Lean, mean machine
Elegant roadster is impressive and practical
Mercedes’ SL has parlayed past motorsport glamour into a nameplate that blends performance and luxury. This generation aims to return to a more dynamic past without compromising the luxury and specifications demanded by its well-heeled buyers. Extensive use of aluminium helped trim weight – the body in white is 25 per cent lighter than a steel equivalent, and 20 per cent stiffer. Even the wheel nuts are lighter. I drove the car in England as it was launched Down Under, Britain’s autumn weather about line-ball with our spring, chilly winds, drizzle, and flashes of sunshine underlining how flexible is the current breed of hard-top convertibles. Roof down, heated seats, an ‘‘air scarf’’ and a wind-break that rises behind the seats mean you’re comfy in even chilly conditions, while the roof lifts (and drops) fairly quickly if it does start to rain. The result is every millimetre the elegant cabrio, and one with the sleekly aggressive lines to suit this 4.7-litre 320kW/700Nm V8 engine. Now much more fuel efficient and with power and torque boosted by twin turbo chargers, it spins the rear rubber via a seven-speed auto transmission. And boy, can it spin rubber, with brain-bending acceleration on tap along with a sufficiently aggressive soundtrack – yet the SL also delivers refined cruising when required. British back roads are as bendy and bumpy as the worst New Zealand has to offer and often narrower, yet the car’s multi-link chassis with adaptive dampers delivered both reasonably comfy ride and assured handling under the conditions we encountered.
With the lean, mean lines of a mako shark, this SL’s looks live up to that mighty engine. And so did the spacious cabin of our test car, lavished in red and black leather accented in brushed metal and with enough storage for a long road trip, despite the lack of back seats. For this elegant roadster is moderately practical, too. Dropping the roof cuts luggage space from 504 to 364 litres, but there’s plenty of space left, especially if you load with the roof up before lowering the luggage cover that must be clicked into place for the roof to operate. Beneath it I found space for a two-storey doll’s house and a model farm, plus enough luggage for an active weekend with the house’s new owners. Also impressive were the gizmos – the wipers that squirt water ahead of the blade, and the glass roof that turns transparent or opaque.
Mercedes New Zealand has opted for the fire-breathing 500 as Kiwi buyers tend to opt for a new model’s hero cars. The smaller-engined entrylevel 350 is under consideration.
That Mercedes ticks so many boxes. The SL is a comfortable, luxurious GT with a rapid turn of speed and sufficient cornering abilities to let your hair down. Yet it also boasts a luxuriously cosseting environment for every day, and it’s more practical than expected from a two-door two-seat cabrio, as confirmed by around 800 fully-laden test kilometres.
Not quite as agile as some, judging by our Brit back-road jaunts.
Mercedes SL: With the lean, mean lines of amako shark, this SL’s looks live up to that mighty engine.