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Review

First Drive: Mercedes-Benz SL 500 BlueEfficiency car review

19/03/12

IN ONE form or another the SL has been a staple of the Mercedes family for a number of decades. From the racecar-influenced origins of the flamboyant Gullwing to its modern day premium class roadster status, the SL has become a popular drop-top motor.

This latest SL continues Mercedes’ trend for pushing the technological boundaries with its flagship cars. For the first time, it’s almost entirely constructed out of aluminium in an effort to boost agility and reduce fuel consumption and emissions through having a lighter footprint.

Reminiscent of the SLK, this new SL blends bold lines with the now obligatory upright Mercedes nose that’s also a feature of the SLS and CLS. Subtle detailing along its flanks and a squat, purposeful rear cleverly blend sporting and understated attributes in one recognisable shape.

Then there are the car’s improved petrol engines. Historically, large capacity units in six and eight-cylinder specification have powered the SL, and it’s no different today. The bulk of sales in the recent past have been the former, and a new 3.5-litre V6 in 306 horsepower trim does the job here badged as the SL 350.

Taking the top step is a 4.6-litre V8, badged as the SL 500. This unit outputs a healthy 435 horsepower, yet boasts a reasonable 31.mpg on the official combined cycle. The V6 goes one better with a wallet-friendly 41.5mpg. Both units gain engine stop-start technology, which helps achieve these numbers along with the SL’s lighter weight construction.

On the transmission front, this traditionally rear-wheel drive car now comes with Mercedes’ proven seven-speed auto gearbox. And again, that extra ratio does much to enhance the car’s cruising and fuel-sipping behavior.

The luxury two-seat roadster is most likely to be seen wafting around the French Riviera or cruising down Rodeo Drive. As such, the car’s powered folding roof has become its signature component, and this new SL takes it a step further with a choice of a standard item, one with a panoramic glass section and a fancy new ‘Magic Sky’ alternative boasting a surface that adjusts to the strength of the sun’s rays.

Along with tweaking the car’s aerodynamic profile – the new SL is a very slippery machine - Mercedes has improved the car’s wiper system, which now adds water to the windscreen ahead of the arm directly from the wiper, thus saving water. Engineers have also utilised the spaces in the car’s front footwells to enhance the car’s audio system, while an optional ‘easy access’ keyless entry system allows you to move you foot under the car’s rear bumper to open and close the boot – handy when your hands are full.

For all the various innovations, the SL remains a car that’s as much about the driving experience as the underlying technology, even if you prefer to be seen in it rather than rush around attacking corners at speed.

In SL 500 guise the car presents two different but complimentary personalities. For many this will be a car that wafts them seamlessly from A to B, and in that sense it’s hard to beat. With the roof down the car is quiet, refined and super-smooth in the way it copes with poorly surfaced roads, corners and motorways.

Everything in the cabin is laid out to make life as easy as possible, from the stubby and intuitive auto gearlever to the audio and navigation controls plus the main instruments. Even if you’re more used to an entry level C-Class you’ll quickly feel at home in the SL.

You might be surprised at the SL 500’s considerable turn of speed if you’ve come from something smaller, though. Even existing owners upgrading will need to pay attention, as the V8 SL is something of a rocketship in disguise. Granted, it won’t get used this way every day, but when you do give that throttle pedal a hefty push the result is a deep snarl from the engine room and a sense of urgency that belies the car’s size.

Aware that owners will want to exploit both ends of the SL’s performance spectrum, Mercedes offers a choice of suspension systems; there’s a regular set-up that includes a Comfort-Sport option plus the company’s ABC (Active Body Control) system, which offers a more sophisticated experience if you plan on taking a more enthusiastic approach.

The cliched ‘velvet punch’ description is an appropriate one for the SL. Dragster or two-seat, drop-top limousine, the SL is capable of being many things, but most of all it’s a consummate all-rounder. The ability to demonstrate a considerable turn of speed and agility when provoked and limo-like comfort when in cosseting mode illustrates why the SL remains such a popular choice.

FACTS AT A GLANCE Model: Mercedes-Benz SL 500 BlueEfficiency, from £80,000 approx (on sale July 2012).

Engine: 4.6-litre petrol unit developing 435bhp.

Transmission: 7-speed automatic transmission as standard, driving the rear wheels.

Performance: Maximum speed 155mph, 0-62mph 4.6 seconds.

Economy: 31.0mpg.

CO2 Rating: 212g/km.

  • Enginespetrol
  • Power4 (higher than average performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy3 (average fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups3 (average costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats2

Motors.co.uk value verdict:    stars

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