Approaching its fifth birthday, the R231 Mercedes-Benz SL is getting on in car years and a few cracks are appearing. Thankfully, its looks are improving. The latest SL has always looked a little awkward to our eyes, but a bit of cosmetic surgery, particularly at the front, has resulted in much sleeker, more cohesive styling.
There’s nothing wrong with its fitness, either. The carry-over 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6, introduced in early 2015, has been tweaked to produce 270kW/500Nm - an extra 25kW/20Nm over its predecessor - which cuts its 0-100km/h sprint to 4.9sec. It’s a beautiful engine with masses of mid-range torque, decent response and a lovely soulful howl under heavy load.
It lacks the rollercoaster acceleration of the bigger boosted V8s, but is more than fast enough for any road situation, the new nine-speed automatic making the most of the available grunt with a gear for every occasion and then some. Nine ratios may sound like overkill, if you weren’t told you’d never know as it does an excellent job of shuffling through its stacked deck and selecting the appropriate gear.
From here things get a little shakier. Despite its ‘Sport Leicht’ moniker, at 1735kg the SL400 not particularly light, and as a result it’s not particularly sporty. It’s capable of serious pace and is enjoyable to drive up to a certain point, but it feels too big and soft to truly deliver on-the-limit satisfaction. This would be fine if the SL400 was the consummate cruiser, but there are issues here too.
It’s quiet and comfortable enough on a freeway or similar, but it lets too many small road imperfections through on dodgy road surfaces, of which there are plenty in Australia, along with the odd creak or groan from the hardtop roof. When you’re charging $218,715 for a luxury roadster, it falls short of expectations. Points to Mercedes for cutting more than $10K from the SL400’s price though.
Even so, the SL interior is increasingly falling off the pace. Merc has done itself no favours by creating some stunning interiors in the last couple of years, because in comparison the SL’s cockpit now feels a generation old in terms of design and connectivity. It’s a pleasant enough car in isolation, but for a car pitched as Mercedes’ flagship drop-top, it feels like a great drivetrain in need of a new home.
This is a worry as the last two SL generations stretched for 11 years, meaning the R231 is barely halfway through its lifecycle. With Mercedes’ product onslaught offering a range of open-top alternatives, from SLC to S-Class Convertible, we can’t help but feel there are better options available.
3.0 OUT OF 5 STARS
Engine: 2996cc V6, DOHC, 24v, twin-turbo
Power: 270kW @ 5500-6000rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 2000-4200rpm
0-100km/h: 4.9sec (claimed)