New SL a modern

classic

Mercedes SL 500, side, roof up
Mercedes SL 500, rear
Mercedes SL 500, front, roof up
Mercedes SL 500, front, roof down
Mercedes SL 500, interior
Mercedes SL Class, 2012 version with SL 300 circa 1954
Mercedes SL 500, dashboard
Mercedes SL 500, remote opening boot
Mercedes SL 500, gear lever
Mercedes SL 500, Internet display
Mercedes SL 500, instruments
Mercedes SL 500, upright

FOR the best part of 60 years the SL has been the mainstream Mercedes sports car and now there's a new one arriving with a vengeance.

In German SL stands for Sport Leicht - that means Sport Lightweight - and the latest model is true to form and built from aluminium.

Following on from the legendary Gullwing and Pagoda designs of the 50s and 60s, the new model may include classic styling cues such as fluted side and bonnet vents but it has all the credentials of 2012 supercar.

It also comes with more than a bit of Mercedes' magic in the form of Magic Vision, Magic Sky, a hands free ‘kick open' boot - and a pair of bird baths!

Confused? Well Magic Sky is an auto dimming glass roof in the foldaway hard top and Magic Vision is Mercedes new windscreen washer that sprays jets of fluid direct from the wiper blades for maximum effect.

The remote opening boot works by waggling your foot under the back bumper and the bird baths are specially designed pockets fitted into the weather strips around the doors to collect and drain rainwater.

They also reduce wind noise and with the roof up the new SL is quieter inside than Mercedes' luxury S-Class limo.

It's not that bad with the roof down either - until you hit the throttle unleashing a magnificent roar from the exhausts.

The new SL will be on sale in June - the Diamond Jubilee of the original's Le Mans winning debut - and will be priced from around £70,000 for the V6 powered SL 350.

Expect the SL 500 with its mighty V8 engine to cost some £10,000 more, a slight increase over the previous model which is now almost ten years old.

The car is engineered to impress at every level and the V8 pumps out 435 horsepower yet compared to the last version is 22 per cent more economical and capable of averaging 31mpg.

It is the first time an SL has been fitted with a turbocharger and the efficiency of the additional boost is obvious.

The V6 is even more frugal returning 41.5 to the gallon according to Mercedes and that makes it the most economical SL to date.

But that's being gentle. Let your hair down in the SL and drive it the way it should and you are likely to see closer to 23mpg from the V8.

Both engines use stop/start technology and around town the SL is docile and very easy going.

Only when it is wound up do the pure SL characteristics of old come alive.

Despite being festooned with electronics there is great feedback and feel. It is agile, precise and very nimble and comes with semi active adjustable dampers as standard.

Full blown active body control is optional and when flicked into sport mode it delivered a most accomplished ride over poor surfaces - and we experienced plenty during our drive in an SL 500.

When cruising it is a relaxing car and at 70mph you are hardly troubling the rev counter while the seven speed automatic transmission is unfazed no matter what is asked.

For the record the top speed is restricted at 155mph and the SL 500 can accelerate from 0 to 60 in a very respectful 4.6 seconds. CO2 emissions at 212g/km are quite remarkable for a car of such performance.

As such the SL 500 is a luxurious and refined alternative to the likes of the Porsche 911 and Jaguar XKR yet with its folding metal roof has the advantage. This car can be converted from coupe to roadster in seconds - the rivals are either rag top or hard top.

The aluminium construction has given the Mercedes designers to dress the new SL with some rugged lines and in the metal it looks potent.

There is no escaping the might of the car from the cockpit with driver and passenger staring down at fluted air vents which sit at the top of what appears to be a very wide bonnet.

A leather clad dashboard curves its way across the interior. The trim lines are softer than on previous SLs and with an analogue clock sitting proud above a full colour display screen that can now be hooked up to the Internet there is a splendid blend of classic design and high technology. Glance at the speedo and rev counter and it's pure flashback to the originals.

When stationary, the web link allows full online browsing and Mercedes has a growing number of apps for news, share prices, a car park finder and even to access Facebook.

That's a sign of the times and the new SL is very much an accomplished supercar for the modern age.

Sixty years ago the SL was at the beginning of one of the most fabled chapters in motoring history when the first models carried off virtually every racing honour in 1952. That ruffled Jaguar and Ferrari and the new car is capable of doing the same.

The racing culture is still very much to the fore and the latest SL possesses such aerodynamics that it has the lowest drag of any road going sports car - so sleek that it can scythe through the air without collecting any grime on the side panels.

With the roof down it is very much a modern day take on the classics of old, albeit longer and wider.

Roof up and the car has a pure coupe silhouette and from any angle the SL is a perfect marriage of style, engineering and driving pleasure of the highest calibre.

 

 

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