Mercedes-Benz SL400

Name aside, base SL makes a lot of sense

DAMION SMY

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

MOVE out of the way SL350; there’s a new kid in town.

Meet the Mercedes-Benz SL400, the new entry model for the oldest badge in Benz’s current line-up.

But what does 400 mean? The SL350 had a 3.5-litre V6, so is there a 4.0-litre under the SL’s long bonnet, with its classic vents and fins clearly visible when you’re behind the wheel? No. Instead, it gets a smaller 3.0-litre V6, complete with a pair of turbos.

So does it make 400kW? No again. The new engine delivers an unstressed 245kW, which is 20kW more than the SL350.

Well, what about 400Nm of torque? That would be pretty handy for a twin-turbo six. But the SL400 smashes the old car’s 370Nm, peaking at 480Nm and kicking in from just 1600rpm all the way to four grand.

A 400-litre boot? Ah forget it… Regardless of the mysterious name, the SL400 will be the range’s biggest seller, making up about half of all SLs sold here, and the smaller turbo engine is yet another example of downsizing to meet ever-tightening global emission laws.

The SL400’s cabin, which is unchanged, is nicely crafted, with a short SL-embossed gear selector and well bolstered leather seats.

Even with that metal roof raised, a clever glass panel provides an airy, light feel.

Put the roof down – it may as well be done at a standstill because it has a pathetic cut-out speed of 15km/h – and the SL400 becomes a hoot to drive, its bassy idle swelling into a strong baritone howl. It’s a sweet tune and not overbearing, punctuated with the occasional pop and subtle burble on throttle lift.

The new twin-turbo V6 is super flexible. In Sport mode, the throttle loses the long travel of the lethargic Eco setting, reacting sharply and quickly. The SL400 accelerates hard, feeling lithe and nowhere near its 1655kg.

Rolling response is impressive, too, but not in the league of its V8 counterparts, while the sevenspeed auto’s gearshifts, which can be done via wheel-mounted paddles, are super smooth.

Balance is also superb and steering is responsive, though it could be more precise. The hold you firmly as the SL400 rolls with its suspension on Comfort, but once at full lean it grips goes. Roadholding is good, a little wet weather gets the tail twitching. With the ESC lairy powerslides are a breeze.

No matter what the discipline, the SL400 is smooth. It describes its looks, its supple ride (even with the suspension in its firmest setting) and the silky new ‘smooth’ must be what 400 nted d the gh seats 0 mfort, and though e SL’s C off, ze. pline, ribes en irmest V6. So means.

PLUS & MINUS

Slow folding roof; costlier than a 6 Series; width on the road Presence; great sound and flexibility from the new twin-turbo V6

AMG boost

WHAT about the rest of the SL range? The SL500 remains unchanged, while the SL63 AMG gets more power, its 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 bumped from 395kW to 430kW, including an extra 100Nm for a serious 900Nm peak. Consequently, the V8 AMG now comes with a diff lock as standard for its $399K asking price (up $14K).

The SL65 AMG is unchanged but remains the king with its 463kW/1000Nm twin-turbo V12 for those who must have the biggest and baddest SL.