Suspension, like that of the last car, is all-independent, by multi-links at both ends. Steel springs with adaptive dampers are standard on both the V6 SL 350 and the SL 500; Mercedes’ air-sprung Active Body Control chassis is optional on both cars, but standard on the range-topping new SL 63 AMG, which arrives in the autumn.
And the cabin? That remains a strict two-seater. Need occasional back seats? Then you’re not SL people; feel free to shop elsewhere. It’s an arrogant and unusual stance, but one this opulent roadster nonchalantly backs up.
What’s it like?
On top of the all-new underbody, the SL’s basic concept and proportions are carried over. The car is long of bonnet, short of cabin, with the same slightly unwieldy looking bustle back-end, the dimensions of which are necessary to package the car’s metal roof when folded.
In truth, the styling of the new car barely does justice to Mercedes’ investment in it. The new grille and headlights freshen the car, and the cleaner interpretation of the bodyside is welcome, bringing with it a pleasing nod to the gorgeous 1960s ‘Pagoda’ SL. But considered as a whole, the new SL seems plain; next to the SLK and SLS, like just another drop-top clone. It deserves better.
Thankfully, the car has lost none of its glorious distinctiveness from behind the wheel. You feel fortunate just to be on board. The cabin’s even wider than it used to be, so you sit at a very discreet distance from your passenger, surrounded on all sides by plush leathers, cool metal trim and attractive, aero-inspired instruments.
Thus ensconced, thumb the silver starter button. The V8 engine in the SL 500 catches with a muffled roar. It’s nearly silent at idle, a little more audible at urban speeds, and only really raises its voice when you flex the long-travel, floor-mounted accelerator – and only then in the most suave and cultured tones.
Eerily smoothness and restraint characterises so much of this car’s demeanor. It’s the kind of smoothness that eases the SL away from stationary with pillowy gentility, and that swaps gearbox ratios on a part throttle almost unacknowledged. As any automotive engineer will tell you, it’s also the kind of smoothness that only painstaking development can produce. And it’s universal in the new SL: all-pervading. Even over the most neglected tarmac, nothing disturbs the car’s perfect cruise.
So immaculate is the ride comfort of this new SL that it’ll glide unperturbed over the very worst surfaces. One such road we sought out – an old, narrow, sunken backroad warped by the Spanish sun – looked like it might provide a worthy test, but the SL covered it like freshly rolled motorway. The car bobbed ever-so-gently on its springs, effortlessly translating severe shocks to its chassis into perfectly cushioned, barely delectable bodily reactions. Even with the roof down there wasn’t the faintest suggestion that the car’s structure was being stretched; not a shudder from the steering column, or a shimmy from the rearview mirror. Open-top motoring just doesn’t get any more refined.
A car so wedded to comfort – so adept at absorption and isolation - could never lead the class on poise, response, feel: almost diametric opposites of everything that the modern SL is about. The car’s heartland customers wouldn’t want it to. If it meant compromise, neither would we.
And yet the SL really does handle - up to point. Mercedes served up both steel- and air-sprung versions of the car on the SL’s first press launch. While the Active Body Control system certainly serves up wider spread ‘Comfort’ and ‘Sport’ chassis settings, it was the standard steel-sprung setup we preferred, delivering better steering feedback, more progressive damping and more consistent wheel control.