It may not boast the timeless looks of its predecessors, but the 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class lays claim to serious improvements in performance, engineering and design.
Thanks to a comprehensive redo for the 2013 model year, the 2014 S-Class offers a richer list of standard features as well as a curb weight that's more than 200 pounds lighter than the model it replaces.
As with before, a folding hardtop keeps the elements out. But this time around, an aluminum chassis keeps the weight significantly lower, while a choice of three turbocharged engines combine significant power with surprising efficiency. Though it still can't touch the Porsche 911's benchmark levels of feel and performance, the 2014 SL-Class stays true to Mercedes-Benz's traditional levels of comfort and luxury while offering surprisingly satisfying levels of thrust, grip and maneuverability.
What's New for 2014?
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is a carryover from the 2013 model year, though the SL65 AMG version gains a 7-speed automatic transmission.
What We Like
Bulletproof construction with a seemingly endless array of luxury features; all three variants offer satisfying performance; hard to beat the SL-Class's heritage and brand equity
What We Don't
Lacks the visual appeal of earlier SL models; 3-digit starting prices still have room for further escalation; folding hardtop limits trunk space
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class SL550 achieves 18 miles per gallon city/25 mpg hwy. The SL3 AMG is motivated by a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V8 that gets 16 mpg city/25 mpg hwy. The SL65 AMG gets a twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter V12 capable of 14 mpg city/21 mpg hwy.
Standard Features & Options
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is available in SL550, SL63 AMG and SL65 AMG trim levels.
The SL550 ($106,700) is powered by a twin-turbocharged, 4.6-liter V8, and among its standard items is a Premium 1 package with a backup camera, active ventilated seats, the Airscarf neck heating system, an electronic trunk closer with hands-free functionality, a Harman Kardon sound system with Logic7 surround and keyless go. Options include a premium Bang & Olufsen sound system ($5,400), the Magic Sky Control panorama roof dimmer ($2,500) and soft close doors ($450).
The SL63 AMG ($147,300) gets a power boost from 429 horsepower to 530 hp, with upgrades performed to the suspension and braking system, as well. The same options exist here as in the SL550.
Ultimate SL-Class performance comes from the SL65 AMG ($214,500), which features a twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter V12 that churns 621 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque. Apart from an exterior carbon fiber package ($3,570) and a drive kit for iPhone integration ($599), the SL65 AMG doesn't leave much room for additional packages or extra features.
Mercedes-Benz claims the 2014 SL is "the world's safest convertible." Along with side and knee airbags, there's a pop-up roll bar, driver-attention assist and the company's pre-collision system, which tightens seat belts and primes the brakes. On the options list are intelligent cruise control, blind spot monitoring and active lane keeping.
Neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has crash-tested the 2014 SL-Class, but given Mercedes-Benz's record, we anticipate the SL to perform well in occupant protection.
Behind the Wheel
For the first time in its history, the SL-Class has a predominantly aluminum body. A notable exception is the frame for the retractable roof, which is made of light yet super-strong magnesium. Overall construction is so ingenious that there's no hint of body flex when driving over rough surfaces; the vehicle feels as rigid as a hardtop. Torsional stiffness has been improved by 20 percent. Yet even with all the latest technology and safety features, this generation is about 240 pounds lighter than its predecessor.
Acceleration is rapid yet smooth. The SL550 zips from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.5 seconds, while the engine delivers its energy in an exceptionally linear fashion and hits a top speed of 130 mph. The SL63 AMG offers even fiercer acceleration, clocking a 0-to-60-mph time of 4.2 seconds. Opt for the mammoth-engined SL65 and you'll be able to hit 60 mph in only 3.9 seconds.
Power and lightness are still not enough to let the SL550 lay claim to sportiness. The chassis has to be poised, pert and precise, and it is. It does, however, behave quite differently from virtually every other vehicle. It takes a fast bend to find this out.
Heading toward a tight curve, the brakes lack a reassuring initial bite. Move the steering wheel and there's a calm, confident action as the nose turns in, despite an artificiality to the actual feel (the bane of electrical assistance). This shortage of real sensation might cause the driver not to reach the speed the SL can surely achieve. It's hard to tell when the front wheels will break into understeer, and it's not a good idea to leave it until it's too late.
In mid-corner, something odd happens: The tail seems to rotate a little, tightening the line, almost like a 4-wheel-steering effect. This is especially evident with the optional Active Body Control but also present in the standard model, which has a semi-adaptive suspension with Sport and Comfort modes. The rear end feels as though it firms up to a greater degree once all the sensors have checked steering input, road speed and yaw rate, and adjusted the settings accordingly.
Thanks to the stiffer chassis and performance tuning done to the SL63 AMG, that model tackles corners with more authority, greater grip and more intuitive handling. Power is nothing short of awesome when the throttle is gunned, and the uprated brakes offer strong stops. The SL65 AMG's massive V12 delivers even more power, to the point where its thundering 738 lb-ft of torque triggers the traction control during seemingly innocuous maneuvers.
Other Cars to Consider
BMW 6-Series Convertible -- The BMW 6-series convertible starts at $82,900, a significantly lower price than the SL-Class. Though it doesn't quite pack the same level of performance and technology as the Benz, the BMW 6-series holds its own in comfort.
Jaguar F-Type -- Jaguar's first 2-seat roadster in years starts at $69,000, but rapidly escalates in price as more potent powertrains are optioned. Dynamically satisfying and strikingly styled, the F-Type offers serious competition against the SL-Class.
Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet -- The Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet isn't cheap at $160,700, but its legendary performance and thorough engineering make it a potent competitor for the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class.
Mercedes-Benz's SL-Class may have seemed the safe choice in the premium convertible segment, but the changes to its drivetrain and chassis (particularly in AMG form) make it a genuinely thrilling car to drive. Add its road-trip-friendly ergonomics, quiet cruising and smooth suspension compliance and you've got a 2-seat convertible that feels like it can -- and quite possibly will -- do it all.