Mercedes SL-Class cabriolet (2003-2011)
- Stylish, and comparatively practical
- All are fast and comfortable
- Surprisingly practical for a two-seat sports car
- Steep running costs
- Rivals offer a more interesting drive
- Starting to feel its age
"Glamorous, comfortable, safe and fast; open or closed the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class has it all.”
The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is a glamorous sports car with a pedigree that most rivals can only dream of. Long the choice of the glitterati, the SL manages to mix the best of a coupe, Grand Tourer and convertible into a single package. No version is slow, but the AMG and V12 SL 600 are ridiculously rapid. The SL is fast, but it doesn't quite offer the precision of pure sports cars like Porsche's 911, but then no rivals can match the all-round ability of the SL. Despite being among the oldest models in the Mercedes-Benz range, it's still one of the best.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Don't expect the SL to be cheap to run... Resale vales are strong
As a premium sports car, the SL is understandably going to be an expensive vehicle to run. All versions are in insurance group 50, while servicing won’t be cheap on any. The AMG models and the SL 600 will be notably more expensive to run, not least because they have average fuel economy of about 20mpg - and that’s optimistic. The SL 500 manages around 24mpg and the V6 SL 300 and SL 350 models return 30.4- and 29.1mpg respectively. All models hold their value well, but the smaller engined examples are better thanks to their lower running costs.
Engines, drive & performance
Top specification cars are Ferrari fast
With its low-slung, laid back driving position, the SL feels like a sports car behind the wheel. Press the accelerator hard on even the SL 300 and it accelerates like one, with the entry-level model accelerating from 0-62mph in just 7.8 seconds. The SL 350 betters that with its 6.2 seconds, though the AMG and V12s deliver low four-second 0-62mph times. That’s Ferrari fast. All but the SL 600 get seven-speed automatic transmissions, which shifts smoothly most of the time - though occasionally stumbles over changes if you hesitate with the accelerator. You can change gears yourself via wheel-mounted paddle-shifters, but the overriding impression is that the electronics still dictate the gear selection. The AMG models sound glorious, though any engine delivers a pleasingly rousing sporting sound if you rev them hard. The steering is accurate and the Active Body Control suspension (which is fitted to the SL 500 model and above) manages to balance comfort and control very well.
Interior & comfort
With the roof in place, the cabin is quiet and the ride is comfortable
The seats are firm and supportive; they’re heated and electrically adjusted too, and you can opt for a neck warming 'Airscarf' that blows hot air over your shoulders. You can also specify massaging chairs. The cabin is nicely finished and comfort is excellent. Naturally it’s noisier when the roof is down, but raise the wind deflector and the interior remains largely draught-free. The engines are all quiet at normal speeds, but up the pace and they make the right kind of sporting sound - the AMG V8 and V12s in particular.
Practicality & boot space
There’s a handy shelf for bags behind the front seats
The SL is a two-seat roadster, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely compromised as a daily driver. Indeed, it’s more practical than most cars of its type. The boot is large if the roof is up, and when it’s down there’s still reasonable space. A button lifts the folded roof up to give access to the luggage area. Behind the seats there’s a handy shelf for bags and some lidded compartments. Likewise there’s a decently-sized glovebox, covered door pockets and a small compartment for oddments in between the seats.
Reliability & safety
The SL comes with airbags, electronic stability and traction control
The SL is one of the oldest models in the Mercedes-Benz line up, but the interior still feels classy. Some of the controls lack the ease of use of Mercedes’ newer models, though. Safety is always a priority with Mercedes, and the SL comes with airbags, electronic stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, a tyre pressure loss warning system and an automatic pop-up rollover bar. Reliability is excellent, with Mercedes-Benz consistently scoring well in the Driver Power survey.
Price, value for money & options
The SL is expensive, but it is well equipped
With no model priced below £60,000 - and the range-topping ones costing more than double that - the SL isn’t cheap. However, it does come very well specified as standard, and few cars can offer its well-rounded performance and ability.