Mercedes-Benz SL review
The Merc SL is 60 this year. Good time for an all-new version then.
Kyle Fortune
Kyle Fortune

Published on April 4, 2012

Overall rating: 4/5

Aluminium construction sheds 140kg from all-new SL to deliver greater economy and performance in Mercedes' consummate all-round roadster.

In the metal 4/5

The metal here is aluminium, Mercedes-Benz using it almost exclusively in the SL's construction to achieve the combined goals of improved performance, greater economy and increased strength. It's worked too looking at the SL's impressive stats. What's not so immediately impressive though is the SL's shape. From some angles it's chiselled and assertive, while from others it looks a bit amorphous - the rear wings being rather shapeless. It's definitely a car of two halves, the front being sharp, the back less so. That's more pronounced when the roof is down, the SL's shape arguably more cohesive as a whole when the folding roof is up. That top can be had in a standard painted finish, with panoramic glass or panoramic with Magic Sky Control - glass that can be darkened.

Inside it's business as usual for Mercedes-Benz, with familiar finishes and controls, all beautifully built and sensibly laid out. The Comand system containing entertainment, satnav and car settings is now connected to the internet, which Mercedes has developed apps for.

Driving it 4/5

The SL has always been an adept all-rounder and the new car is no different. As standard it comes with semi-active adjustable suspension, though it can be specified with ABC (Active Body Control) air suspension and additionally with sports suspension and the AMG Sports Package. It rides beautifully in any configuration - the standard set up certainly no poor relation to the ABC system - the SL's ability to smother poor surfaces being very impressive. Some of that is admittedly at the expense of control, the SL never feeling roll-free or settled in faster bends as its more sporting rivals - nor is the steering particularly rich on information. That trade off is arguably worth it for the SL's intended audience, who are more likely to covet the SL's supple ride rather than outright agility.

The twin-turbo V8's ability to accelerate the SL 500 to 100km/h in just 4.6 seconds is almost incidental then, as buyers are unlikely ever to be mashing the pedal to the floor and seeking out a testing road. No, the engine's mighty torque, combined with a relatively lazy seven-speed automatic, means you can waft around commandingly in your SL assured that you've the firepower to swiftly escape the riff-raff at the traffic lights. You might just want to extend that V8 up into its upper reaches once in a while though, just to hear it. From its near silent idle the 4.7-litre V8 finds its voice at the upper revs, with a classic V8 roar enhanced by a delightfully guttural exhaust note.

Roof up or down overall refinement levels are high. It's relatively draught free with the roof down and coupé-quiet with it up. It all adds to the SL's ability as an accomplished all-rounder, it both an impressive GT car with some sporting ability in reserve.

What you get for your money 4/5

Though Irish specifications have yet to be released in standard guise you are likely to get that semi-active suspension, a leather interior, gearshift paddles, climate control, cruise control and all the highly clever safety equipment you'd expect from a 'Benz. SL debuts include Magic Vision Control - a neat wash-wipe system that applies fluid directly before the sweep of the wiper blade - and a hands-free boot access system using a foot movement in the vicinity of the rear bumper. Pricing and equipment levels haven't been finalised yet, but if recent form is followed expect the new car to cost less than the outgoing model yet come with significantly enhanced specification.

Worth Noting

The SL's weight reduction not only increases agility and performance but improves economy, too. Despite its prodigious power the 4.7-litre twin-turbo V8 engine can deliver 31.0mpg (9.1 litres/100km) and 212g/km CO2 on the combined cycle - that assisted by the standard fitment of a stop-start system.


The Mercedes-Benz SL remains true to its recent history as a hugely capable roadster combining GT elements with enough sporting ability to keep all but its most focused rivals honest. As a package it's difficult to fault, being fast, economical and capable, though for all its talent it does lack that final frisson of excitement delivered by much of its competition. Despite that it's a car that's impossible not to admire - and largely in a class of its very own.


Tech Specs

Model testedMercedes-Benz SL 500
Engine4.7-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol
Transmissionseven-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Body styleroadster
RivalsBMW 650i Convertible, Maserati GranCabrio, Porsche 911 Cabriolet
CO2 emissions212g/km (Band F, €1,129 per annum)
Combined economy31.0mpg (9.1 litres/100km)
Top speed250km/h (limited)
0-100km/h4.6 seconds
Power435hp at 5,250rpm
Torque700Nm at 1,800-3,500rpm