2015 Mercedes-Benz SL400 review
Robert Pepper’s 2015 Mercedes-Benz SL400 review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety and verdict.
At this price bracket, you want more than just a means of transport. You might well want an SL400. Indeed, Mercedes-Benz with the introduction of the SL AMG models is banking on you younger buyers plumping for the grace and opulence of this SL … but has Mercedes forsaken dynamism?
On the outside
The SL is a two-seater coupe so naturally has the air of a sportscar, but it doesn’t overplay the hand with bling-fast adornments like flared arches and painted brake calipers. Still, nobody is going to mistake it for a cheap car either. I think ‘understated’ is a good descriptor, but it’s also not an eyecatching, beautiful design, particularly from the side where it looks a bit slabby. That’s because it’s the latest in a long of line SLs which from the side are all rectangles, see, heritage styling cues must be obeyed.
On the sound front it’s the same thing, there’s no ostentatious growling or roaring to draw attention, just a disappointly whiny V6 barely needing to wake up to move the car at daily driving speeds. The sound is more noticeable with the top down, and almost sounds like a mid-engined car rather than front engine, which a nice touch. My phone ringtone will remain a Jaguar V8 at 5000rpm, and if I had one improvement suggestion it would be to make the soundtrack more authoritative to match the car. Right now it’s a big dog with a kitten’s meow.
The interior styling is more of the same, nothing garish, just the well-presented quiet elegance Mercedes-Benz does well when they remember how. There’s nothing that looks tacked on, and while there’s more buttons than might be the norm these days that’s a good thing from a usability perspective.
This is a good car for those that want performance and luxury, but prefer to fly under the radar. Well, slightly under the radar…
Room & Practicality
A two-seater is impractical, right? Not this one, which is a big car – 4.6m long, about 20cm more than a Mazda 3 – so has plenty of space. But not as much as you might think given the size, although the cabin is airy with lots of storage spaces like a double glovebox, there’s room behind both seats for gear and there’s a little storage bin behind the passenger seat. The boot is reasonably commodious for a convertible, even with the top down, but be clear this is no load lugger. But I see no reason why a couple couldn’t load this car up and go on driving weekends, and even longer trips.
There is, however, one problem with practicality, and that is the usual one with modern top-end cars – the sheer volume of features combined with occasionally poor usability design. For example, the seats adjustment is where you’d expect, on the doors. But there’s also a lumbar adjustment accessible only via the touchscreen on the dashboard, while Bluetooth audio streaming is under the Disc menu. Setting the cruise control was awkward for me and others, we kept activating the speed limit control.
In short, to get the best from this car you need to study the owner’s manual, and then learn how to operate everything by heart. This is not an easy job due to the vast array of features, and Mercedes-Benz doesn’t help matters by giving you half the manual printed with the rest available as a Digital Owner’s manual, accessible in-car when stopped by a slow-responding web browser. Tiresome.
Living with the car as a daily driver is easy enough. The roof folds and opens quickly, but you must be virtually stopped to do so – would have preferred a limit of even 20km/h like almost every other luxury convertible on the market. There is a bootliner you must put in place before you fold the roof, something I kept forgetting. There’s only two small drinksholders up front (larger one behind), a disappointment given the touring nature. The boot is electrically and remotely operated, a convenience you can laugh at until you realise how useful it is. You can also open the boot in some models by a foot swipe under the rear body.
There’s no full-sized spare wheel, and the front tyre size is different to the rear. There are runflat tyres, but for a sports tourer in Australia this is not a great idea as you can expect quite a wait if you need a new tyre away from major cities. For a touring car you’d want 91RON petrol not the SL’s premium 95RON, but at least it’s not 98. In the SL’s favour the fuel tank capacity is 75 litres, so if you cruise even reasonably quickly you’ll have a long-legged range of well over 600km, maybe even 700km.
On the inside
A friend of mine opined that she thought the car was too big and hard to manoeuvre – without having driven it. I disagreed, for two reason; first in my experience many people think that of larger cars than they’re used to, but in reality it’s just a matter of getting used to the size of the thing you’re driving, which doesn’t take long. And, secondly, this car has reversing sensors, a great reversing camera, and front sensors which indicate how far the front of the car is from an object, well, in front. It will even self parallel-park, and then help get you out of the space. The steering wheel is easy to use, and the throttle is tractable at low speed. Visibility isn’t bad either. The turning circle is not great at 11 metres, but it’s workable. So while the SL is no nimble city car, it is far from cumbersome.
The SL400 works very well as a convertible too, or as a hardtop – no soft roof here. Indeed, with the roof up you’d never know it was a droptop. With the roof down it’s as quiet as these things get, but you can also raise a spoiler at the back which slightly reduces buffeting at speed. There’s an air scarf feature too, warm air blown around your neck to keep off the chills.
Progress is as unhurried as you like. The engine never needs to work hard, and the car is happy to lope along in sixth and seventh gear even at speeds as low as 70km/h. Such is the car’s power it usually defaults to pulling away from standstill in second gear. But you can go faster if you wish.
Performance, Ride & Handling
The “SL” tag means “sports lightweight”, but it’s neither. At 1700kg this is a hefty machine, and those people who wear thin-soled shoes while talking of apexes and entry speeds are likely to be unimpressed. Yet make no mistake, the SL400 is impressively quick across country, but blandly so, requiring little effort or skill from the driver even when travelling very, very quickly.
