by Brad Leach - 20/11/12
Does anyone make a better roadster than the Mercedes-Benz SL? We don’t think so.
While BMW would have some argument, the 650i is a soft-top and it’s more expensive.
Bottom line is ‘Benz has been at this roadster caper for more than 60 years now and they’ve honed their craft better than anyone else.
The latest Mercedes-Benz SL has hit the road lighter, better equipped, more agile and more fuel-efficient than its predecessor. Admittedly when we rang ‘Benz to secure our test car our fingers and toes were crossed for an SL 65 AMG ($466,500) but they had better ideas and suggested more Car Showroom readers would be interested in the biggest-selling variant - the entry-level 350, priced at $225,000.
Thanks to Mercedes-Benz Australia’s enhanced value strategy – which extends across the entire range – the all-new SL 350 is over $17,000 less than the superseded model.
Apart from the all-new looks, the headline-grabber for the latest generation SL is reduced weight. This is the first time Mercedes-Benz has used an all-aluminium bodyshell is a series production vehicle and the reduction is most pronounced in the SL 350 model we tested – the all-alloy shell pares 110kgs and all-up, at 1685kgs the latest Mercedes-Benz SL 350 is 140kgs lighter than its predecessor. The breakdown is fascinating: 44 per-cent cast aluminium, 17 per-cent aluminium sections, 28 per-cent aluminium sheet metal, eight per-cent steel and three pre-sent of other materials.
Suspension components are also alloy, magnesium is used for a cover behind the fuel tank but high-strength steel is used when needed for safety or strength (for example the A-pillars).
However torsional rigidity of the bodyshell is actually 20 per-cent higher than the previous model.
For the all-new range, the Mercedes-Benz SL 350 is the only model with a naturally-aspirated engine (the SL 500 and two AMG models all switching to Mercedes’ mercurial twin-turbocharged V8).
With 225kW of power at 6500rpm and peak torque of 370Nm from 3500rpm, the 3.5-litre V6 of the all-new Mercedes-Benz SL 350 is down a tad from its predecessor (232kW/360Nm). Drive is to the rear wheels via Mercedes’ superb 7G-TRONUIC PLUS automatic transmission.
Naturally enhanced fuel consumption was the focus of development. In default mode, most times the SL 350 starts in second gear (first is used full-time in ‘Sport’ mode) and auto star-stop is standard.
The result is combined cycle consumption of 8.3l/100kms (down from 10.0l/100kms in the previous generation SL 350).
Modernization of interiors is afoot right across the Mercedes-Benz passenger car range and the all-new SL is part of the story. You notice the new dashboard with circular air vents, instruments and audio systems obviously, but lots of smaller details have been changed as well (such as the control stalks).
The all-new SL is longer and wider than its predecessor and this translates into extra interior space (37mm more shoulder room and 28mm more elbow room for starters).
Big news on the audio front as well with the debut of the new Mercedes-Benz FrontBass system which fits the bass speakers in the footwell instead of the doors or under the seats. We’re not experts but Mercedes’ says the sound is crisper and less influenced when the roof is open.
Of course there’s the usual Mercedes-Benz combination of wood, black-finished metal highlights and leather. And a revised wind-blocker slots aft and between the headrests to minimize buffeting when driving with the roof down.
Luggage capacity is 504-litres with the roof closed and 364-litres when the roof is open. A clever piece of new technology helps when loading cumbersome items – with the key in your pocket you just need to wave your foot under the rear bumper and the bootlid automatically opens.
It might be all-new but the latest Mercedes-Benz SL follows the fabled footsteps of its gloriously-styled predecessors with its long bonnet/short rear-end layout. Aerodynamics naturally got particular attention and in this area the latest SL is the best yet – drag Cd just 0.27.
At the front is the now customary upright version of the hallmark Mercedes-Benz grille with the modernized three-pointed star of course prominent.
Headlights adopt the intelligent lighting system with five functions according to conditions.
Even though the windscreen was crystal clear we couldn’t wait for Mrs Car Showroom to climb into the Mercedes-Benz SL 350’s passengers’ seat with the roof down…as soon as we got to the freeway we hit the washer button. While she ducked for cover, we knew Benz’s new ‘Magic Vision Control' system was going to spray the washer fluid onto the wiper blade with not a drop heading into the cockpit – just one example of the clever engineering which abounds everywhere in the SL 350.
Naturally Benz’s 3.5-litre V6, mated to the seven-speed auto and propelling the 1685kgs SL 350 isn’t as punchy as the V8s but there’s still a good shove in the back when you get cracking and it goes about its work with the expected refinement.
Over our high-speed mountain roads test route, with the roof down on a sunny day, swapping cogs in the seven-speeder manually and with the adjustable dampers set to ‘Sport’…well it doesn’t get much better. There was a purposeful growl from the V6 when working hard and good responsiveness across the rev range.
A shift from the previous model, the latest Mercedes-Benz SL adopts lots of light weight alloy in the suspension and new electric power steering. Combine all that with the lighter body shell and there’s definitely a more engaging feel to the SL.
That means more cornering precision, less body roll and better balance.
Back in the city with the roof closed the Mercedes-Benz SL does a great job isolating those inside from the noise and bustle of the city. However we did find the suspension got a bit harsh when we encountered some poor secondary roads.
After a heavy downpour we opened the roof of our SL 350 and surprisingly some of the water ran down into the roof storage box. We probably should have waited until the roof had dried-off…a bit but curious nonetheless.
OK so this time we didn’t score the V8 AMG model but we still loved the Mercedes-Benz SL. The SL’s history back to the 1952 original is punctuated with brilliant roadsters and the latest version is no exception.
The new, athletic look inside and out - while still classic ‘Benz SL - scored points with us.
And there’s no doubt the weight reduction has paid dividends – better fuel consumption and dynamics. An SL for the new generation.
Two-seat roadsters aren’t for everyone and not everyone can stretch to north of $300K for the V8 models - in that context, the Mercedes-Benz SL 350 presents as one of the very best.
BMW has just raised the staked with the latest 650i convertible scoring the twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8. That extra grunt (300kW/600Nm for the Beemer to 225kW/370Nm for the Mercedes-Benz SL350) come at a price - $247,800 for the BMW is $22,000 more than our ‘Benz test car.
Porsche’s latest 911 Carrera Cabriolet is now north of $250K at $254,600. Of course a Porsche is a Porsche and we suspect the 911 may be a tad too racy for SL 350 buyers.
But the Audi A5 Cabriolet is certainly in the picture and at $112,900, the supercharged V6 3.0TFSI Quattro is a good buy. On the design front, we reckon the Mercedes-Benz SL 350 certainly looks more aggressive than the admittedly stylish A5 Cabrio.
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