There’s a bloke around the corner from me who has a red 1970 Mercedes 280 SL roadster. It looks wonderful and sounds wonderful. He drove it to a Mercedes SL convention in Geneva last year. So, it’s wonderfully reliable too.
The steering wheel is enormous. The horn is a metallic hoop which is attached to the steering boss. It’s roughly the same size as a Peugeot 208 steering wheel which, if you’ve not been in the compact Pug lately, has the same dimensions as a dinner plate or medium-sized pizza.
I popped in to see him the other day because I had the latest Mercedes SL.
His car is a second generation SL, mine a brand-new seventh generation. It was good to see a few retro touches in the latest SL cabin which harked back to the 1970s. They also shared something which more recent SLs have dispensed with – a canvas roof – although this latest version is an engineering marvel and takes just 15 seconds to open and close. You can even operate the mechanism at speeds up to 45mph.
His old Mercedes doesn’t have a central touchscreen which tilts so that you can avoid reflections or being dazzled when you’ve got the roof open.
Oh and if you’re wondering from where the SL name is derived, it’s for Sport-Leicht – Sport Light.
Which is what the original SL cars were all about because they were designed to be raced rather than cruising along the Côte d'Azur.
Mind you, Leicht is something which you could never say about the latest Mercedes SL because it tips the scales at close to two tonnes. But there’s plenty of grunt under the bonnet to cope with it, because this Mercedes SL is the 55 model which sits between the entry level 381bhp 2.0 litre SL43 and top of the range SL 63. Power for both the 55 and 63 models comes from a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 which develops a very healthy 470bhp in the SL 55 which converts to a 0-60mph time of 3.9 seconds and a top speed of 183mph.
The SL 63 577bhp version is 0.3 seconds quicker to 60mph and 12mph faster. Stick with the SL 55. Both return almost exactly the same 21.5mpg. The SL 43 as you’d expect is more frugal managing into the 30s mpg… just.
And you know that when the magical AMG letters are included in a Merc’s name that the performance and handling side of things has been well and truly sorted. This is the first SL to have been launched under the direct guidance of AMG, which suggests that the ‘sport’ bit of the SL name can at least be taken literally.
Permanent all-wheel drive comes as standard with the 55 and 63 models (hence the 4MATIC addendum to the name), which has never appeared on previous Mercedes SL models, plus a small amount of rear wheel steer, all of which comes in handy when you decide to unleash the horses. Everything goes via a slick-shifting nine-speed auto ’box. The specially tuned exhaust gives you a cracking (and crackling) soundtrack. You really do need to drop the hood as frequently as possible.
Out on the open road, the SL is a delight to drive. It manages to find the happy ground between a point-to-point performance car while also being a long-legged cruiser. It’s no longer a Dallas wives show piece – this is an SL aimed at those who like to drive as well as be seen. There are numerous options when it comes to the driving characteristics. They range from cushy cruising to racetrack hooligan.
The front view and profile of the SL are very distinctive, but the rear gave a few admirers the impression that it was a Porsche sitting on my drive. You can either take that as praise or an insult. The pop-up wing gives a hint of the performance potential.
The interior is a work of art. No matter which trim level you go for, the Mercedes SL comes fully loaded. Oh and it’s a 2+2, although the rear seats are for children only. Even better, just chuck some jackets back there. The boot is tight, but you’ll squeeze in a couple of overnight bags quite easily.
After a few Mercedes SLs which didn’t hit the mark and who’d gone a bit soft and flabby (bit like a lot of the owners no doubt), this latest version is back to legendary status.
Starting price is £108,030 for the SL 43 and £147,475 for the SL 55. Add another £24k for the SL 66.
For more information, see mercedes-amg.com