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Well-rounded roadster. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

Well-rounded roadster
The SL has always been the consummate all-rounder, and the SL 500 is all the open-topped 'Benz you could ever need.

   



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| A Week at the Wheel | Herts, England | Mercedes-Benz SL 500 |

Inside & Out: star star star star star

Driving the SL at its mid-life refresh at the start of the year, we weren't entirely convinced with the makeover of the front of the car. Familiarity has increased its appeal though, so the SL's new frontal styling no longer jars. In fact we've rather grown to like it. There's a very obvious familial link to SLs of old and in particular to the Pagoda SL, our favourite of the classic drop-top 'Benzes. The rear of the new car isn't so successful; the changes are only slight in comparison to its predecessor.

There's a lack of cohesion to the front and the rear styling too, the new headlamps and grille all angular and assertive, while the back retains its rounded, smooth look. Even so it remains the best looking car yet to feature a folding hardtop; the SL is one of only a handful of coupé-convertibles that look as good with the roof up as it does with it down. The operation of the top itself is mesmerising, and even with the roof stowed the SL still offers a decently spacious boot. Inside, there's no hiding the SL's age though. Minor changes aside, the facia is largely unchanged. The interface with the 'Comand' infotainment system feels clunky in comparison to the controls offered in newer Mercedes models.

Engine & Transmission: star star star star star

The badge says 500 but the V8 under the sculpted bonnet of the SL is actually a 5.5-litre unit. It delivers a more than ample 383bhp at 6,000rpm and 391lb.ft of torque between 2,800 and 4,800rpm. Both those numbers are produced quite high up the V8's rev range, and get the rev-counter needle in the sweet spot around 3-4,000rpm and the SL flies. Its responses are a bit tardier lower down the rev counter needle's sweep, part of the problem being the rather lazy-to-shift automatic transmission.

Much fuss has been made of Mercedes' seven-speed automatic, but it's not the quickest to kick down unless you really force it to. Change the setting to Sport and things improve slightly, but it never really feels like it's working with you. Manual mode sorts things out, but if you've bought an auto do you really want the hassle of shifting? It's enough for us to knock off an extra star - the SL 500's engine and gearbox don't work as beautifully in unison as those in the Jaguar XK or BMW 6 Series.

Ride & Handling: star star star star star

Merc's SL is a well rounded car, being a capable and comfortable GT, a cool coupé and a riotous roadster all at the same time. But there are compromises to be made for this all-round ability. It'll never thrill like a pure sportscar, nor cosset quite as brilliantly as a big luxury GT. It gets close on both counts, but doesn't ever quite achieve greatness in either area. There's plenty of grip on offer, but with so little feel and feedback through the steering wheel it's unlikely you'll push the SL hard for the hell of it. Steering response is good and the way the SL changes direction is impressive given its weight, but it feels big on the road - particularly tight country ones.

The handling is largely neutral, though wet roundabouts leave no doubt as to the rear-drive nature of the SL. The electronics act relatively unobtrusively to keep things tidy, with the flashing ESP light among the instruments rather than seat of your pants feel generally being the first indicator that the SL is reaching its limits of adhesion. Fitted with Mercedes' ABC suspension (Active Body Control), the SL rides best when it's switched off, as it improves the body control but destroys the ride comfort.

Equipment, Economy & Value for Money: star star star star star

The SL has never been a cheap car but at least as one of Mercedes' technology flagship models it comes decently specified as standard. Included in the spec is Mercedes' Comand satnav and entertainment system, though after you've followed the satnav a few times on its weird routing you'll wonder whether it's really worth it. What is worth having is the optional media interface, which at £140 allows you to plug your iPod and control it all via the Comand system and its steering wheel controls. It really should be standard fit, as should Mercedes' cool - or should that be hot - Airscarf system that blows warm air onto the back of your neck. The 'Luxury' automatic climate control works well, but like much of the interfaces in the SL it feels rather old-school when compared to the controls in newer Mercedes-Benz models.

Economy is never going to be great from an automatic transmission equipped 5.5-litre V8, Mercedes quoting 23.7mpg on the official combined cycle and CO2 emissions of 284g/km. That's not too bad for a 383bhp car that's capable of reaching 62mph in just 5.4 seconds.

Overall: star star star star star

We consider the Mercedes-Benz SL to be a hugely impressive car. Its pace on paper isn't far short of several supercars (in SL 63 and SL 65 AMG guises the SL really is a bona-fide supercar rival) and its poise is pretty remarkable given its size and weight. The folding roof turns it into a brilliant roadster quickly and top up it's a stunning, comfortable and refined coupé. It might be showing its advancing years now, but even so the Mercedes SL 500 remains a very desirable car.

Kyle Fortune - 14 Oct 2008



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2008 Mercedes-Benz SL specifications:
Price: £104,525 on-the-road.
0-62mph: 5.4 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Combined economy: 23.7mpg
Emissions: 284g/km
Kerb weight: 1910kg

2008 Mercedes-Benz SL. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2008 Mercedes-Benz SL. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2008 Mercedes-Benz SL. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2008 Mercedes-Benz SL. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2008 Mercedes-Benz SL. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

2008 Mercedes-Benz SL. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2008 Mercedes-Benz SL. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2008 Mercedes-Benz SL. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2008 Mercedes-Benz SL. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2008 Mercedes-Benz SL. Image by Mercedes-Benz.



2008 Mercedes-Benz SL. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2008 Mercedes-Benz SL. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2008 Mercedes-Benz SL. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2008 Mercedes-Benz SL. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2008 Mercedes-Benz SL. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2008 Mercedes-Benz SL. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 

2008 Mercedes-Benz SL. Image by Mercedes-Benz.
 






 

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