It’s amazing the kind of responses you get when behind the wheel of Mercedes-Benz’s latest SL350 coupe. Starting life 60 years ago with the ‘SL’ nomenclature first glued on the iconic 300, commonly referred to as the Gullwing these days, the German automaker began a steady stream of wider and heavier iterations that went on to define luxury drop-top driving.
And into its sixth incarnation, little doubt is left over how significant the model is to the automaker considering the level of improvements in the performance, finishing and technology departments.
Old world, reborn
It only seems apt for Mercedes-Benz to have built what has to arguably be the best SL in the last 20 years.
At first glance the new model would almost certainly send people scrambling to either side of the fence but for anyone taking the time to examine the details, this is the truest form to the original that we’ve seen from the German automaker since the evolution of the model began in the 1960s. In our view, the story of the new SL begins a little earlier…
Harking back to the 1950s, a single imposing grill now stands guard at the front of the car, while the air outlets slot into the body work behind the front wheel arches, thus cutting a clearer connection to the original.
A traditional long bonnet with a short rear overhang sets the ground for this redesign, which finds the bonnet longer, and the car on a whole, slightly wider; improving both the stance and the handling of the car around corners.
With the flat nose seeming to dominate the design language at Mercedes-Benz these days, the SL350 seems to have softer curves that give the car an almost bulbous appearance in profile, especially when you’ve got the roof up.
The headlamps are easily the most polarizing of the changes; even after my time with the car, I still couldn’t decide if it was cutting-edge or in questionable taste. In the evenings though, a common consensus is reached when the LED brows light up the top of the lamps, outlining a menacing demeanor that you probably wouldn’t want to see in your rear view mirror.
Inside, the family connection to the SLS AMG supercar is clear with the vents striking a strong chord of resemblance.
Mercedes-Benz delivers on its promise of luxuriously appointed cabins with leather overtaking the dashboard, seats and central armrest, and brushed metal filling up the gaps. The finishing is nothing less than exemplary.
Mercedes-Benz never touted their SLs as the best handling sports cars around. Rightfully so.
With handling considerably light, this comfortable two-seater comes into its own as a cruiser. Skipping over the bumps and undulating roads, the SL350 has its suspension fully sorted to absorb all of it without having you notice any of it; even in the sportiest mode.
Get on the gas and no matter how far down your foot is, only linear acceleration with silky smooth shifting brings the car up to speed.
You even get a stately V6 murmur on full throttle. Get the car into Sports mode and hear the aural tone resonate louder; the effect is amplified at higher revs as the engine kicks into high gear.
Add a 100kg weight deficit earned by employing the lightweight properties of aluminum around the body to the already widened dimensions of the car, the SL350 is noticeably more stable when put through it’s paces and nippier from still.
The easy decision
So it’s begs the question, “Does bigger always mean better?”
In comparison to its heavier but more powerful SL500 and SL63 AMG cousins, the SL350 comes off as the unlikely hero of driving satisfaction. Again, this holds true if what you’re after is getting from A to B in leathery comfort with the option for some nippy blasts through town; anything more might be out of reach.
Once behind the wheel of the brand-new SL350, it is clear that the base model adds far more credibility to the word “base” than I think any other model has done in the past.
It is lighter, more powerful and energy efficient, has looks that will turn heads and boasts a wonderful interior. Truly, this is one of the better drives I’ve had in an SL in a long while.
The answer has never been so simple before.
Unless you’re a die-hard fan of that characteristic V8 burble, you will start appreciating how much pure joy you get out of the SL class chassis with a car this well-behaved and sorted.
- Mercedes-Benz SL350
- Engine 3.5-litre V6
- Power 306 bhp / 6500 rpm
- Torque 370 Nm / 5250 rpm
- 0-100km/h 5.9sec
- Top Speed 250 km\h