Mercedes-Benz SL 400

AMG Line - First

Drive

Mercedes-Benz SL 400, front action
Mercedes-Benz SL 400, side action
Mercedes-Benz SL 400, side roof up
Mercedes-Benz SL 400, aerial view
Mercedes-Benz SL 400, dashboard
Mercedes-Benz SL 400, alloy wheel
Mercedes-Benz SL 400, instruments
Mercedes-Benz SL 400, air deflector

IT didn't take many miles in the Mercedes SL to consider swinging away from home and heading south to Nice, immediately.

Or anywhere with plentiful mixtures of sun and gracious living, really.

For here in the £73,810 - current entry level - version of a convertible line that has adorned luxury harboursides for decades is a car that wants you to enjoy life at the top.

Indeed, there may not be a better way yet devised of taking two people from their home in a high end postcode to the marina or yacht basin, there to be reunited with Seagull, Ocean Queen... or whatever name the owner's wife broke a bottle of champagne over at the launch.

Simple figures have never told even half the story of an SL, currently available in four grades of urge and luxury and culminating in a 12 cylinder, 630 horsepower, £172,000 AMG machine that will make a hen's tooth look commonplace by comparison.

Forget the numbers (they are all limited to the 'responsible' 155mph limit set by most German car makers of fast cars, Porsche excepted) and concentrate instead on the way every SL has trodden the taste tightrope between brash, brawn and beauty.

Mostly they've found an admirable middle point, straying only occasionally into the gaudy or vulgar.

To these eyes the current version, especially perhaps in this least expensive SL 400 guise, can confidently assume the mantle of privilege with a touch of decorum, even fitted with 19inch AMG alloy wheels in high gloss black (£895) and doors sills that light up with Mercedes-Benz lettering (£215) and remind you what you've bought as you slip aboard at night.

But if you ever needed proof positive that a touch under seventy-four grand brings a car that allows the full SL experience, and that mere figures mean little in this car's world, consider this: for comfortably more than double the base model's price (£73,810 plays £173,315) you save 0.9 seconds on the dash to 62mph - and both cars will top out, pretty promptly, at that artificially limited 155mph already mentioned.

Of course, the 12-cylindered SL 65 deploys its 630 horses to give blinding performance in any gear, at any speed. It will also make a noise at takeoff that would silence a St Tropez cafe full of ladies doing lunch.

But the humbler SL 400 would not be considered an even slightly less delightful way for any of them to return to that charming villa in the hills. Its 362bhp will be more than adequate and its smooth nine-speed automatic gearbox slurs the changes so gently you won't even notice.

Outside and - especially - inside, this SL feels simply very special indeed. From just right touches of silver-glinting alloy and caressingly soft leather to a level of fit and finish that must have meant all leave cancelled at the Bremen plant where it was built, this is a car that makes an owner glow with pride of ownership.

And with a specification that even in its least expensive expression takes pages of closely spaced sentences to explain, it may be just as well that SLs of any generation since the first of 1954 tend to stick around long enough to become treasured family heirlooms.

For the record, your price list starter version comes with an aluminium folding roof that works in either direction at around-town speeds, enough safety features to make a risk assessment obsessive puce with envy and sufficient luxury touches to have you studying the handbook as after-dinner homework.

Perhaps from the afterdeck of the good ship Seagull....

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