Mercedes-Benz SL-Class SL 500

May 2012

picture of car from the front

New Mercedes design language means SL is now a shaper-looking roadster


Overall Rating 9Overall rating

Value for money Rating 8Value for money

Space and Practicality Rating 6Costs

Space and Practicality Rating 6Space and practicality

Controls and display Rating 6Controls and display

Comfort Rating 8Comfort

Security Rating 8Car security

Safety Rating 9Car safety


  • Smooth and flexible engine range
  • High quality cabin feels luxurious and comfortable
  • Surprising agility for such a big car
  • Hard top roof works well up or down


  • Automatic gearbox feels slow when pressing on
  • Need to choose exterior colour carefully to flatter car
  • Despite weight-saving measures can still feel big and heavy when on the move
  • An expensive car to buy and run even within its class

The SL is a cornerstone of the Mercedes range, with the car offering a blend of performance, luxury and hassle-free open top motoring in one elegant package. This latest generation SL adds more technology and a greater focus on economy to this mix.

With Mercedes boasting of a concerted weight reduction plan in a bid to make its SL more agile, engaging to drive and, crucially, more fuel efficient, the German firm's flagship convertible looks to further improve on an already popular concept.

Displaying a more angular and modern exterior than its predecessor, this latest SL takes many of its design cues from the smaller SLK and SLS halo model. That said, despite the contemporary exterior, the SL remains a car for wafting in not thrashing around the countryside.

With that sentiment in mind, the SL remains a petrol-only model range, which appears to fit well with its decadent, premium-level standing in the marketplace. Although the six-cylinder car is likely to be the most popular thanks to its affordability, the eight-cylinder SL 500 offers a fine balance of pace and refinement.

As befits a flagship model, the SL can be had with a vast array of hi-tech comfort and safety kit. From the car's photo-reactive glass roof to the high-end entertainment options and intelligent safety kit, part of the SL's role is to be a rolling showcase for the Mercedes brand.

Our verdict on the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class SL 500

While Mercedes would like you to think of the SL as a premium sports car, the reality is the car is happier when wafting - be that to the shops, country club or cross-country to your holiday hideaway. It might not be the last word in high performance but it does a good job of cosseting its occupants, and there's no question that the folding metal roof adds to the coupe-like cabin refinement.

Costs rating 6

Despite the efforts to reduce weight and improve engine efficiency the SL remains a large, heavy car and its fuel economy and emissions profile reflects this. You also can't ignore the purchase price and, crucially, the premium level running costs associated with a luxury car like the SL.

Space and practicality
Space and Practicality Rating 6

With seating for just two people there is no shortage of space in the SL for two adults. Disappointingly oddment space is a little lacking, although there is plenty of storage behind the two seats but this is difficult to access on the move. The boot is a good size with the roof up although this is obviously reduced if you wish to have the roof down.

picture of car from the rear

Roof down the SL is an attractive sight

Controls and display
Controls and Display Rating 6

Mercedes' trademark clear instruments grace the SL and are complimented by a colour screen between the main dials that offers a wealth of information. The steering wheel has numerous buttons to control various aspects of the car, supplemented by the control wheel in the centre console. Despite this, navigating around the systems can be a little fiddly at times, and the SL lags behind some rivals in this respect.

Comfort Rating 8

Considering most models will ride on large alloy wheels the SL is still capable of delivering a soothing ride. The car's seats are supportive and can be had with a multitude of adjustments and the option of heating and ventilation. Roof up noise levels are low too, while there is little wind intrusion with the roof down.

Car security
Security Rating 8

Aside from a standard immobiliser and alarm package, the fact that the SL has a folding metal roof as opposed to a fabric one is arguably just as important in security terms. An optional tracking device would also be a wise investment.

Car safety
Safety Rating 9

The SL is one of the safest of open top cars out there. The car is packed with safety features, including the Pre-Safe system, which prepares the car for an accident if it believes one is imminent by tightening belts and closing windows prior to an impact. This is backed up by a comprehensive package of electronic stability aids.

Driver appeal
Driver Appeal Rating 9

In contrast to the performance orientated AMG variants, the regular SL might still be a quick car but the focus is very much on refinement. You can hustle the SL but it's clear that a more measured approach delivers more refined and pleasing results. This is in tune with the car's light steering, smooth auto transmission and plush ride.

picture of car interior

High quality cabin is a pleasure to be in

Family car appeal
Family Appeal Rating 2

The SL isn't really suited to family use, mainly because it can only carry one other person besides the driver and its boot isn't that big. Plus, the car's plush upholstery isn't exactly childproof.

First car appeal
First car Rating 1

The SL may be easy to drive but it is not really suitable for a novice driver. With too much power even in base trim and an insurance bill that would be beyond almost anyone, you'd need to have deep pockets to run an SL.

Quality and image
Quality and Image Rating 9

Inside and out the SL is finished to a high standard, all the controls operate with an assured solidity and the materials used are pleasing to the touch. Image-wise the SL is often viewed the preserve of mature buyers partly due to its price tag and its bias towards refinement over outright performance.

Accessibility Rating

With only a single, long door on each side and no rear seats it's easy to access the SL. Only the relatively low roofline may hamper the very tallest of occupants. The same goes for the boot, which opens and closes electronically. Another clever feature is that with the roof folded into the boot, pressing a button raises the roof mechanism to allow easier access to the load area.

Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)

Unsurprisingly the SL is fitted with high-end audio equipment as standard. Accepting a multitude of inputs the system can be controlled with the main push and turn wheel, although it is not as intuitive as some rivals systems. Sound quality is good and this can be further improved upon with a range of audiophile-like options.

picture of car in detail

Even at speed with the roof down, refinement levels are high

Colours and trim

The SL can be a little colour sensitive. The car works better in traditional subdued hues rather than bolder, brighter choices as they do much to flatter the car's size. Inside you can opt for a variety of trim materials and, again, conservatism rules if you want to make the right statement


The SL is a long and low car, which makes its extremities relatively hard to see. There are also large alloy wheels as standard, all of which means some care is required when parking, although a sophisticated parking sensor system is fitted as standard with the option of an automated parking system for maximum ease.

Spare wheel

Tyre inflation kit fitted as standard.


Range information

Petrol engine options - 3.5-litre (306bhp); 4.7-litre (435bhp); 5.5-litre (537bhp); 6.0-litre (630bhp). Transmission options: seven-speed automatic gearbox. Trim levels: dependent on choice of engine.


Alternative cars

BMW 6 Series Cabriolet Bold-looking and capable but doesn't have the image of the SL

Jaguar XK Convertible Showing its age but characterful and fast

Porsche 911 Cabriolet More driver-focused and less of Grand Tourer but still usable every day

Audi R8 Spyder Supercar is sufficiently usable but only boasts fabric hood and marginal luggage space

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May 2012