Fun times, minus the mod cons
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.
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.