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- Twin-turbo V-8's exceptional surge
- Wide but supportive seats
- Base suspension's composed ride
- Great AMG Speedshift automatic
- Active Body Control leads to passive driving?
- Less storage space behind seats
- A fresh face, but still conservative
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class isn't quite a sports car, but it's a rapid, open-air touring coupe extraordinaire.
Nearly every vehicle in the Mercedes-Benz model lineup has become a little more emphatic and expressive over the past year or two; and with the arrival of a refreshed 2017 Mercedes-Benz SL lineup, the same applies to the luxury automaker's classic two-seater.
Not quite a sports car, but a very luxurious two-seat convertible—a high-luxury roadster, some might call it—the SL functions as "the S-Class of sporty cars" by offering a whole lot of elegance and high-tech luxury conveniences to go with its seemingly effortless power and surprisingly nimble on-road manners. Today's SL is available in SL450, SL550, AMG SL63, and AMG SL65 flavors.
The portfolio has been broader in the past, but it has certainly never been better.
The SL aims at a wide range of models that bridge luxury and performance, including the elegant Jaguar F-Type, the Aston Martin DB9, and the Porsche 911 range, as well as the brutal Dodge Viper and thrilling Chevrolet Corvette. While the current model was launched for 2012, the 2017 model year has brought some significant changes, including a svelte new look and new 9-speed automatic transmissions.
We give the current model a 7.8 out of 10, with high marks for performance, comfort, and features. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Mercedes SL styling and performance
The current generation of the SL was already exuberantly wide and brash on the outside. Yet for 2017 its styling has been made even a little more emphatic, with new LED headlights, a newly shaped twin-powerdome hood, and a somewhat more upright grille. Inspiration came from the legendary 300 SL Panamericana racing car with its steeply raked radiator grille. In front there's also an A-wing design that leads to a body-color splitter that evokes the old car.
We've always thought that the current generation of the SL was at a bit of a mismatch from the rear, where the tapered look and taillights seem to come from another car or another studio entirely; although for 2017 the taillights and some of the body panels have been massaged for a more athletic look. Inside, not all that much changes for the SL with its refresh. It's already a cockpit that feels executed with precision—a touring sports-car version of business-jet air travel, perhaps, with round aviation-style vents, and a big (slightly larger this year) infotainment scree. The infotainment is integrated within the dash, rather than freestanding, as in some of the brand's newer, lower-priced models.
The vast majority of the SL lineup for 2017 gets new 9-speed automatics, although the hardly subtle top-performance AMG versions stick with a 7-speed Speedshift automatic. The 2017 SL lineup starts with the SL450, with a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 making 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. Above it, the SL550 offers a twin-turbo 4.7-liter V-8, now upgraded to 449 hp and 516 lb-ft. And at the top of the lineup, the Mercedes-AMG SL63 comes with twin-turbo 5.5-liter V-8 (577 hp and 664 lb-ft) while the SL65 gets a massive 6.0-liter twin-turbo V-12 engine churning out 621 hp and 738 lb-ft. We tend to think that the SL63 hits the sweet spot for performance and handling. The SL65 is the fastest, though; it can dash to 60 mph in just 4.0 seconds, or to a top speed of 186 mph.
The SL450 managed 20 mpg city, 28 highway, 23 combined, according to the EPA, which is a modest improvement over last year thanks to a new 9-speed. The thirstiest model is the SL65, which notches a predictably poor 13/22/16 mpg rating.
In any of its variants and versions, no matter how powerful, the SL feels far more like a grand-touring coupe than an all-out sports car. The base two-mode suspension, with or without the sport wheels and brakes, is actually our preference to the exotic and expensive Active Body Control upgrade. "Sport" mode with the base setup can feel a bit like "comfort," but the stock SL handles wide sweepers with grace. The electric power steering in the SL isn't engaging in any sports-car sense either. Although Mercedes-Benz has made some tuning adjustments in the 2017 SL, including the addition of the latest curve-tilting function to Active Body Control, so we'll update these impressions after revisiting the '17 model.
SL comfort, safety, and features
The SL's interior is a proper luxury cabin, with great room and fine fittings. Seats are wide yet supportive, and they conform snugly to a surprising range of body styles, thanks to 12-way adjustments, the most useful of which may be the bottom cushion extender. This year there's a new three-spoke, flat-bottom steering wheel, and a few of the buttons have been reconfigured. Behind the seats, there's only a tight space, wide enough for a briefcase. The trunk holds a roll-on bag or two with the roof raised, or only soft-sided bags when it's lowered.
The SL remains a retractable hardtop that can be operated at speeds of up to 25 mph. A trunk button powers the stowed roof panels up and out of the way for easier cargo loading.
All SL models come with Mercedes’ COMAND infotainment system. For 2017 the infotainment screen gets slightly larger. There's Apple CarPlay smartphone integration as part of a package, and the system offers full navigation as an option. Comfort- and safety-oriented options are really the SL's strength, though; things like Airscarf neck vents and magnificent Harman Kardon or Bang & Olufsen audio make this cabin a pleasure to spend hours and days in—as does the folding hardtop with available Magic Sky Control, which turns the roof's glass panel dark like a pair of pricey sunglasses.
On the safety front, the SL is exceptional among performance cars in that it inherits a lot of the world-class active-safety features that are given to the S-Class flagship sedan. From knee airbags to adaptive cruise control, Collision Prevention Assist Plus, radar cruise control, blind-spot monitors, and active lane control, this model is very safe on paper, but no crash-test data exists.