A styling refresh and more power give the six-cylinder SL extra sizzle
THE GOOD
  • Style icon
  • Comfy and athletic
  • Clever folding hardtop
THE BAD
  • Limited trunk space
  • Back-up camera and proximity key should not be extra
  • Pricey

 

Blue-chip. Opulent. Stylish. Super clever roof. Witheringly pricey. Always comfortable and often brutally fast. But never playful. This is what comes to mind when I think of the Mercedes-Benz SL roadster.

Snug coupe to tanning salon in a matter of seconds, while imparting a sense of privilege and well-being the moment one’s butt hits the plush seat

So why am I having so much fun in this six-cylinder 2017 SL 450? Yes, it does all the expected stuff, like going from snug coupe to tanning salon in a matter of seconds, while imparting a sense of privilege and well-being the moment one’s butt hits the plush seat. Highway cruising and boulevard posturing? Impeccable.

Yet, out here on some twisting country roads, the SL 450 plays the agile sports car. In Sport mode the steering is sharp, and the roadster’s long white snout hunts down an apex with all the spirit of my dog on a chipmunk’s trail. The chassis grips and talks in equal measure. The new-for-2017 nine-speed 9G-Tronic is so much better than the outgoing seven-speed unit. It’s silky smooth in operation, but also knows when to downshift and how long to hold onto the gears when you’re feeling frisky. It’s also happy to respond quickly to your shift-paddle requests.

The twin-turbo 3.0 V6 is a willing ally too. For 2017, it jumps from 329 to 362 horsepower, and torque gets nudged from 354 lb-ft to 369 lb-ft. It’s eager to rev and it delivers its urge with nary a hiccup or hint of turbo lag. Above 4,000 rpm this bent-six goes on a tear, kicking out a snarly yet suitably civilized soundtrack that is well-judged for the SL crowd. None of those Jaguar-esque aural histrionics here.

Countering all this forward progress is a Sport Brake System that displays tireless authority.

Much of SL 450’s athleticism comes from its incredibly stiff structure. There is nary a hint of cowl shake, and this lets the suspension work properly without having to compensate for any flexi-flyer hijinks. Less weight in the nose no doubt helps too, thanks to the lighter V6. The SL 450 also gets a brake-based torque vectoring system that gives it more mojo in the bends.

Granted, this six-pot doesn’t deliver that effortless, rumbling urge found in the SL 550 ($126,000) with its 449 horse, 516 lb-ft 4.7L twin-turbo V8, or the insane thrust of the 5.5L twin-turbo V8-powered SL 63 ($165,200) that brings 577 horsepower and 664 lb-ft to the party. Need more? The SL 65 at $244,400 pounds the pavement into submission with a 6.0L bi-turbo V12 worth 621 horses and 737 lb-ft of torque. Regardless, I would posit this “entry level” V6 SL with a starting price of $104,900 will be plenty speedy for most customers.

Benz’s icon of style plays the definitive long-nose, stubby-tail proportions beautifully, looking slick with the roof up or down. For 2017 Mercedes has bestowed the SL with a considerably prettier visage thanks to an all-new grill, reshaped headlights and generally cleaner lines.

Our Polar White tester was jazzed up with optional 19-inch 10-spoke AMG wheels shod with P255/35R19 front and P285/30R19 rear tires ($500). They surely helped with road holding too.

The SL’s dash is dominated by a quartet of Howitzer-sized gun-sight air vents, and nestled in the binnacle are a pair of large analogue gauges. Atop the centre stack is the Comand interface screen, and below, an array of buttons and dials for HVAC and infotainment that work in concert with the rotary controller just to the right of the electronic shifter.

To the left of the shifter is the Dynamic Select button that summons five drive modes – Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and the programmable Individual. The multi-contour seats perform a cool party trick – the outside bolsters inflate when cornering – and the flat-bottomed wheel feels great in the paws. It’s a beautifully rendered cabin, here resplendent in red leather and dark ash wood trim.

Benz’s Comand interface supports Apple CarPlay, and the standard Harman Kardon Logic 7 surround-sound system sounds quite fabulous.

No matter which Mercedes product you buy, the optional Premium Package seems to be a default expense as Benz cleverly bundles a number of necessities within. In the case of this 2017 SL 450, the $5,200 Premium Package bestows a must-have back-up camera and proximity key with push button start, along with the sport brake system, multi-contour front seats with ventilation, power trunk closer, hands-free trunk access and nifty AirScarf that blows warm air on your neck for those cool evening runs.

This tester also had the $2,800 Exclusive Package (illuminated doorsills, Nappa leather, soft-close doors) and the $2,700 Intelligent Drive Package with its radar- and camera-based systems that warn of bad things, nudge you back in line when going astray, apply the brakes if you don’t, and allow for brief stints of autonomous progress.

The roof performs its mechanical ballet in about 15 seconds, at speeds up to 40 km/h. With the roof up, the trunk holds 485 litres, shrinking to 345 litres when the lid is stowed. Still, that’s enough for a couple of overnight bags.

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz SL 450 is a marvellously well-rounded luxury two-seater. It will go from secure and quiet coupe to fun-in-the sun convertible before you can ask, “Did you pack the Louis Vuitton picnic hamper, sweetness?” while providing equal measures of coddle and sport, depending on which drive mode is selected. And always, it will get you a prime valet spot in front of the Ritz Carlton.

Specifications

Engine Displacement 3.0L   Model Tested 2017 Mercedes-Benz SL 450
Engine Cylinders V6   Base Price $104,900
Peak Horsepower 362 hp   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 369 lb-ft   Destination Fee $2,026
Fuel Economy 11.5/8.4/10.1 (L/100 km, cty/hwy/cmb)   Price as Tested $118,226
Cargo Space 345/485L  
Optional Equipment
$11,200 – 19-inch 10-spoke AMG wheels $500; Premium Package $5,200; Exclusive Package $2,800; Intelligent Drive Package $2,700