From the elongated hood to the bustled rear end, there’s something eternal about the proportions of a roadster. The latest SL450 fits this design parameter. The look seems to draw eyes to its seductive shape, whether the hardtop is up or down. This and the ability to be two very different cars in one tight package remain its key attributes.
To switch from a winter-ready coupe to drop-top roadster requires holding a button for around 15 seconds. The transformation can be done at speeds up to 40 km/h, but the sail-like proportions of the vertical deck lid/roof panels dissuaded me from putting this to the test. Regardless, the intricate mechanical ballet is a thing of beauty that sees the various parts pass within millimetres of each other as it assumes its position in the trunk. Therein lies the only real penalty to the hardtop — a reduction in trunk space.
With the top up and the protective shield moved rearward, the SL can accommodate 485 litres of cargo. Fold the top down and the shield moves forward to ensure the contents aren’t squashed by the roof, or the roof damaged by the contents. The space is now capped at 345 litres, but that’s still enough for a weekend getaway and then some. For those cool fall cruises there is a power wind blocker and the optional Airscarf, a heating system that cascades warm air over the rider’s shoulders to keep things nice and toasty.
The SL’s chassis is one solid piece, so regardless of the tin-top’s position, there’s absolutely no cowl shake. The use of aluminum makes the roadster 140 kilograms lighter than its predecessor and it manages this while stiffening the chassis, which has 20 per cent greater rigidity.
This means the suspension can do its thing without having to compensate for a body that’s shaking and shimmying like a crazed go-go dancer. As a result, the SL450 hunkers down with a rare willingness when a twisty road beckons. This, the keen steering response and powerful brakes allow the driver to explore the limits without enduring some white-knuckle moments.
The P255/35R19 front and P285/30R19 rear tires deliver a ton of grip. Another helper is found in the brake-based torque vectoring, which dabs the inside rear wheel in a corner to reduce understeer; it worked effectively during the test. The combination is, like the exterior styling, a thing of beauty.
Power for the SL450 comes from a 3.0-L, twin-turbo V-6. It generates a healthy 362 horsepower and, more importantly, 369 pound-feet of torque at a suitably low 2,000 r.p.m. It also sounds the part when the driver gets on the gas, driving the rear wheels through a nine-speed manumatic transmission, which shifts with impeccable quality and is quick to respond to paddle-shifter input. Left to its own devices, the manumatic does a very good job of finding the right gear for the situation. This combination sees the SL450 run from rest to 100 km/h in 4.9 seconds, which is more than fast enough for most drivers.
If, however, the SL450 does not have quite enough mustard, there are options. The first step up the ladder comes in the form of the SL550 and its 4.7-L twin-turbo V-8, upping the ante to 449 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque and shaving the acceleration run to 4.3 seconds. Next up comes the über SL63 AMG and a 5.5-L twin-turbo V-8 that pushes output to 577 horses and 664 lb-ft; all of those proud stallions bring a run from rest to 100 km/h in 4.1 seconds.
Finally, there’s the SL65 and its 6.0-L bi-turbo V-12. In spite of having 621 hp and 737 lb-ft of torque, it only drops the acceleration run by 0.1 second, which speaks to the fact the powertrain is beginning to show its age. And considering the premium ($79,200 over the SL63), it’s not worth the extra coin.
The cabin is all about the driver. The support afforded by the multi-function seats is first class, while the flat-bottomed steering wheel speaks to the performance on tap. The driving position is excellent and, unlike a ragtop convertible with the roof up, the sightlines to the side and rear remain pretty good.
Then there’s the Comand system; it delivers all of the infotainment functions, including Apple CarPlay, and it displays the dynamic select mode. There are Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual modes; each changes the SL’s personality. It ranges from purring kitten to roaring tiger — and all at the push of a button. If there is a minor complaint, it’s that the instrumentation is a bit old school, but it gets the job done.
I have always liked the SL roadsters, simply because they can be all things to all drivers.
It is a cosy coupe, a proper roadster and it has a classy visage, regardless of the top’s position.
Throw in the excellent road manners and as much power as anyone could want and you have a very seductive ride.
— Postmedia Network Inc. 2016