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2016 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Autotrader April 2016

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is the latest in a long and illustrious line of fabulous roadsters. Earlier versions have arguably been prettier, but none have been so crammed full of technology and luxurious details. Any quibbles about the looks will soon become silenced, or perhaps replaced by different quibbles, because the upcoming 2017 SL is refreshed and redesigned.

Most people will consider the current cabin to be easy on the eyes with its fine materials and pleasing shapes, but it isn't just the visual and tactile senses that are stimulated. The SL features an audio system designed especially for open-topped cars: It places a subwoofer on the other side of the passenger footwell so that bass lines aren't lost to the boom of the road, and the other speakers are located so that high frequencies retain their sheen against the whistle of the wind. It's worth going for a drive just to hear music through a quality system, instead of the usual tinny computer speakers at home.

If you attack a corner with some speed, the optional active side bolsters hold occupants in place: When you go right, the left side inflates; when you go left, the right side inflates. The SL offers a suspension feature called Active Body Control (ABC), but this is active human body control. If an overall driving experience could be described as gorgeous, the SL achieves this feat.

By offering a rich list of standard features, an impressive array of turbocharged engines that combine power with efficiency and a power-folding hardtop to keep out the elements, the SL stays true to its traditional strengths of speed and comfort while offering satisfying dynamics when pressed.

What's New for 2016?

The SL550 gains another 20 horsepower over the 2015 version, and there are a few minor changes to the paint choices.

What We Like

Bulletproof construction with a seemingly endless list of luxury features; satisfying performance across the lineup; unbeatable heritage and cachet

What We Don't

Lacks the visual appeal of earlier SL models; not even the AMG models can provide the sharpness that a real driver's machine should have

How Much?

$85,975-$218,475

Fuel Economy

All SL models employ rear-wheel drive and a 7-speed automatic transmission, although the AMG models have a different version of the transmission with faster shifts. All engines have a stop/start fuel-saving function.

The range starts with the SL400 and its twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6, making 329 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it should return 20 miles per gallon in the city, 27 mpg on the hwy and 23 mpg combined.

The SL550 has a twin-turbocharged 4.7-liter V8 making 449 hp and 516 lb-ft. Fuel consumption is estimated at 16 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined.

The SL63 AMG features a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V8 that develops 577 hp and 664 lb-ft. Fuel economy is close to the SL550's figures: 16 mpg city/25 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined.

At the top of the range is the SL65 AMG, with a massive twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter V12 generating 621 hp and 738 lb-ft. It achieves 14 mpg city/21 mpg hwy/17 mpg combined.

Standard Features & Options

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is available in SL400, SL550, SL63 AMG and SL65 AMG versions.

The SL400 ($85,975) includes 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive xenon headlamps, fog lamps, LED running lights, adaptive suspension dampers, a power hardtop with a panoramic glass roof and power wind deflector, leather upholstery, a power adjustable tilt-telescopic steering wheel, 8-way power heated seats with memory, a COMAND infotainment system with navigation, Bluetooth and a Harman Kardon 11-speaker audio system with USB connectivity.

A Premium options bundle adds keyless entry/ignition, hands-free trunk closing, 12-way active ventilated/massaging seats, AIRSCARF (vents in the seats at neck level emitting warm air), a rearview camera and an automated parallel-parking function.

The SL550 ($108,975) brings the 4.7-liter V8 and includes the Premium bundle in its standard equipment. It also adds front and rear parking sensors.

The SL63 AMG ($150,625) brings the 5.5-liter V8, along with styling, handling and interior upgrades appropriate to its AMG status. Highlights include 19-in wheels, special dampers with active roll resistance, big brakes, a sport exhaust and performance telemetry.

Before we get to the bells-and-whistles model, these three versions may also be specced with a Driver Assistance package. This brings advanced safety features such as adaptive cruise control with automatic emergency braking, active lane keeping and an active blind spot monitoring system with assistance.

Also on the options list are Magic Sky Control (which turns the glass roof panel from transparent to opaque at the touch of a button), power-closing doors, a Bang & Olufsen 12-speaker audio system, infrared night vision and an enhanced infotainment display with a driver/passenger split view. And there are various special paint finishes, as well as choices of leather upholstery. If you're willing to splash out, you can personalize your SL to a high degree.

The SL65 AMG ($218,475) features the only V12 in the lineup, plus 20-in rear wheels to go with the 19-in wheels up front, and the majority of those extras previously listed.

Options for the AMG models include carbon-fiber trim (exterior and interior), black chrome trim and carbon-ceramic brake rotors.

The trunk is pretty roomy by roadster standards, measuring 10.2 cu ft. with the top up. Folding the top reduces that space to 7.2 cu ft. There's also some stowage space behind the seats.

Safety

Mercedes-Benz claims that the current SL is "the world's safest convertible." Along with front, side and knee airbags, there's a pop-up roll bar, a driver drowsiness monitor and the company's pre-collision system (which tightens seat belts and primes the brakes).

Behind the Wheel

Construction is so robust that there's hardly a hint of body flex when driving over rough surfaces; the SL feels as rigid as a fixed-roof coupe. Acceleration is rapid yet smooth. Even the V6-powered SL400 zips from zero to 60 miles per hour in just 5.1 seconds. The SL550 needs only 4.5 seconds; the SL63 AMG and SL65 AMG require 4.2 and 3.9 seconds, respectively.

Thanks to wide tires and ingenious suspension engineering, handling is virtually foolproof. However, this isn't a car that tempts you to push the limits. SL roadsters have always been about brisk yet composed progress, as opposed to true sports-car action. This holds true for the current model. Although the available ABC suspension gives the impression of invincibility with its eerily flat cornering, the truth is that the SL remains more of a boulevard cruiser than a canyon carver. If you keep that in mind, you'll probably be pleasantly surprised by its athleticism through the bends.

Other Cars to Consider

2016 Aston Martin Vantage -- The Vantage comes as a coupe or soft-top convertible, with a choice of V8 and V12 engines. And it's drop-dead gorgeous.

2016 BMW 6 Series Convertible -- The drop-top 6 Series features four seats and a vinyl roof rather than a hardtop, but it's comparable to the SL in terms of power, technology and driving experience.

2016 Jaguar F-TYPE Convertible -- Jaguar's first genuine sports car in years is smaller, stiffer and louder than the SL-Class, but that might be a good thing.

2016 Porsche 911 Cabriolet -- This 911 has a soft-top just like the BMW and Jaguar. And it's part of an iconic model range.

Used Bentley Continental GTC -- You can acquire a lightly used Bentley drop-top for the price of a brand-new SL. Just make sure that it comes with a warranty.

Autotrader's Advice

Styling aside, the SL is one of the finest automobiles on the planet, making it a virtually flawless luxury convertible. No one really needs advice on which version to buy, as this car is about desire rather than need. But remember that there's a revised 2017 model coming soon.

Find a Mercedes-Benz SL-Class for sale

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class: New Car Review - Autotrader