This is the sixth Mercedes SL generation carrying the iconic name, if one does not count the 190SL (which Mercedes does not seem to do). Each generation lasted on average some 11.5 years and each of them has managed to set technical benchmarks for its time, the very first one even in two categories: design and technology. This last version of the Mercedes SL is available since the end of March 2012.
The new SL is not that much of a new design as some might have hoped for. Although the front is longer and the design even more angular than before, from the outside it looks merely like a warmed-up version of the 2008 facelift of the previous R230. This might eventually turn out to be its biggest potential downfall. On the other hand it is welcome news to R230 owners, as it helps to secure their cars’ value. The front bears similarities with the SLK, while the side line is close to the SLS. The rear is still “the same slightly unwieldy looking bustle back-end”, as autocar in the UK puts it in their March 2012 edition. And once inside, the dashboard looks very familiar to an owner of the latest SLK model.
Mercedes SL 500 Edition 1 comes with 19 in AMG wheels. The front looks fairly massive
The Edition 1, available for the SL350 and SL500, comes with a great looking red leather interior
On the other hand, to judge the car just by its design is a bit unfair to the car and the people, who constructed it. Daimler-Benz chief engineer Jürgen Weissinger even says that the R231 is the biggest step that his engineers have taken from one SL generation to the other.
A lighter aluminum body
Although it has grown in proportion, 5 cm (2 in) in length to now 4,612 mm (181.1 in), 57 mm (2.2in) in width to 1,877 mm (73.6 in) and 18 mm (0.71 in) in height, it is up to 140 kg (308.6 lbs) lighter than its predecessor, which says a lot about the engineering efforts at Daimler-Benz to get away from the image of a boulevard cruiser. With the exception of the windscreen frame, which is made from aluminum and high-strength steel to protect against roll-overs, most of the body is made from aluminum, a first for Daimler-Benz.
SL500 with AMG Sports package in Cerrusitgrey Magno
The body alone weighs some 110 kg (242.5 lbs) less than the steel body of the R230. The roof and the panel behind the 65 l (17 gallon) tank are even made from lighter but more expensive magnesium, while the trunk lid as a first in a mass-produced car has its inner frame made from a lightweight carbon-fiber composite material, which is bonded to a plastic outer shell. Another benefit is that the new structure is also better in terms of rigidity, safety and reduced vibration characteristics. The underbody is completely revised and increases the roadster’s stiffness by some 20%. Despite the fact that the car is lighter, with all the luxury and safety features on board that are required today of a car such as the SL, it still weighs 1,790 kg (3,947 lbs).
Better fuel economy
There are more news under the hood. Fuel economy was rather high on the engine improvement agenda, so the displacement of the much loved V8 power plant is reduced from 5.4 l (333 cu in) to 4.7 l (284.6 cu in). But power output of this twin-turbo BlueEFFICIENCY called engine increases some 12% to 429 hp at 5,250 rpm, while maximum torque gains an even more impressive 32% from 530 Nm (391 lbs-ft) to 700 Nm (516 lbs-ft) from 1,800 rpm onwards.
With its name now even further removed from the engine displacement, the new SL500/SL550 burns an incredible 22% less fuel. It accelerates in just 4.7 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h, eight tenths less than the R230, while again being electronically limited to a top speed of 250 km/h (130 mph). An ECO start/stop function is standard for all engines and the power plant is mated to the 7G-Tronic automatic transmission, which has been optimized for greater fuel efficiency.
Although the engine displacement of the SL350 remains unchanged, the improved V6 power plant delivers now 306 hp (R230: 272 hp) at 6,500 rpm, offers 370 Nm (273 lbs-ft) of torque from 3,500 to 5,250 rpm and is an amazing 30% more fuel efficient than its predecessor. It accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 5.9 seconds, which makes it three tenths of a second faster.
An improved interior
Whatever one might think about the outside of the car, the interior has lost nothing of its SL distinctiveness. Due to the larger body, it is even slightly bigger, although it remains a strict two-seater. At least there is some space behind the seats for additional luggage. Passengers can enjoy 37 mm (1.45 in) more shoulder room and 28 mm (1.1 in) more elbow room. The interior is a mix of C-class, SLK and SLS, so fairly familiar to most drivers of newer Mercedes cars.
All versions of the SL come equipped with the COMAND Cockpit Management and Data System, which includes Bluetooth telephony combined with a simpler car phone operation. There is also the option of the COMAND Online system with internet access and (finally) DVD changer. It offers web browsing while the car is stopped along with access to one of the various Daimler-Benz online services. Another option is to send individual destinations and routes via Google Maps to the vehicle. Various apps are offered too, a most useful one might be a car park finder in a congested city. Both COMAND variants come with a high-resolution 178 mm (7.0 in) diagonal TFT color display built into the dashboard next to the instrument cluster.
The instrument cluster has changed slightly as it provides now all the technical information through a 114 mm (4.5 in) multifunction TFT color monitor, which sits between the speedo and rev counter.
Prices of the new car
While the SL350 costs from 93,534.- Euro ($123,460.-) onwards, prices for the SL500 start at 117,096.- Euro ($154,570.-) in Germany, both prices include 19% VAT. In the US the SL350 is again not available, prices for the SL550 start at $105,500.- . If one wants to order the Premium 1 Package at 3,712.- Euro ($4,900), that will add a rearview camera, Parktronic with Active Park Assist, ventilated multi-contour seats, the Airscarf, power trunk closer and Keyless Go with the engine start button now moved to the dashboard. One can have the analog clock on the dash in Porsche 911 fashion for 190.- Euro ($250.-), the Magic Sky Control for 1,890.- Euro ($2,500.-) and the Active Body Control for 3,100.- Euro ($4,090.-). A Driver Assistance Package for 2,235.- Euro ($2,950.-) includes Distronic Plus with Pre Safe Brake, Active Blind Spot Assist and Active Lane Keeping Assist.
In order to further enhance the interest in the new SL, Daimler-Benz offers for the first time directly from the start a “Special Edition” model, called “Edition 1”.
Depending on the basic model, it costs between 19,028.- and 22,598.- Euro ($25,120.- to $29,830.-) extra and offers the panoramic roof, various Edition 1 badges, AMG body styling, sports suspension, special AMG 19-inch wheels and designo crystal sliver magno paint. Inside it features designo red Nappa leather with contrasting stitching, Airscarf, heated seats, electric draught stop, ambient lighting and a special Harman Kardon Logic7 surround sound system, which together with the new FrontBass loud speakers in the foot well will be a delight for the audiophile owner.
Coming back to the original question, whether the new Mercedes SL is really so much better than its predecessor, this can be answered affirmative. The new SL is excellent and a top choice if one can get over the design and similarities with other Mercedes open sports tourers. If pushed to make a decision, this author would choose a mint R230 SL500 built in the last two years prior to the 2008 face lift over the new SL. This would give me the much improved V8 engine with the clean original lines of Peter Pfeiffer. I would also learn to get used to the fussy command system, but that is just a personal and thus very subjective choice. Maybe you can ask me again in two years 🙂
If you want to read much more about this Mercedes SL and other SL models back to the 1950s, all of that is covered in my books and e-books and can be ordered from my website. They offer next to the cars’ history plenty of color pictures, most of which (except for the R231) have never been published in a book before. I am sure you will enjoy.
The car looks from the front in this matte Cerrusitgrey Magno color somewhat mean and agressive with its eagle-shaped headlamps.
Yes it is lighter than its predecessor, but it lacks its elegance (all pictures courtesy of Daimler AG)