2012 Mercedes SL500 reviewed

  • Lighter, faster and more efficient...
  • ...than the car it replaces
  • Price £85,000(est); on sale July
This is the all-new Mercedes SL, the sixth generation of the car, and a glamorous two-seater, just as its predecessor was.

For all its resemblance to the outgoing model, though, it could hardly be more different: this incarnation is lighter, faster and more economical, as well as packed with new technology.

Its weight loss is down to its aluminium construction – a first for a Mercedes production car – but what hasn’t changed is that the SL still comes with three engines: a 3.5-litre V6 in the SL350, a 4.7-litre V8 in the SL500, and a twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8 in the AMG version. Better still, every one is quicker and more economical than the equivalent model in the outgoing range.

As is traditional in the SL, this new model also features some ground-breaking features, such as the optional ‘Magic Sky Control’ roof, which switches from transparent to opaque. There's also Magic Vision Control, which sprays water onto the screen just ahead of wiper blade.

The two ‘basic’ versions will go on sale in the UK in July, with the high-performance AMG model arriving a couple of months later.

What’s the 2012 Mercedes SL like to drive?
There’s no faulting the acceleration of the SL500 we drove; it's capable of blasting from 0-60mph in just 4.6 seconds, which is as quick as the AMG version of the outgoing car. Yet, thanks to the sheer strength of the bi-turbo engine across the full rev range, there are no compromises for such pace: it glides through urban traffic with just a gentle flex of the right foot, yet provides blistering overtaking power.

One of the few disappointments is that the automatic gearbox can occasionally be a little slow to kickdown. For most of the time, though, it swaps between its seven ratios smoothly.

The cabin is a refined place to spend time, whether the roof is up or down. With the roof in place, it’s as quiet as a bespoke coupe inside; the only sound you hear is some wind noise from around the frameless windows, and that’s only obvious because there’s so little noise from anywhere else.

Drop the roof, and only passengers over six feet tall will find their heads in the airflow. Otherwise, with the windows up and the draught excluder raised, the buffeting is well controlled. You can happily drive for some way – and at some speed – with the roof down.

The SL is at its best as a high-speed grand tourer. It happily devours the miles on main roads, displaying well-balanced handling and providing plenty of grip through sweeping bends.

The ride proved surprisingly comfortable on our test drive, but there’s no doubt that British roads will pose a far sterner test than the super-smooth Spanish roads where we sampled the SL.

Its speed-sensitive steering is light at city-traffic speeds, but well weighted and accurate at higher speeds. It imparts great confidence in the driver, and allows you to place the car on the road with real accuracy.

It's only on tighter, twistier roads that the car’s size and bulk count against it. It doesn’t have the agile responses of a genuine sports car, and you can feel car’s weight shift as you corner, brake and accelerate.

Nevertheless, this remains a classy car to drive, and one which almost perfectly fulfils the GT brief.

What’s the 2012 Mercedes SL like inside?
The SL is every bit as classy inside as it is to drive, with much – including the circular air vents – borrowed from the SLS supercar. The dashboard and centre console are sculpted to wrap around the occupants, but it’s far from confined; on the contrary, it feels very comfortable and refined.

There’s plenty of legroom, and both seats have a huge range of adjustments, so pretty much anyone can get comfortable. Even with the roof up, there’s plenty of headroom.

It’s even a fairly practical car, with reasonable stowage in the cabin, and a boot that will take two people’s luggage, even with the roof stowed.

Music-lovers will also appreciate the ‘Frontbass’ system that uses the space in the car’s structure behind the footwells for the bass speakers. It gives superb sound quality on the move, even with the roof down at high speed.

Should I buy a 2012 Mercedes SL?
Mercedes is yet to confirm specifications for the new SL in the UK, but they have said that it will be a little dearer than the model it replaces. There’s also little doubt that the car will come well equipped, with some amazing features available as options.

For all the new technology, though, what really matters is that the SL remains a good old-fashioned grand tourer – which is certainly worth a look if you’re in the market for that sort of car.

Rivals:
Jaguar XK Convertible
Porsche 911 Cabriolet review

What Car? says…


Andy Pringle

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