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Engine options, speed, acceleration and refinement

If you feel fortunate to be inside the Mercedes SL at all, those who like impressive performance will feel luckier still to be in a 500 when the throttle is flattened. At our test track, pressing the right pedal into the carpet was enough to propel the SL 500 to 60mph in 4.3sec – quicker than the previous SL 63 – and on to 100mph in less than 10 seconds. By a kilometre it’s doing 150mph. Make no mistake, this is premier league roadster performance.

But SL traditionalists need not fret, either. You only hear the 500’s engine should you want to and you need only feel the limits of its performance if you ask for them. The rest of the time the SL is happy to sit back and do the cruising that you’d expect of it. Locked into top gear, it’ll still pull from 50 to 70mph in 6.5sec. That’s a bit of a difference from the 2.1sec it wants in third gear, but amply impressive given that acceleration from 50mph in top starts from around 1250rpm.

At cruising speeds, you'll easily see the good side of 30mpg

And with it, it’s as utterly tractable and refined as you’d expect. At idle, cabin noise is restrained to just 41dB, which is in line with most executive and luxury saloons. Isolation is really terrific, too, although some road noise enters the equation later.

Not so long ago, a 4.7-litre turbocharged motor making 92bhp per litre would result in its owner being on first-name terms with their local petrol station proprietor. However, relax into a cruise and the SL 500 will see you good for the other side of 30mpg, while we’d expect most owners to better our average return of 24.1mpg. Even if they don’t, they’ll still be looking at a credible 400-mile range between fills.

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Sitting beneath the SL 500 is the SL 400, powered by a turbocharged 3.0-litre V6. Moreover, because of the SL 400's 87bhp power disadvantage against the SL 500, its power is more usable on UK roads. And 361bhp means it's still capable of 0-62mph in less than five seconds.

The range-topping SL 63 delivers quite ludicrous performance. Its reduced kerb weight over the previous SL combined with a twin-turbocharged 5.5-litre V8 means a torque-to-weight figure of 375lb ft per tonne, 89lb ft more than even the SLS AMG. Allied to 577bhp, this is enough for 0-62mph in 4.1 seconds. If that's not quite enough for you, the even more potent SL 65 AMG offers up 0-62mph in just 4.0sec, thanks largely to its 621bhp 6.0-litre V12.

The SL braked with conviction; anything that takes less than 45 metres to come to a standstill from 70mph is a first-class stopper. Its brakes also resisted fade admirably on the handling circuit.