- Twin-turbo V-8's exceptional surge
- Weight loss shows
- Wide but supportive seats
- Base suspension's composed ride
- Quick-thinking seven-speed automatic
- ABC not as easy as 1-2-3
- Less storage space behind seats
- B&O bass isn't there
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL Class feels content as a grand tourer, but it's sportier than you might expect.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL isn't a sports car, in the classic sense, but a very, very luxurious two-seat convertible that manages to blend nimble on-road behavior with a level of power suitable to a car costing $100,000 and up. To quote its engineers, the SL is "the S-Class of sporty cars," providing a unique mix of attributes that distinguish it from the elegant Jaguar XKR, the Porsche 911 range, and the brutal but undeniably fast SRT Viper.
Over its 60 years on the market, the Mercedes-Benz SL has gained power, size, and a great deal of luxury. The current model was launched for 2012, and offers a driving experience that can be more intense than the previous model--but only if the owner wants it that way.
The latest SL-Class brings a new look that's working its way back gradually to the glory days of Mercedes two-seaters. If you never cared for the bank vaults penned by Benz in the early 1990s, the exuberantly wide, brash new SL looks crisper, and more masculine. It's emphatic from the front, charming with the top down, a bit of a mismatch from the rear where the slim rear end and taillamps seem to come from another car, another studio entirely. The cockpit? It's executed with precision, drilled with aviation-style vents and implanted with a big LCD brain.
The cabin has great room and fine fittings. The chairs are wide, and for a surprising range of body types, they can be fitted snugly, thanks to 12-way adjustments, the most useful of which may be the seat extender. There's more shoulder and elbow room, but less room now behind the seats themselves, only enough for a slim briefcase. The trunk holds a roll-on bag or two with the roof raised, or only soft-sided bags when it's lowered, though a trunk button powers the roof panels up and out of the way for slightly easier cargo loading.
The standard engine is now a twin-turbo V-8 of 4.7 liters that delivers oodles of torque--516 lb-ft--and snappy responsiveness from its 429 horsepower. It accelerates faster to 60 mph, cutting almost a second from the old SL 550's time and hitting the magic number in 4.5 seconds. The combination of a downsized engine, seven-speed automatic, and stop/start system also manages to earn a 20-mpg combined EPA fuel economy rating. Top speed for the U.S. is limited to a relaxed 130 mph.
The SL 63 AMG is a step up from the SL 550, and it's a big step as it makes this luxury roadster feel more serious about the performance promises built into its the racy roadster bodywork. The brawny, 530-horsepower twin-turbo AMG-built V-8 and special wet-clutch seven-speed AMG automatic transmission get you to 60 mph in a scorching 4.5 seconds, and with a $9,000 Performance Package you get up to 557 hp and 664 pound-feet, with a top speed bumped to 186 mph and 0-60 lowered to 3.9 seconds.
And if that's not enough, you can step up to the $209k SL 65 AMG and its twin-turbo V-12 and seven-speed automatic transmission, making a mammoth 738 pound-feet of torque. There's plenty of acceleration on hand, and what feels like more grip. Still, we're happier with the SL's base two-mode suspension, with or without the sport wheels and brakes, than with the exotic and expensive Active Body Control upgrade. A composed tourer with a "sport" mode that feels more like "comfort," the stock SL handles wide sweepers with grace, and a fair amount of body roll. The SL's electric power steering doesn't offer up much in the way of feedback, and quickens the further it moves off-center, which makes for some uneven transitions. Human brains can handle that much data, but adding on the active suspension feels like overload. The ride flattens out as promised, but adds another complex handling dimension that's not as linear or as predictable as a more conventional setup.
As usual, neither safety agency has crashed an SL roadster, but all the latest safety tech is available, everything from Bluetooth to knee airbags to adaptive cruise control. Attention Assist--the digital coffee-cup warning--is standard, and for more than a hundy, we think the rearview camera should be as well. It's bundled in a safety option package along with parking sensors and parking assist, which dials the SL into a tight spot for you, while you manage only the brake.
The new SL's impressive creature comforts include Airscarf neck vents and the folding hardtop, and Magic Sky Control, which turns the roof's glass panel dark like a pair of pricey sunglasses. A Bang & Olufsen sound system can replace the standard Harman/Kardon setup, but we're not sold on its bass response or its huge price tag. All SL models also come with Mercedes’ COMAND infotainment system, which includes a 7-inch display screen, a DVD changer, Web browsing with Google search functionality, and navigation.
Prices start at $106,375--and range up to the SL 65 AMG at $209,000 or so--and that's before options. That's one reason this is the "S-Class of sporty cars."