The cheapest way into a Mercedes SL used to be the entry-level SL350. Now, though, Mercedes has dropped the naturally aspirated V6 in the 350 in favour of an all-new turbocharged SL400.
It's fitted with a new twin-turbo 329bhp V6 petrol engine that spits out some ferocious performance figures. The 0-62mph dash takes just 5.2 seconds – 0.7 seconds less than the old SL350 could do it in.
There's only one trim level, AMG Sport, kicking off the SL range at £72,500. That price puts the SL400 in striking distance of rivals such as the BMW 6 Series Convertible and Porsche 911 Carrera 2 Cabrio.
What’s the 2014 Mercedes SL400 like to drive?
We liked this engine when we tried it in the E-Class coupe, and Mercedes' new V6 petrol continues to impress now it's been slotted into the bigger SL. There's very little turbo lag before a healthy 354lb ft of torque arrives to ensure swift, smooth progress accompanied by a rasping V6 soundtrack.
The only frustrating bit is the SL's seven-speed automatic gearbox, which even in its sharpest 'Sport' setting (one of three, the other two being 'Eco' and 'Normal') pauses slightly on downchanges. This happens even if you're using the wheel-mounted paddles, or in full automatic mode.
The SL has always been more of an open-top cruiser than an out-and-out sports car, but for a car that weighs more than 1.7 tonnes and is quite wide, the SL feels agile. Flick the adjustable dampers to their stiffer 'Sport' setting and it the handling and body control are tidy. It steers accurately, too, and conveys some information to your palms about what the tyres are doing.
At low speeds in town there's the odd shudder through the SL's body over sharped-edged potholes, but it remains generally comfortable. What the SL does better is cruising, where it feels rock steady and does a good job of controlling its body over undulating roads, or soaking up expansion joints.
The SL's cabin is a brilliant place to be on a long journey, too, because it's very well protected from both wind and road noise at a steady motorway speed, even with the metal roof folded away.
Although it meets the stricter Euro 6 emissions regulations, this new engine is not as clean as the engine it replaces, with CO2 emissions jumping from 169g/km to 178g/km, pushing the SL up one road tax band, and adding another £50 to your annual bills.
What’s the 2014 Mercedes SL400 like inside?
The SL400's cabin has a high-quality feel, with lots of double-stitched leather and metal on the dash and doors. The switches all feel premium, too – and the standard kit list includes important elements such as Mercedes' Comand infotainment and sat-nav system.
There's plenty of room for two people, and a reasonable amount of their luggage – although you'll have to squeeze the bags into a smaller area if you want to make use of the SL's beautifully engineered folding roof.
Putting down the roof takes only a few seconds, and allows you to savour the addictive crackle from the exhausts, although things can become a bit blustery unless you reach behind you and lift the mesh wind deflector into place.
On top of the infotainment system, the SL400 AMG Sport also gets Bluetooth, DAB radio, 19-inch alloy wheels, heated sports seats, xenon headlights and front and rear parking sensors as standard.
Should I buy one?
The SL400 offers increased performance, and character over the SL350 it replaces, but remains as refined as ever. As a result, it becomes our favourite version of the SL.
It might also be worth test driving a BMW 640i M Sport Convertible, which is similarly fast, well equipped and plush inside, while costing slightly less to buy. It isn't quite as sharp to drive, though and doesn't ride quite so comfortably, although it does have space for four inside.
For those who put handling before anything else, Porsche's 911 Carrera 2 Cabriolet is a far more focused open-top, but does cost nearly £10,000 more than the SL.
What Car? says…
Engine size 3.0-litre petrol
Price from £72,500
Torque 354lb ft
0-62mph 5.2 seconds
Top speed 155mph
Fuel economy 36.7mpg