UK CAR Reviews: Mercedes Benz SL 320

Jaguar XJ6 4.0 Soveriegn

 



They are a strange lot Mercedes, Historically they have produced some of the most stunning racers ever to grace the circuits. Yet that razor edge racing sharpness rarely seems to rub off on the convertibles they produce.

The SL range of roadsters, traces a lineage back to at least the early sixties. Until the late 80's the badge was affixed to stylish if somewhat effeminate and portly car, with engines ranging from a rather sedate 2.8 to an thumping 5.0

The old cars sold in droves on the back of its Mercedes badge, but it was hardly the last word in driving experience's. It was though rather a good pose and comfortable long legged cruiser, which was good enough for the hairdressers who bought them.

By the late 80 the design was getting rather old and the competition rather stronger, so Mercedes revamped the design swooping in a new aggressive look for the old non threatening one. 

The bodylines and curves have not dated even with the introduction of the SLK and Porsche Boxter and others with their sleek looks and features.

In terms of looks the design has been a success if aggressive looks was what Benz were after. Stood looking at a gleaming black example, you can only be impressed by its physical presence, it looks big, long and wide with huge arch filling wheels.

Until you stand next to it that is, when you discover that yes its wide, but its much more low than long.

Sitting inside the impression turns back around again, the car with its long bonnet feels longer than it really is, making it feel a little unwieldy at first.

There is plenty of space in the front seats at least, despite no roof you feel quite hemmed in by the chunky surroundings, Its not till you barrel around a few bends that you realise how amply sized the seats are as you slide from bolster to bolster. Obviously most prospective purchasers of these Merc's are of somewhat ample proportions.

 

Most other Mercedes I have ever tried have been slightly dull affairs to drive. The SL at least feels livelier than those other (admittedly more mundane) examples of the breed. Grasping the big but thick steering wheel rim, you can only be impressed be impressed by it general demeanour of solidity. Okay its responses are not scalpel sharp, but it handles solidly gripping hard, and steering around the bends with a nice neutrality, and with nary a trace of body roll.

 

Whilst this is a sort of middle of the range 320  six cylinder car, and perhaps lacks the outright pace of  5 and 6 hundreds, it never feels lacking in any particular way. A healthy 231 bhp is mated to a responsive auto box, the 320's excellent mid range allows the SL to be grunted around at low and middling revs, without sending the Gearbox into histrionics.

149mph is plenty enough for most, though the  Zero to Sixty of 8.1 seconds is hardly much to shout about. Though the Traction control, combining  with the Automatic transmission, means perfect starts every time. A hard start from the lights results in only a slight squealing of the tortured rear tyres and a hefty squatting from the rear end. Even so you cant help thinking you would trade some of the superfluous MPH for some precious tenths. 

The traction control is very sensitive and will cut the power at the first sign of wheel spin. Irritating this is so it simply can be turned off, for a more hooligan demeanour

Stirring an Automatic Box manually always seems as little perverse to me, easier just to flick into sport mode and get it a little more responsive, though really it only gives you some extra  revs at the top end and a more eager change down on smaller throttle openings.

The auto box is very smooth with great uptake A small criticism with the box is when the sports mode is selected the uptake can be a little harsh. This is however not severe and I think you only notice as a compliment to the shear smoothness under normal driving.

Braking is of course strong and assured via a solid feeling pedal.

Being a convertible there is of course little point in driving it with the roof up. So of course first thing to do when getting in is to take the roof down. 

Forget any fiddling with catches and press studs, just Press the switch sit watch and admire as something like a cross between the Bismarck and a Swiss watch swings into life.  The electric roof grunts and groans like a swing bridge as it gives up its grip on the cars and swings neatly down into a space in the boot whilst a elegant cover, swings up then down to hide any unsightly gubbins.

The car tested exhibited no water leakage at all, unusual for a soft-top.

Driving with the roof down, the steeply raked screen does a good job of pushing the wind and fly's way off and over your head, an  optional deflector cuts out any other unwanted Bobby Charlton wrap and comb over effects. 

The SL is a true convertible designed as such unlike lots of other makes such as Saab and BMW that build saloon cars and later convert them. I get the feeling that if they were designed as saloons they would do best at being that body style it to me appears to be a market compromise.

The SL comes in one well-designed body style and it does fit well.

There is an optional hard top, which is built with typical Mercedes heftiness, But as it takes a couple or three hefty blokes to shift it I don't think you will be taking it on and off overly often.

The hard top fits like a glove and absolutely transforms this car into a real all weather GT. When the hard top is fitted you do not get any noise over and above any other Mercedes saloon.

The roof trickery does of course come at the cost of taking a hefty chunk out of the boot, which sort of rules it out of the Grand Touring role. 

Inside its as well trimmed as a Benz should be, it has a few little idiosyncrasies that are typical Mercedes, not better or worse than other cars just a touch different. A foot operated parking/emergency brake works perfectly with an Automatic box and frees up the centre console. 

It has an auto wiper which works oh so well, you just leave the wiper on intermittent and it works when ever it rains and speeds up if it rains a lot, you don’t have to use any other position.

The dash has plastic wood which is pretty much standard on lots of marques I wonder what will eventually replace this tacky finish but it is high quality plastic wood which does cost a fortune to replace if it gets damaged if you get your stereo stolen.

 

In reality an SL isn't really my cup of tea, but its still an impressive piece of engineering to be admired. 

O’lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz is the marketing but you would need to be very popular or loved for someone to simply buy you one of these sports super cars.

Hellishly expensive if your just comparing paper figures but that's unlikely to disturb buyers, who probably would not even consider any other make of roadster. But if it was my money I would be looking at a Boxster.  The Mercedes is probably a little more practical, and of course has diddy rear seats for your dwarfen friends, and that may just swing or limit your choice.

the Mercedes SL is a lot of car and if are not one to appreciate it you are probably a labour MP who insists on public transport.

As a status symbol the SL is very noticeable and as a drivers car it is very responsive, furthermore as a car of class it had arrived many years before this model.

 

 


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