Fleet News

Mercedes-Benz SL

Mercedes-Benz

Review

I ADMIT to being a little worried when the man from Mercedes-Benz stood up to give the press conference introducing the new SL range.

After a while speaking about the heritage of the brand and its success around the world, he got unusually animated about the fact that you can now buy luggage built especially to fit into the back seats of the SL.

‘Blimey... if that’s the most exciting thing to have changed about the new SL, then I’m in trouble’, I thought, as I wondered how to write 600 words about some carry bags.

And to be honest, the luggage is one of the most visible differences made to Mercedes-Benz’s sportscar.

The changes made to the model, first introduced in 2001, are subtle to say the least.

Look closely and you’ll see a more pronounced ‘V’ shape in the bumper, a matt silver radiator grille and chrome foglight surrounds.

And to continue the exciting transformation, there are new designs of alloy wheels and new rear light clusters.

Inside there are better quality materials, a new instrument binnacle and – wait for it – revised metal door sills.

Thank goodness for that, because the previous metal door sills were, frankly, rubbish.

I shall definitely put my name down in the order book now they’ve been changed.

But there is more substance to the new-for-2006 SL than some cosmetic tarting up.

Under the skin is a host of new engines, the addition of the 7G-tronic seven-speed automatic gearbox, uprated brakes and a reprogrammed ABC (Active Body Control) system which is claimed to reduce body roll by up to 60%.

The SL will certainly need all of these mechanical advances to keep it on the straight and narrow, because the new engines are more powerful than before.

The entry-level SL350, by far the biggest seller in the range accounting for 65% of sales, adopts the smooth 3.5-litre V6 engine found in the smaller SLK roadster.

Power rises from the old 3.7-litre engine’s 245bhp to 272bhp, cutting the 0-62mph benchmark sprint by 0.6 seconds to 6.6. Top speed remains limited to 155mph for all models.

Despite the extra performance, fuel economy has improved from 24.1mpg on the combined cycle to 27.4mpg.

Emissions have also benefited, with CO2 dropping from 276g/km to 246g/km.

The SL500 also gains a new heart in the form of the 5.5-litre V8 which debuted in the new S-class. Offering 388bhp, it has a huge 82bhp more than the old 5.0-litre V8 unit. This cuts the 0-62mph sprint from 6.2 seconds to 5.4 while not altering fuel economy or emissions figures.

And if you always thought the SL600 was a bit slow, fear not as the twin-turbocharged 5.5-litre V12 engine has been boosted by 17bhp to 517bhp.

Prices have also risen across the board, with the SL350 rising by 2.1% and the SL500 by 2.4%. Mercedes-Benz estimates the new range will account for around 2,000 sales in the UK during 2006.

Behind the wheel

THE 350 accounts for nearly two-thirds of SL sales in the UK, so what better place to start the introduction to the new range.

It’s also the most accessible price-wise, starting at a whisker under £63,000. For the money you get the new 3.5-litre V6 engine mated to the 7G-tronic automatic transmission.

Seven gears make the most of the 350’s performance, giving brisk acceleration and a relaxed gait at motorway speeds.

The V6 certainly sounds fruity as it revs towards the red line and the gearbox changes up seamlessly. However, if you want to accelerate in the mid-range the gearbox will hunt down one gear too many to give you the required shove.

The same can’t be said of the SL500. The new 5.5-litre V8 offers nearly 390bhp and unsurprisingly feels much faster than the old 306bhp unit.

Drive the SL350 in isolation and you’re impressed with its performance, but start up the big V8 in the 500 and listen as it settles into a thrummy idle and you realise this is the one to go for if your budget allows.

The SL500 costs £12,000 more than the entry model and in terms of performance it’s the all-round star of the range. As well as blistering performance it also sounds a dream.

And finally on to the SL600, all 517bhp, twin-turbocharged V12 of it. This car is sheer lunacy, offering staggering performance which is almost unuseable on the road – how does wheelspin at 80mph while accelerating on a dry motorway sound?

All three models feel much tauter on the road thanks to the revisions to the chassis, offering flat cornering at high speeds and refined cruising over long distances.

Driving verdict

THE visual changes to the SL may be minor, but under the skin things have changed significantly. The SL remains the luxury roadster to beat.

Model: SL350 SL500 SL600
Max power (bhp/rpm): 272/6,000 388/6,000 517/4,800
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 258/2,400 384/2,800 613/1,900
Max speed (mph): 155* 155* 155*
0-62mph (secs): 6.6 5.4 4.5
Fuel consumption (mpg): 27.4 23.2 19.8
CO2 emissions (g/km): 246 291 340
On sale: March.
Prices (OTR): £62,885–£101,220
(* limited)

  • Click next page for pictures

  • CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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