2016 Mercedes-Benz SL 400 review

Mercedes-Benz has given its flagship open-top SL a mild mid-life facelift. We've driven the entry-level 400 model in the UK for the first time...

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What Car? team
12 May 2016 11:57 | Last updated: 14 Jun 2018 00:03

Unless you see Mercedes' facelifted SL from the front, there’s not too much to give away the fact that the company has given its flagship two-seat SL roadster a mid-life makeover.

Most of the exterior of this aluminium-bodied car - which typically has a lengthy life-cycle by Mercedes' standards - has been unchanged, but the tweaks up front help the car fit more closely with the rest of the current Mercedes line-up.

There are – as before – four models, of which this SL 400 is the entry point. The 400 moniker is a little misleading because the name doesn't relate to the engine size; this 400 is actually a 3.0-litre twin turbocharged V6. There’s also a 4.6-litre V8 500 model, and two AMG models: the V8 63 and V12 65.

2016 Mercedes-Benz SL 400 review

What's the 2016 Mercedes-Benz SL400 like to drive?

Changes to the SL 400’s V6 engine give it an extra 35bhp over the one it replaces, but the more significant thing about it is that it’s now mated to a nine-speed, rather than a seven-speed, automatic gearbox.

The top gears are quite leggy, which helps to keep CO2 emissions down and means the SL 400 doesn't sit in the top benefit-in-kind (BIK) company car tax bracket, even though it can complete the 0-62mph sprint in just 4.9sec. However, you’ll struggle to match the claimed economy of 36.7mpg in the real world.

Chasing claimed economy figures is not what the SL is all about, though. It has always been a fine luxury roadster with a mildly sporting bent, and this is still true, because for the most part the suspension is unchanged.

As standard, the SL gets adaptive dampers that can be set in two modes: Comfort mode, which we found provided a cosseting ride on scarred UK roads, and Sport, which is still at the more comfortable end of the sports car spectrum.

Changing the suspension modes brings with it changes to the steering weight and engine and gearbox response, although these are all good whichever mode you choose. The SL 400’s V6 is smooth and broadly powerful right the way through the range, while the automatic gearbox masks any turbo lag.

Gearshifts are sometimes perceptible, especially as the car downshifts on the approach to junctions, but for the most part the nine-speed automatic gearbox is seamlessly smooth, befitting the character of the rest of the car.

Yes, the SL is agile enough if you really ask a lot of it, and while it’s not unhappy to be driven briskly, it’s at its most impressive if just driven smoothly. That’s also true if you choose Active Body Control with a ‘curve tilt function’, which leans the car slightly into corners, but it’s a £3080 option we’d do without.

2016 Mercedes-Benz SL 400 review

What's the 2016 Mercedes-Benz SL400 like inside?

The SL’s interior, like the exterior, has been given mild tweaks only. Even those familiar with the previous one would be pushed to notice.

When we tell you that the boot divider – a shelf that must be moved into place, restricting the 504-litre space to 364-litres before the roof can be lowered – is now electric rather than manual, that gives you an idea of the kind of changes that have been made. At least the boot is big enough with the roof closed to carry a decent amount of luggage. 

Fundamentally there remains very good space for two people, and the driver still benefits from a wide range of electronic steering wheel and seat adjustment to aid finding the perfect driving position.

It is a strict two-seater, though, unlike some of its similarly-priced luxury convertible rivals that offer limited space for two more passengers. Putting the roof down takes around 20sec from a standstill, and it's now possible to move off and travel at up to 25mph while it does so. With the top down, those inside are nicely protected from buffeting, even at speed.

If there's a chink in the SL's armour, it's that its cabin is starting to look and feel a little dated next to those of its rivals both in terms of quality and infotainment. It's not surprising; this is a facelift after all, and the SL doesn't yet benefit from Mercedes' latest materials and Comand infotainment system. Even so, the addition of Apple CarPlay as an option improves matters.

Should I buy one?

Thankfully, the SL's mild facelift hasn't ruined what is a very desirable open-top package; luxurious, two-seat convertibles are few and far between on the UK market. The SL 400 in particular remains the pick of the range for us.

Ultimately buyers are still getting what they want: the SL still has extremely comfortable seats and a generous level of equipment, and it makes a thoroughly convincing long-distance GT. It is a luxury car of the highest order – less exciting to listen to than a Jaguar F-type V6 S Convertible or drive than a Porsche 911 Cabriolet, but more refined and as brisk as both.

Matt Prior and Rory White*What Car? says...**

Rated 4 out of 5*Rivals**

Jaguar F-type

Porsche 911 Cabriolet *Mercedes-Benz SL400**

Engine size 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol

Price from £73,810

Power 362bhp

Torque 373lb ft

0-62mph 4.9 seconds

Top speed 155mph

Fuel economy 36.7mpg

CO2 175g/km