"The Mercedes SL is a convertible two-seater sports car with a focus on comfort over handling. It does a fantastic job of it though."
The latest Mercedes SL cabriolet is all-new. The suble styling updates hide a state-of-the-art aluminium bodyshell and a choice of two powerful V8 engines with 429bhp and 530bhp, or a 3.5-litre V6 with 302bhp. Lighter, faster and more fuel efficient than the previous model, the 2012 Mercedes SL is also sharper to drive. Equipment levels are also very impressive but be prepared to pay a high price for all this technology. The flagship model is called the SL63 AMG. It features a huge 5.5-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine that offers supercar levels of performance.
The new Mercedes SL is available in three forms, the SL350, the SL500 and the SL63 AMG. The SL350 is powered by a 3.5-litre V6, the SL500 gets a twin-turbocharged 4.7-litre V8 while the SL63 features a twin-turbocharged 5.5-litre V8. With 429bhp the SL500 feels monstrously quick and can accelerate from 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds - the 530bhp SL63 is even more powerful and can manage it in just 4.3 seconds. Despite all that power, the SL rarely feels intimidating to drive thanks to a range of smooth automatic gearboxes. Even the SL350 is a very fast car – just 1.3 seconds slower to 62mph than the SL500 – but is considerably cheaper. The SL is definitely tuned more for comfort than handling and is perfectly happy on longer journeys. If you want the last word in driving fun, go for a Porsche 911 Cabriolet or Audi R8 Spyder. If you're after a mix of Rolls-Royce ride comfort and sports car styling, the SL is worth considering.
The Mercedes SL is available with three types of suspension: standard steel springs; lowered, stiffened Sports suspension and air-sprung Active Body Control. We've tried all three and found the standard springs do the job extremely well so it may not be worth paying extra for either of the other two options. Handling is slightly better in Sport springs-equipped models and ride comfort is slightly better in ABC models. Passenger comfort is also excellent in the SL with barely any wind, road or engine noise making its way in to the cabin.
The Mercedes SL is very new so it's hard to gauge how reliable it will be. As with all recent Mercedes cars though it's likely to be a trouble free ownership experience thanks to the extensive testing that each part of the new car will have been through. Safety will be top-notch thanks to systems that warn you if you're tired, help you change lane safely and can even brake for you to prevent a collision. It hasn't yet been tested by Euro NCAP but we're expecting a five-star rating.
Folding hard-top convertibles are far from the most practical cars on the market but Mercedes has done a good job with 504 litres of boot space on offer. If you lower the roof - a process that takes 20 seconds – then there's 364 litres. To help access to the boot when the roof is down it electronically lifts out of the way when you open the bootlid. A new feature allows you to swing your foot underneath the rear bumper, which will open and close the boot should you have your hands full.
With a lighter body and more efficient engines the new SL isn't as expensive to run as its predecessors have been. Mercedes claims the SL500 can achieve 31mpg, while CO2 emissions stand at 212g/km. Amazingly, the V6-powered SL350 claims a figure of 41mpg. That's impressive given the performance available.