Road Test: Mercedes-Benz SL 350 Roadster
There are plenty of classic Mercedes-Benz enthusiasts who’ll tell you that, at nearly 1,700kg, the new SL doesn’t really live up to the “Sport Lightweight” nameplate. They’d be wrong, because this new model is light in ways that previous generations could never have managed.
Almost all of the new SL’s structure is made from aluminium, resulting in some staggering weight reductions. The SL 350 is 140kg lighter than its predecessor, 220kg lighter than the new BMW 640i Convertible and only 155kg heavier than the much smaller SLK 350. By modern standards, the name is entirely appropriate.
It’s lost very little of the old car’s character in the process. Built for covering huge distances in luxurious comfort, the silhouette has hardly changed. Driver and passenger still peer down a large, contoured and louvred bonnet, while the interior has been updated in line with the aluminium-accented latest models in the Mercedes-Benz range.
The new family front-end divides opinions a little, but it’s still imposing thanks to a large, square, upright grille and stern expression from the square-edged, LED-lined headlamps. Whether it’s a design you love of loathe, it’s distinctive and very modern.
Lighter construction has put some additional skills under the SL’s belt. The one drivers will notice first is its vastly improved frugality. There’s no diesel option, unlike the BMW, but the SL 350 is now 30% more efficient and the claims stack up on the road. Figures of between 33 and 34mpg aren’t unusual on motorway trips, which is very thrifty for a V6-engined petrol car with an automatic gearbox.
There are performance gains too. Now producing 306bhp, the SL 350 reaches 62mph in 5.9 seconds, which is nearly half a second faster than the old model. Some of the hottest hot hatches can keep up on paper, but the SL’s swell of torque at full throttle makes it feel fast in an effortless, relaxed and fuss-free way.
Plus it’s also beautiful to listen to. Squeeze the throttle at low revs and the exhaust note growls like an angered Labrador, rising to a shrill metallic howl higher up the range. While it’s two cylinders away from the window-shaking rumble of the carmaker’s V8 engines, this is still very capable of making hairs stand on end.
More high-speed cruiser than all-out sports car, the SL’s imposing looks and high interior comfort make long distances a real pleasure. The new 6 Series is a more focused driver’s car, but those seeking a surprisingly efficient way to soak up long stretches of road will find plenty to love.