Mercedes-Benz SL 350 R230 - Road Test
Price as tested: $236,677 (tyre pressure monitoring system $370; protective undershield $317; 19-inch AMG alloy wheels $3177)
Crash rating: not tested
Fuel: 95 RON Premium ULP
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 9.9
CO2 emissions (g/km): 236
Also consider: BMW M6 Convertible (more here); Jaguar XKR Convertible (more here); Porsche 911 2 Cabriolet (more here).
Overall rating: 3.0/5.0About our ratings
Price, Packaging and Practicality: 2.0/5.0
Behind the wheel: 3.5/5.0
This is the cheapest ticket to Mercedes-Benz's flagship SL roadster range offered locally. Without the 2.8-litre V6 version sold elsewhere in the world, the 350 stands as the base model SL starting at not much under $233K.
For that, Aussie buyers get (all-but) the full complement of luxury equipment available from the brand, including voice-activated satnav/audio system and keyless go.
But more interesting might be that the new SL 350 uses the reworked 3.5-litre V6 -- now 'Sportmotor' in Mercedes' parlance -- rated at 232kW/360Nm; both figures up on the previous model's output (more here).
It's also slightly faster and more frugal, with power on tap in various guises via M-B's clever auto. The 7G-Tronic seven-speed is a good match to the V6 when left to its own devices in C (comfort) mode, and is quick to downshift for corners and the like in S (sports) mode.
Even while driven for the majority of the time in the sports setting the SL 350 was relatively sparing, dropping to low 11s without any need for pussyfooting. Low 10s or close to M-B's claimed 9.9L/100km aren't hard to imagine if used conservatively as a daily driver.
The manual setting, operated via centre shift or steering wheel levers/buttons (not paddles as such and frankly not a favourite) is smooth and quick, and makes the most of the engine's response which is somewhat lacking from take off. However, the V6 happily runs to its 7000-odd rpm redline.
While its V8 stablemates get M-B's Active Body Control suspension, the 350's chassis offers a good balance of ride comfort and handling from the coil spring (rather than air-suspension on higher level models) set-up. Most road surfaces are well absorbed and under cornering the roadster will stay flat and agile, exhibiting good natural grip. It rarely has to bother its traction or stability systems on dry bitumen.
As you'd expect the SL comes with ventilated disc brakes front and rear, which remained smooth, consistent and quiet even after some spirited runs to the hills.
The SL 350 has plenty of grip and super responsive steering. The steering wheel's lightweight most times but weights up nicely off centre and despite the roadster's mass (1825kg), handling remains poised and direct.
Bulky and loaded with luxuries, its weight thwarts acceleration, however. Added to that, compared to the V8 models there's a lack of torque down low -- which is where manual mode and those shift levers come in handy...
Anyway, with roadsters it's not so much about what's inside as outside. The SL has a quiet, quick (by accounts, around 16sec) operating open-close mechanism for the trademark folding steel roof, accessed via one-touch button. In this instance M-B's 'vario-roof' breaks into a three-piece fold and is stored in the boot, reducing storage capacity from 339 to 235 litres.
The recent heatwave down south precluded the use of the standard-fit Airscarf feature, but we know it from the SLK and it works a treat. This and an embarrassment of other onboard riches such as heated and ventilated seating come standard. All in the name of pleasant open-top motoring.
The SL also comes standard with a push-button wind deflector, helping to cut cabin turbulence. Closed or open, the SL is a serene ride betraying no creaks or chassis shimmy.
Despite M-B's efforts pipe-wise it sounds… errr… just like that. Not altogether nice, which is what you want in an open top. I've heard this V6 sound better in other applications.
Those familiar with the maker's products know M-B offers a vast array of interior trim options. The test car featured soft perforated leather in light brown - probably not our pick of the palette. Otherwise, the SL's cabin is usual three-pointed star quality with all controls easy to hand and solid build quality.
Remember, though, it's a two-seater and doesn't offer the convenience of the likes of BMW's four-seat M6 Convertible. And while it's questionable to compare it to the 911, Porsche's new Carrera Cabrio starts at a very competitive c$222K with four places, albeit at a tight squeeze.
The new SL has striking looks, taking on the brand's latest hard-edged, masculine lines. The bonnet sculpting helps soften it a little, and definitely recalls the beautiful 50s SL. Maybe, because we're desperate…
The restyle has also sharpened the SL's presence on the road. Where the previous model was too low-key for its position and pricetag, the severity of M-B's new design direction makes this a head turner.
In these tough times one should probably try to get by without features like massaging pews. In fact, forget half of the fat-cat goodies (starting with the obtrusive first aid kit under the passenger's seat!) and the 'cheapest' SL here would no doubt garner more sales and fans. Delete options, anyone?