TEST DRIVE | 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL Range
The Mercedes SL has been one of my favourite cars since I was a boy, so I was looking forward to experiencing the latest model.
The 3.5-litre V6 in this SL350 is smooth, almost turbine-like, and quick once it gets going. It is eager to rev, responsive in all driving modes and really a fine engine all round. Economical too (around 36mpg real world) at motorway cruising speeds.
The 7G+ gearbox is mostly excellent. Superbly smooth and quick on up shifts but clunky on some downshifts. That could be because the V6 is just not quick enough to rev up, making the matching of gear and engine speed poor, leading to a slight jerk. Eco mode is sluggish and lazy, like a teenager in the morning. Sport mode certainly solves this though.
The SL is a big car. But it’s pointy and agile, even taking account of its size. After more driving and ‘experimenting’, I found you can really chuck this car in and out of corners. It flows well and is fluid on fast A-roads and absorbs bumps beautifully. I had a surprisingly fun time with it on the A and B-roads of Essex.
When closing and opening the roof, it thunks and clunks in a way that only a German car can, almost as if to let you know it’s locked closed or sprung open. But this detracts from the calm and well-engineered impression that it gives generally. I expected Mercedes to do better, but I’ll remain optimistic and say perhaps the test car’s roof needed adjustment.
Roof up it’s very refined, but this car had covered 2,500 miles and there was already an annoying creak which I couldn’t quite locate. Worrying, and not acceptable for Mercedes’ flagship roadster.
Roof down, wind deflector deployed and windows up, the cabin is well protected. Not as calm as a Porsche 911 Cabriolet though, but much better than most others.
The Nappa leather covered seats are comfortable and armchair-like (they are obviously designed for large Germans!). The optional dynamic massage seats can be had for £1,725. I imagine it would be quite enjoyable to have the heated seats massaging your rear on a crisp winter morning.
While the interior is mostly well built and solid, and the design is functional and looks OK, the disappointment is that the interior does not have that bank vault depth of solidity and indestructibility that a flagship Mercedes should have. Perhaps I’ve just been spoilt by recently driving the new S-Class (you can read my review of it HERE) and now I judge everything by that, but the metal-look plastic seat controls are flimsy, cheap and nasty.
As time passes, I have grown to like the looks of the new SL. Yes, it’s a bit ungainly with the enormous rear overhang. However, it is one of the few modern Mercs with a relatively clean design without too many styling ‘features’ and unnecessary lumps and bumps here and there. I do like the high bonnet and the double fins on each side, it felt good looking past them on the road.
Colour and interior choices on the SL are quite limited, conservative and mostly unimaginative, unless of course you go AMG (from £112,500)! Customers spending lots of money on an SL want choice, not the very plain and restricted palette on offer; perhaps this contributes to the low sales volumes?
Go for the SL350 rather than the SL500, and you’ll save just under £11,000. But as the only difference between the two is the engine (3.5-V6 vs. 4.7-V8), the SL350 could be a bargain – if you can call £72,495 a bargain.
To sum up, the car feels well developed (with some exceptions noted above), it handles with aplomb and grace in most driving situations, rides like a Mercedes should and goes well, even with the ‘smallest’ engine. I came away liking it much more than I had anticipated. It has hidden talents and is a car I could enjoy owning. I am genuinely surprised that there are so few on the roads.