Among all the models that are in Mercedes-Benz’s line-up today, there’s none that can boast a past that’s as illustrious as the SL’s. In fact, when you look back at the history of grand tourers, there aren’t many names that evoke the same gravity and respect that the 300 Super Light from 1951 and the road-going 300 SL Gullwing from 1954 do. The latter was not just an iconic GT. With a 215bhp 3.0-litre straight six under its expansive bonnet, it was a brilliant supercar. And one of the handsomest, too.
So the R231 SL, which was launched in 2012, and was recently given a mid-cycle facelift, has a lot to live up to. Well at least on the visual front, the current SL, despite updates to the bonnet, grille, front bumper and headlights, doesn’t match the grace and elegance of its long line of eminent predecessors. Leaving comparisons with its forebears aside, the SL looks good with the hard-top on, but the overall stance becomes a bit awkward with the roof down, especially viewed from the rear.
But considering the way designs of Mercedes-Benz cars have evolved over the recent years, I’m pretty sure the next-generation SL will hark back to the nameplate’s glory days.
Open the door and slide in, and you’re enveloped by the kind of plushness that you won’t see in any other Merc this side of the S-Class. Although the design and layout look a bit dated in comparison with other new Mercs, there’s an abundance of space for two, with the large, highly supportive seats offering umpteen electric adjustment options. The Designo leather interior trim, the Magic Sky Control glass roof that lets you control the amount of light that is let in, and the general level of refinement and workmanship make the SL’s cabin a highly congenial place to be in. There’s no other GT available today that will keep you as comfortable and fatigue-free as the SL does, even after a long journey across the country. The metal folding roof can be lowered or raised in less than 20 seconds up to speeds of 40kph. When it’s up, the cabin insulation is flawless, with minimal road or wind noise trickling in. But what’s most impressive is how the SL manages to keep wind out of its cabin with the roof down, even at highway speeds. Although folding the hard-top back reduces room from the boot, it still leaves 364 litres of cargo space. With the roof up, this increases to an impressive 504 litres.
Our tester, which is the SL 400, is powered by the new 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine, good for 362bhp and a dash from 0-100kph in less than five seconds. It comes mated to Stuttgart’s latest nine-speed automatic gearbox, which slurs through the ratios in Comfort mode, only showing a bit of aggression in the Sport and Sport Plus modes. In the last two settings, the V6 lets out a distinctive burble, but in the former drive mode, it is quiet and smooth. However, in the sportiest mode it betrays its luxury-oriented engineering, struggling at times to keep its composure when driven fast around bends. But considering its relatively large dimensions, it does a decent job. Just don’t expect the same level of involvement you’d get from cars like the Porsche 911 or the Jaguar F-Type. This is a completely different sort of automobile. While many previous SLs straddled GT and sportscar territories, this one is a pure grand tourer.
Overall, the SL remains one of the most comfortable, discreet, and refined GTs on sale today. It’s brilliant in a straight line and on highway cruises, and handles enthusiastic driving pretty well. Superbly built, it remains a point of reference for two-seater GTs.