It’s difficult to call a $229,000 car the base model with a clear conscience.
‘Entry-level’ doesn’t quite sit right either. So let’s go with ‘introductory’, as in, the SL400 is the new introductory model to Mercedes-Benz’s flagship roadster range, replacing the SL350.
And with its passing goes the last bastion of Mercedes-Benz naming logic, for the SL350’s 3.5-litre V6 has not been replaced with a 4.0-litre engine, but a 3.0-litre V6 with twin turbochargers.
From an experiential standpoint, however, the greater number makes sense, as the new engine offers more power (20kW), more torque (110Nm), and more speed (0-100km/h in 5.2 seconds, a 0.7 second improvement), while cutting claimed fuel consumption from 8.3L to 7.3L/100km.
Obviously, it lacks the outrageous grunt of its AMG-badged siblings, but at 1655kg the all-alloy SL400 is much lighter than you’d think and its 245kW and 480Nm do a fine job of motivating it in most circumstances.
The SL legend was built on six-cylinder powerplants – original 300SL Gullwing, W113 280SL – and this new engine upholds that tradition with heaps of torque, a keenness to rev and a mellifluous V6 howl. Lovely.
Quick, accurate steering endows the SL with an agility that belies its size and the chassis is balanced and playful, at least within the constraints of the ESP system, which always keeps a watchful eye on proceedings even when ‘off’. Unfortunately, the SL’s severe dislike of mid-corner bumps does take the sheen off its handling abilities somewhat.
So few of these cars will be driven enthusiastically that most owners will probably never encounter it, but SL does stand for ‘Sport Light’, so surely a high level of handling sophistication isn’t asking too much?
The issues don’t end there. While the SL’s primary ride – larger bumps and so on – is suitably wafty, it constantly fidgets over smaller imperfections like a bored toddler. Perhaps the 30-profile tyres of our test car were to blame, but it falls short of the level of comfort you’d expect from a luxury grand tourer.
It is very quiet, though, which makes it a relaxing cruiser on smooth roads. It also feels well put together, but with its tiny screen, myriad buttons and clumsy multimedia interface, the SL’s interior feels very much ‘then’ rather than ‘now’ when compared to the sublime execution of Mercedes Benz’s latest interiors – have a look at the new S-Class Coupe, for example.
Bar its excellent new engine, the SL feels like a car nearing the end of its life cycle, which despite being barely three years old, it is. An all-new model is due in late-2016/early-2017, and based on Benz’s recent output, there’s every reason to believe it’ll be a big improvement on the current car.
Then again, if it’s to reclaim its position as king of the luxury hill, it’ll need to be.
3 out of 5 stars
Engine: 2996cc V6, DOHC, 24v, twin-turbo
Power: 245kW @ 5250-6000rpm
Torque: 480Nm @ 1600-4000rpm
0-100km/h: 5.2sec (claimed)
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