Under the bonnet of the SL400 is a 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6 which makes 250kW at 6000rpm and 480Nm of torque between 4000-6500rpm this engine, mated to a seven-speed automatic and developing enough grunt to get to 100km/h in just 5.2 seconds. A fun fact – this SL400 used to be the SL350 which ran Merc’s decrepit 3.5-litre V6, now it runs a 3.0L V6 and is called the SL400. Yep, confusing. Fuel consumption is a claimed 7.8L/100km on the combined cycle.
The SL400 turns, grips and accelerate with unruffled ease, there’s little body roll and the computers always choose the right gear. Sure, you can stiffen the suspension with Sport mode, and press a different button to engage the Sports gearshift which adds a little extra sense of occasion with a throatier engine note, but it’s still not a rewarding, involving, thrilling car despite its immense capability. And to a driving enthusiast, that’s anathema. If sportscar purity is what you seek, then you’re best off with the AMG versions, Boxsters, the F-Type and the like.
But let’s get back to what the SL400 actually is, rather than what it’s named. It is a grand tourer, designed to be able to waft effortlessly along the highways of the world from city to city, yet when occasion demands punch on through the curves in a manner that would give more sports-oriented cars a run for their money and leave less capable cruisers puffing to stay in sight. And the SL does that job very well indeed.
The ride is comfortable across all surfaces and speeds, and you’d need to actually drive offroad to make the suspension work hard. Even with the suspension set in Sport mode the ride is comfortable, let alone the Comfort mode. A nice touch is the adaptive seats which change shape to provide extra side support as the car corners, and all the mod-cons combine to make for the sensation of being in a mansion with wheels. And the car is not so low as you need to worry about every driveway either.
Handling is always assured. Way back when, a powerful and heavy rear-drive coupe was a handful in the wet. But with modern technology, tuning and tyres the SL is unbothered by even torrential rain.
At this price level you expect quality, and you get it. Everything clunks and clicks with reassuring robustness, there’s nary a stich out of place and the general air is of solid elegance. Our test car had not been fully cleaned, and we were far from the first users yet everything looked showroom-fresh, suggesting a reasonable longevity.
Pricing & Equipment
The base model SL on test is the SL400 with a entry price of $229,000 (+ORC), and our car had the ‘designo’ package for a further $9500 which gets you: AMG Line; 19-inch AMG 7 twin spoke light alloy wheels in black with polished facings; Active Multicontour Seat Package; designo Black piano lacquer wood trim; Black nappa leather upholstery with designo platinum white highlights; Two tone nappa leather steering wheel black / designo platinum white; High gloss black vario-roof; AMG floor mats with ‘AMG’ lettering and designo platinum white piping / edging. In the end it’s really just visual bling except for the adaptive seats (massage, extra adjustments, and automatic body bolstering in corners).
In short, the car already comes with one of everything you could possibly need already. At this price bracket the concept of value becomes rather arcane, but you simply cannot buy a car of this quality, capability and luxury for much less. And at annual sales of around 150, it’s pretty exclusive too.
If you want more SL, you can go for the SL500 ($312,000+ORC) which has a V8 engine. That’ll get you to 100km/h from rest in 4.6 seconds not 5.2, a difference which on public roads is just pub bragging rights, but hopefully the V8 sounds a bit more interesting than the SL400’s V6. The V8 also had 19-inch rims not 18-inch alloys on the SL400, but you could buy those for you V6. Then there are two AMG models, a V8 ($399,000+ORC)and a V12 ($481,000+ORC) which are even quicker but heavier – the V12 tips in at a ridiculous 1950kg, some 200kg more than the SL400.
Mercedes-Benz does not make as much of a fuss about safety as some other manufacturers, but they’re right up there with the very best. The SL400 has a frankly dizzying array of safety equipment – all the usual passive gear like a collection of airbags, but also now much more active safety. This includes lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking (AEB) and much more. It even has Attention Assist, a system that monitors driver behaviour, builds up a profile and then detects signs of fatigue. The lane departure warning also gently guides the car back on to line by apply the brakes to just one side of the car, and the electronic parking brake doubles as an auxiliary emergency stopping system.
I’d need around 100,000 words to properly describe all the safety features and I dare say many owners won’t ever discover them all during the period they own the car, but let’s just say this is one very safe motor vehicle and if there’s a safety feature out there it doesn’t have, I didn’t spot it.
That said, as is typical of advanced electronic pro-active aids they don’t always work, for example the blind-spot monitoring reckons some situations are safe when they’re not. The adaptive cruise control works well, allowing me a 40km drive on a freeway through stop-start traffic without needing to touch the pedals, except once when a small car ducked into a gap and the Benz was a bit slow to react.
2015 Mercedes-Benz SL400
PRICE : from $229,000 (+ORC)
WARRANTY : three-years/unlimited kilometres
SAFETY : Not rated
ENGINE : 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6
POWER : 250kW at 6000rpm
TORQUE : 480Nm at 4000-6500rpm
TRANSMISSION : 7-speed automatic, paddleshifts, economy, sports and manual mode
DRIVE : RWD
BODY : 4.6m (L); 1.87m (W), excl mirrors; 1.31m (H)
WEIGHT : 1730kg
TOWING : N/A
FUEL TANK : 75 litres
SPARE : None, runflats
THIRST : 7.8L/100km (combined)
FUEL : 95 RON
If you want a top-end sporting luxury convertible then you’ll find many of the other European brands have options for you. Some to think about:
Porsche 911 – four seats (sort of), legendary nameplate, all wheel drive surety, better handling but smaller.
Jaguar F-Type – nowhere near the practicality of the SL, but better looks, better sound and much more of a driver’s car.
Mercedes-Benz SLK – smaller, lighter roadsters from Mercedes, not quite up there on the luxury stakes.
BMW 3 Series – various options, you’re assured of the handling if not the SL waftability.