A former owner revisits the legend
The test car provided by Mercedes-Benz was the SL 350, ironically presented in the same hue of obsidian black, I once chose for my old SL 500. A pleasurable drive around North Yorkshire beckoned, reminding me of a former love.
I have owned several cars over the years, but the SL 500 in obsidian black, was a personal favourite. The car, dating back to 2007, provided reliable service. I still recall being bathed in light courtesy of the panoramic vario-roof. I remember exhaustively appraising the proximity of kerbs, fearful of denting one of my immaculate AMG alloy wheels.
Owning my first SL was the culmination of years of dreaming of three pointed star ownership. I remember numerous posters adorning my bedroom walls featuring the W107 version of the SL. I wanted to own the red SL, driven by the fictitious Bobby Ewing in Dallas.
I regret the day I parted company with my SL 500. The specification of my car met my every wish and whim. The warble of the 5.5 litre V8 engine had a deep timbre, which aroused every sense. Each hair on my upper spine, would stand to attention, respectful of the Swabian concerto emanating from beneath the bonnet. The sense of occasion I felt as I cruised down country lanes, roof down, Ride of the Valkyries resonating through my Bose speakers, is indelibly etched on my psyche.
The prettiest SL
The prettiest SL in many ways has to be the W113 with Pagoda roof. It still looks perfect to this day and remains untouched despite the passage of time. I still have pangs of sadness and regret that I did not purchase one of these beautiful cars before prices soared to their current altitudinous levels.
A new SL, the R231
Now, my former love, the R230, has been replaced with the R231 and I recently had the pleasure to drive it around North Yorkshire. The test car provided by Mercedes-Benz was the SL 350, ironically presented in the same hue of obsidian black, I once chose for my old SL 500.
Mercedes-Benz have this uncanny knack of designing cars which do not lose appeal despite advancing years. The R230 remains attractive and despite the onset of years will retain allure for generations to come. However, the R231 looks fresh, seamlessly blending flowing curves with angular lines in sublime splendour.
The first thing which strikes you as you sit behind the wheel, is the improved interior accommodation. Everything looks modern, distilled to perfection. The excellent ergonomics of my former SL have somehow been left wanting. Controls readily fall to hand. Fit and finish appear to surpass anything I have sampled in former Mercedes models.
The over-sized circular vents on the dashboard have a retro-look, yet blend harmoniously with the ultra-modern centre console.
My rose-tinted glasses do not extend to the “Command System”, fitted to my old SL500. It appeared outmoded before we parted company. The problem with navigation systems is that the rate of change, the relentless advancement of electronics, soon renders systems passé and seemingly antiquated. The new SL 350 has a wonderful system which oozes modernity. It is user-friendly and the display is a model of clarity. Only time will tell, how long its cutting edge character will last, but at the moment it looks sharp and contemporary.
German cars suit my large torso. The seats appear to sympathetically caress my “love handles” and Canadian Redwood thighs. The sumptuously upholstered chairs in the new SL 350 are incredibly comfortable. They blend support with comfort brilliantly.
The “Ginger Beige” seats with “Espresso Brown” dashboard fitted in my test car, may not be to everyone’s taste, but I confess, I was smitten. I was less keen on the “Light Brown Poplar Wood, satin finish” but there are several trim options available and extended fondling of swatches in a nearby dealership would almost certainly provide a suitable alternative.
I particularly liked the appearance and feel of the steering wheel. The multi-function buttons have received a makeover and proffer wonderful tactility. However, it is the appearance of the stitched leather boss adjacent bright metal work which lifted the interior and made my old SL interior seem a little dowdy.
Start the engine
Start the engine and pull away and you are struck by the absence of noise. My old SL brilliantly shunned wind noise and cabin turbulence courtesy of a foldable wind deflector. Yet, the new SL 350 seemed more refined and quieter.
The 3.5 litre engine has 306 bhp and was not found wanting in the performance department. It has good torque, evidenced when overtaking and never felt underpowered. Does it have the character of my old SL 500? No, but then again, it sips fuel with a parsimonious thirst and will please tree-huggers with CO2 emissions of 176 g/km.
This raised a dilemma, is there justification for purchasing a larger engined SL, such as the SL 500 or maybe the fire-breathing AMG badged variants? Well, with speed cameras breeding like rabbits and fuel costing more than vintage Margaux, you would be justified in asking this question.
The absence of an SL test car fitted with an 8 cylinder or 12 cylinder engine means that the answer to that particular question will have to be reserved for a future date.
The 6 cylnder SL 350 doesn’t have the throaty rumble of my old SL 500. However, in all honesty it will fulfil the needs and wants of many and provide a sensible option for those who do not seek the ultimate bragging rights at the golf club.
Ride and handling
My old SL 500 had 19 inch AMG alloys and Active Body Control. The new SL 350 I drove had 18 inch standard fit alloy wheels without Active Body Control. I must confess, I thought the latter provided superior ride and its manoeuvrability was magnificent.
I recall having Bridgestone tyres on my old SL initially, but, subsequently, I exchanged them for Pirelli P Zeros and the ride comfort improved significantly. The test car was fitted with Yokohama rubber and it made me wonder how much the brand of tyre influenced the ride. The cosseting nature of the suspension would shame many executive cars and made me question the need to tick additional option boxes when the standard set-up appeared so-well resolved.
There are a few options I would choose. In particular, the Airscarf neck-level heating system may sound like a gimmick. But, driving around North Yorkshire on an autumnal day, it meant open top motoring was comfortable and pleasurable..
The black SL 350 had a panoramic vario-roof, similar to my old SL 500. Yet, this has a superb little party trick. A switch on the central console, transformed the transparent glass roof into tinted glass, reducing glare and mitigating the green-house effect on interior cabin temperatures. The only bone of contention is the £2,610 asking price at the time of writing. However, Mercedes-Benz have always been innovators and I suspect it will only be a matter of time before the price of this option reduces to a more accessible level. It was the son of Stuttgart which pioneered ABS back in the 1970’s, yet today it has become de rigueur on modern passenger cars.
During my twenties, blighted by the folly of youth, I dismissed automatic gearboxes. My ignorant perception was they “were for old men”. Only a few years later, I purchased my first car with an automatic transmission and I have seldom strayed back to shifting gears manually. Those who have not been converted to the superior refinement of modern-day automatic gearboxes need only spend a few minutes in the company of the SL 350. The seamlessly slick, changing of ratios is peerless. There is an absence of jerk, shudder or shunt. There are few drivers who possess the necessary skill to usurp the talents of the 7G-Tronic Plus 7 speed automatic transmission.
I have recently been watching the brilliant period drama Downton Abbey and lamenting that we no longer live in such wholesome times. I listen to my children talk of their gadgets and need to converse with thousands of people they scarcely know on Facebook et al. It seems alien to me. However, “The times are a-changin” and progress cannot be halted. At least with the new SL, the familiar appears to have improved, evolving into an even better roadster.
This is the birth of a new legend, an old-friend who has just got better.