What’s Hot: Big performance boost over SL 350, comfy ride.
What’s Not: Cornering less than stellar, price is rather huge.
X-FACTOR: The last SL model to go turbo, the SL 400 has the straight-line go to match the show.
Vehicle Style: Luxury hard top convertible
Engine/trans: 245kW/480Nm 3.0 turbo petrol 6cyl | 7sp auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.8 l/100km
Less is more; or so Mercedes says.
And they’re right. Though the V6 in the entry-level variant of the SL roadster now displaces 3.0 litres rather than 3.5, the addition of a pair of turbos gives the new SL 400 a rather bigger kick than the SL 350 it supersedes.
Power jumps by 20kW to 245kW, while torque leaps by a thumping 110Nm - the new Merc now wrangles 480Nm from the V6 in that purposeful familiar snout.
This gives the entrypoint to the SL range substantially more muscle; and you won't fail to feel it if you give it a prod.
And, importantly in these days of showing kindness to the planet, fuel consumption drops from 8.3 l/100km to 7.8 l/100km.
There's a price rise, but a modest one considering the extra performance on offer.
While you'll still have to fund a whopping $229,000; the SL 400 adds just $2470 to the list price of the outgoing SL 350.
THE INTERIOR | RATING: 3.5/5
- Keyless entry and ignition, heated and cooled power seats, leather upholstery, power folding roof, neck-level ventilation, dual-zone climate control, trip computer, active cruise control, parking sensors.
- COMAND system incoporating sat-nav, 10GB music storage, AM/FM/DAB tuner, digital TV tuner, 17.8cm display, rotary controller, USB audio input.
- Luggage capacity: 235 litres with roof lowered, 356 litres with roof raised.
The SL 400 measures 4.6metres long - just slightly less than a C-Class - though you wouldn’t know it from looking at the relatively compact two-seater cabin.
It’s a nice interior, if a little snug. Material quality however is superb, the gimball air vents remind us of the big-daddy SLS AMG and the low, legs-out driving position is perfect for a sports car.
However next to the impeccably well-presented C-Class, the SL’s cockpit looks a little dated. Not ancient, but it’s certainly not the most cutting-edge Benz interior anymore.
There’s also the matter of the roof. It can be raised or lowered in under 20 seconds, but, as we found out, it abruptly stops retracting almost as soon as you move off.
Time your roof movements poorly at the traffic lights, and you’ll look a tad foolish as you’re forced to keep moving with traffic with the roof frozen at half-mast. Don’t ask how we know.
But whether the roof is up or down, you’ll at least be comfortable.
The plush electric seats are heated and ventilated, there are neck-level vents that breathe warm air onto your head to ward-off chills; there’s sat nav, 10GB of on-board music storage, a digital radio tuner and, if you get bored, you cna stop to enjoy a digital TV tuner.
Hard top convertibles aren’t known for their storage capacity, and the SL 400 is no different.
With the roof down there’s a shallow area with 235 litres of volume (which, we’ll admit, is more than we expected), which increases to 356 litres with the roof up.
ON THE ROAD
- Twin-turbo petrol V6 with 245kW between 5250-6000rpm, 480Nm between 1600-4000rpm
- 7-speed automatic with paddle shifters, rear-wheel drive
- Independent suspension front and rear, electronically adjustable dampers
The headline news is, of course, that twin-turbo V6. It’s the only major mechanical change for the 2015 SL line-up, and it’s a welcome substitute for the previous 3.5 litre atmo six.
While the old engine made 225kW and 370Nm - respectable numbers in their own right - the SL 350’s 0-100km/h time of 5.9 seconds was only slightly ahead of top-tier hot hatches.
The SL 400 rectifies that with peak power of 245kW and peak torque of 480Nm, giving it a 0-100km/h sprint time of 5.2 seconds. Much brisker.
That torque is also spread across a wider rev range, with peak torque available between 1600-4000rpm. Not only is the SL 400 more powerful than the SL 350, it’s more relaxed.
And it feels great out on the road. There’s less need to wring the engine’s neck, and there’s a generous amount of pull at low rpm. You also won't need to work the SL’s 7-speed auto as hard as the previous model.
Give it some curry, and turbo lag is minimal. And, once on song, the V6 emits a very pleasing rising note from its twin tailpipes.
So, for easily eating up long distances, the SL 400 is great.
But while it’s a fantastic grand tourer, don’t mistake it for a sports car. Adaptive dampers, RWD and a twin-turbo six does not automatically make something sporty, and the SL feels a little out-of-place on a really twisty piece of tarmac.
In the hills near Healesville, Victoria, the SL 400 delighted us with its straight-line go, but wasn’t quite so electrifying when it came to turning.
Made with a greater proportion of aluminium than the previous-gen SL, the current model weighs in at a still-heavy 1700-odd kg.
Even with the adjustable dampers set to Sport, there’s still a great sensation of mass when turning in - and it feels like much of it is in the nose.
To its credit though, the SL’s body is largely free of flex even with the roof down.
Understeer is the SL 400’s preference, but a more worrying trait is its habit of momentarily continuing to accelerate after you’ve lifted your foot from the accelerator.
Couple that with a soft brake pedal, and the SL 400 feels far from razor-sharp.
To be brutally honest, we had more fun in a C 250 wagon on that same stretch of road. (That review coming soon.)
But stick to highways and boulevards, and the SL is in its element. Plentiful low-end torque, creamy shifts from that seven-speed and a cushy ride with the dampers set to soft make the SL 400 a convertible cruiser without peer.
ANCAP rating: The SL-Class has yet to be assessed by ANCAP
Safety features: Six airbags (front, side and head), pre-tensioning seatbelts, stability control, traction control, ABS and brake assist are standard on all SL variants.
The SL 400 also comes equipped with the Driving Assistance Package Plus as standard, which brings radar guided cruise control, a blind spot monitor and lane keep assist.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
There is more than a few big-dollar roadsters to choose from, ranging from the far sportier Jaguar F-Type V8 S, to the crisp-handling Porsche 911 Carrera, to the more affordable BMW 640i Convertible.
Audi’s RS 5 Cabriolet is another option, and one that costs around $50k less and nets you a delectable high-revving V8. It is, however, even less impressive than the SL around a bendy road.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The base model in the SL range has improved greatly thanks to the adoption of turbocharging. It ain’t a proper sports car, but it’s more than competent enough to keep most buyers happy.
For its buyers - well-heeled ones - the SL 400’s comfort, style, equipment and grunt-filled V6 will likely have all the boxes ticked.
Add the ability to drop the top so you can drive past all your friends in Double Bay or Chapel Street, and you're not going to be too worried about some compromises to cornering capability.
Too smart to be merely a summer cruiser, and too costly for most of us, the SL 400 nevertheless delivers in spades.