Fun times, mi­nus the mod cons

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

A DATED in­te­rior de­tracts from the fun­da­men­tal fun that can be had be­hind the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz SL400.

When you’re pay­ing close to a quar­ter of a mil­lion you ex­pect all the bells and whis­tles, even if you are in­vest­ing in the base model in the range.

In terms of fun fac­tor and per­for­mance the SL400 de­liv­ers, with a creamy twin­turbo V6 en­gine matched to a nine-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion that punches the two-seat hard­top along at more than rea­son­able pace.

But any E-Class own­ers who peer in the win­dow of an SL400 will be smirk­ing that their bar­gain buy has more tech and a big­ger and brighter in­fo­tain­ment screen. The de­fault kit in the SL — and there’s plenty of it — was state of the art in 2012. Fast for­ward four years and it is start­ing to age, es­pe­cially at this price.

That is sim­ply be­cause telem­at­ics im­prove­ment is out­pac­ing car­mak­ers’ abil­ity to adapt dur­ing mid-life up­dates and it will pose a prob­lem for all of the top-end play­ers.

The facelifted SL still picks up a slew of the lat­est safety gear, from adap­tive cruise con­trol to ac­tive blind-spot and lane-keep­ing and au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing.

The new driv­e­train is typ­i­cally poised, though the nine-speed auto can clunk when down­shift­ing just af­ter start-up. Un­der light and mod­er­ate throt­tle the shifts are smooth and there’s de­cent shove in the seat when it up­shifts un­der full power. Adap­tive damp­ing gov­erns the sus­pen­sion com­pli­ance, with com­fort, sport and sport-plus set­tings pro­gres­sively stiff­en­ing up through cor­ners. In the de­fault com­fort set­ting lit­tle up­sets the SL’s com­po­sure, though small, sharp-edged pot­holes and ridges can be felt at low speeds.

Open it up on the back roads and the SL400 rolls over rip­ples and ruts alike with­out in­trud­ing on the seren­ity. Push harder and the nose wants to keep go­ing straight on when you reach the cor­ner apex. Care­ful ap­pli­ca­tion of the throt­tle coun­ters the trait but also high­lights the SL is in­tended to tra­verse big dis­tances in style and com­fort rather than at break­neck speeds.

And with a hard­top like this, you’ll want to take your time. There is vir­tu­ally no wind in­tru­sion in the cabin with the roof down, ir­re­spec­tive of the wind’s di­rec­tion. Toss in the neck-warm­ing airscarf ven­ti­la­tion and heated front seats and rain is the only ex­cuse for not go­ing top down. Ob­vi­ous ri­vals in­clude the Jaguar F-Type, Porsche 911 and BMW 6 Se­ries. The first two have a more sport­ing fo­cus while the BMW is even more cruiser-ori­ented than the Benz.

VER­DICT

The SL is a sub­lime open-top cruiser that fol­lows tra­di­tion in be­ing more grand tourer than sports car. Trou­ble is the op­po­si­tion now has ve­hi­cles ca­pa­ble of per­form­ing both roles, which — along with the dated cabin — puts the SL be­hind the lead­ers.

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