The Mercedes-Benz SL is possibly the most famous sports convertible in the world. With a history beginning in 1954 with the stunning 300 SL Gullwing, which was followed by achingly beautiful SL examples thereafter, Merc’s SL (which usually sees immensely long production life cycles) was refreshed late last year.
With the make-over comes a new engine line-up and Merc’s new design strategy. So how does everything come together?
Well, the design element sure is intriguing. The friendlier face takes some getting used to, and the gold-painted SL500 I tested ﾖ which was fitted with the optional AMG sports package ﾖ wasn’t particularly my cup of tea. I got used to the colour, yes, but a white, silver, black or chocolate brown hue would have gone down far better I think.
I’ll also state that the AMG pack is a must-have, the standard body design being a bit weak for a car as meaty as the new SL. The large, doe-eyed headlights also take some getting used to, as do the lengthy and angular tail lights. In fact, this car’s bum is a bit of a problem for me. It’s long and tapered and honestly looks like something you’d find on an American car. It’s, quite simply, fat.
The interior is a lot more familiar of course, and anyone who has taken a seat in the new SLK or an SLS will feel instantly at home. I like it ﾖ a mix of leather, carbon fibre, chrome detailing and accented stitching exudes class and style. The cabin is also a fabulous place to be when the roof is down.
The folding metal roof, which I think is the quietest electric folding metal arrangement in the world ﾖ being completely silent besides a few latches doing their thing ﾖ tucks away neatly into the boot. With a smart electrically-operated wind deflector, which rises from behind the head rests in its place, and the windows up, wind intrusion is really minimal. You also get the fancy AIRSCARF system which warms your neck, so roof-down driving in winter is entirely possible.
Said boot is also rather clever. With electronic lid operation, the folded roof is automatically raised (still in its folded position) when the boot is opened so as to make boot access easier. And the luggage capacity with the roof down isn’t bad; the SL swallowing my large suitcase with ease while still allowing space for another, smaller bag. Of course, with the roof up, luggage space is great.
Importantly, the new SL model range has been restructured and represents a simple line-up. The SL500 in question serves as the baby of the range, dwarfed by big brothers SL63 AMG and SL65 AMG. That’s all good and well, because it means the SL isn’t available with a ‘wheezy’ engine like the old normally-aspirated SL350 was. However, it also means that the cheapest SL is bloody expensive. And you can understand why ﾖ under the long bonnet sits a 4.7-litre twin-turbocharged V8 petrol engine.
With Merc’s 7G-TRONIC seven-speed single-clutch automatic gearbox sitting between the engine and the rear wheels, a massive 320 kW and 700 Nm are shoved to the tar ﾖ or at least that’s the idea. This car has the same amount of torque as the E63 AMG and that means the traction control is constantly fighting with your right foot. Turn it off and you’d better pick a comfortable wall to crash into, unless you have the reflexes of an Asian ping pong champion. This car, she bites. She’s also rather quick ﾖ 0 to 100 km/h is dispatched in just 4.6 seconds and top speed is limited to 250 km/h.
That said, the SL500 is stunning as a cruiser rather than a bruiser. It gathers speed like there’s no tomorrow and it sounds absolutely glorious. When the roof is down, and with the optional Bang & Olufsen up-rated sound system fitted, it provides an in-car entertainment experience to rival a Lady Gaga concert. Ride is compliant, gear changes are smooth and when you eventually do feel like setting your hair on fire, a simple flick into manual mode unleashes all of the engine’s fury in a cacophony of thunder and speed.
So, what’s the verdict? It’s fairly pretty, gorgeous to drive, goes like the clappers and makes you feel like a queen. With the AMG paraphernalia, the new SL500 costs R1 725 107. And that’s before you’ve gone for any options. This presents a few problems, however.
For less money than the two-seater Merc, you could have the BMW M6 Convertible (which has an extra set of seats), the Audi R8 Spyder quattro or the new Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet PDK. Or, if you’re like me and prefer a bit of theatre when you drive, you could spend a little more and go for either the Maserati GranCabrio Sport (the loudest car on the planet and guaranteed to give you an erection) or the utterly stunning Jaguar XKR-S Convertible, which you would have seen me in at last year’s Joburg Pride.
The new SL500 is such a glorious car to drive and I have no doubt that owning it would be a Cloud Nine experience. But I’d rather have the Jag or the Maser. Not only do their badges give you a lot more cred and pomp, but you’ll turn far more heads in traffic.