system utilizes otherwise wasted space in the aluminum structure ahead of the passenger footwells to serve as resonating chambers for the subwoofers. This marks the first time that an audio system has been developed with the creation of the body itself, and it opens up space in the door panels.
Meanwhile, Magic Vision Control integrates windshield washer fluid jets into the wiper arms. While that's not necessarily new technology, Mercedes-Benz says it has carefully engineered the wipers so that no excess fluid gets on the windshield or - heaven forbid - in the cabin. In addition, the wiper blades are heated for winter use.
Finally, the SL also features Hands-Free Access, which lets drivers swipe their foot under the rear bumper to pop the trunk lid when their hands are full.
Performance and Handling
Thanks largely to a bodyshell constructed from lightweight aluminum, the SL burdens the pavement with significantly less avoirdupois than its predecessors, helping both performance and fuel economy.
The base SL400 is powered by a twin-turbocharged and direct-injected 3.0-liter V6 engine that makes 329 horsepower and 354 lb-ft. of torque.
Buyers after more power can select the SL550 that boasts a 4.6-liter V8 rated at 449 horsepower and a generous 516 lb-ft. of torque. The benchmark zero-to-60 mph sprint is achieved in just 4.5 seconds, while top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.
A seven-speed automatic transmission with an eco start/stop function is standard. Fuel economy is rated at 16 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.
The SL is fitted as standard with an adaptive suspension that strikes an excellent compromise between ride comfort and handling agility, while an optional active body control system - that's Mercedes-speak for adaptive dampers - turns up the wick even further. Still, the big convertible shouldn't be confused for a dedicated sports car.
Standard and Optional Features
As is to be expected for a car commanding a six-digit price tag, the SL features a long list of standard equipment including leather upholstery, 12-way adjustable heated and active ventilated seats with pneumatic lumbar support and memory, hand-polished genuine wood trim, a rear parking camera, PARKTRONIC with active park assist, AIRSCARF neck-level heating system, a power trunk closer, a 10-speaker harman/kardon LOGIC7 surround-sound system with Dolby Digital 5.1, a six-disc CD/DVD changer, a navigation system with 40 GB of storage space and SiriusXM realtime traffic, Bluetooth smartphone connectivity, a smart key system capable of remotely operating the roof, dual zone automatic climate control and more.
The optional Driver Assistance Package brings DISTRONIC radar-based cruise control with Pre-Safe early braking, active blind spot assist and active lanekeeping assist.
The Sport Wheel Package brings 19-inch AMG five-spoke wheels and sport brakes.
Stand-alone options include "active body control" adaptive dampers, a 12-speaker, 900-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system, magic sky control and soft-close doors.
Mercedes-Benz has long been known for its safety features, and the SL will only add to that reputation. In addition to ABS and ESP stability control, the car boasts eight supplemental restraints including dual two-stage front air bags, knee airbags, head curtain airbags and thorax airbags. An automatic pop-up rollover protection system deploys roll bars to protect occupants in the event of a crash.
The standard PRESAFE brake system warns the driver in the event of an impending collision and can initiate autonomous braking if the driver fails to react, thus either preventing the accident or at least mitigating its severity. PRESAFE is also capable of activating occupant protection measures.
Additional standard safety equipment comes in the form of an "ATTENTION ASSIST" system that can alert the driver to the first signs of drowsiness, a factor that causes more than 100,000 accidents a year in the U.S.A steering sensor is coupled to smart software that uses 70 parameters to establish a unique driver profile during the first 20 minutes of driving. Between 50 and 112 mph, the system identifies the erratic steering corrections drivers make as they begin to get drowsy and triggers an audible warning and a "Time for a Rest?" message with a coffee cup icon in the instrument cluster.
Optional safety equipment includes the Lane Keeping Assist system, which alerts the driver by simulating a rumble strip vibration in the steering wheel if the car drifts from its lane without the turn signals on. Part of the Driver Assistance Package, it operates at speeds above 37 mph via a system that recognizes lane markings, thanks to a small camera in the windshield and a computer that analyzes the video images.
The Driver Assistance Package also includes Blind Spot Assist, which monitors both blind spots behind and to the side of the vehicle. Whenever a turn signal is activated with a vehicle in the blind spot, the driver gets visual and audible warnings.
The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is a serious roadster that can easily be cross-shopped with more exotic models including the Maserati GranTurismo Convertible and the Aston Martin DB9 Volante.