Mercedes-Benz SL 500

It's got technodazzle, but is the new Mercedes SL lacking something?

Price: £80,000 approx (SL 350 £72,000 approx). On sale July
Engine: 4,663cc, V8 cylinders, 32 valves, twin turbochargers, 435bhp at 5,250rpm, 516lb ft at 1,800-3,500rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 155mph, 0-62 in 4.6sec, 31.0mpg official average, CO2 212g/km

Is a Mercedes-Benz SL a sports car? In the sense that it has two seats, an open top, a long bonnet and a fair turn of speed, you could say it is. In the sense that it puts you in touch with the road, celebrates simplicity and immediacy, and that people use them in motor sport, it is not. Nor has it been for 50 years or so.

Such is not the point of a modern SL. Rather it is to be swift and luxurious, to look dramatic and to cosset its two occupants as they take in the air and the admiring glances of those they perceive as less fortunate than themselves.

The car you see here is the sixth generation of the SL line. Mercedes-Benz's current cars are heavily styled, far beyond the understated functionality once deemed sufficient, and the new SL conforms to this trend.

Its body bears many of the motifs of past SLs, such as the wide-mouthed front grille, the bulge on the bonnet and the air intake behind the front wheels with two metal strakes spearing through it. Yet, unlike the previous SL, which also had a folding metal roof in coupé-cabriolet fashion, the new one has a rear aspect that could come from any current Mercedes saloon. The "sportiness" ends at the rear edge of the doors.

The big engineering breakthrough is that its structure and panelwork are almost entirely aluminium; the weight saved means less fuel is needed. The SL 500, powered by a 4,663cc, twin-turbo V8 with a hyper-adequate 435bhp at its disposal, is claimed to average 31.0mpg on the official economy tests, while the V6-engined, 306bhp SL 350 is said to manage 41.5mpg. But a pig has just flown by my window, so don't expect to get anywhere near these figures, even if you drive like a saint.

Also new is the optional Magic Sky glass panel in the roof, which can tint itself electrochromically and ward off harmful rays. FrontBass loudspeakers lurk in the space beyond the toeboards, and an air-kick under the rear bumper will not only open the boot but also close it provided the key is on your person.

There's the option of ABC, or Active Body Control. This uses sensors to measure the movements of wheels and the forces acting on them, and "actively" moves the wheels up and down to accommodate bumps. It's an update of a system also offered in the previous SL, and it nearly ruined my relationship with the new one, because the ride comfort it is supposed to offer goes to pieces if you encounter an undulating road, made worse by the very aggressive accelerator response.

The choppy motion moves your right foot so you scorch down the road in a series of rapid bursts, caught in a loop of positive feedback. So I tried an SL 500 with normal suspension, and sanity was restored. Now I could enjoy the V8's storming performance and crackling soundtrack, flick with the paddles up and down the alert seven-speed automatic gearbox, point the nose accurately with the precise – if artificial-feeling – steering, and begin to convince myself that maybe there is some sports car in here after all.

As an open-top pleasure machine the SL works well. There is never the slightest tremor from the open-top structure: wind noise with the roof up is practically zero; and roof-down the wind rush is never so vigorous as to become wearing.

The new SL is a logical reinterpretation of the previous one, and it does all its well-heeled buyers will expect of it. But it would please more if it had fewer layers of technodazzle and more soul beneath.

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

    £40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

    £20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Broker / Purchaser

    £18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

    £18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'