By Matt Degen
KBB Expert Rating: 7.1
The SL-Class is Mercedes-Benz's flagship roadster, a 2-passenger chariot that symbolizes success. While other luxury convertibles such as the Porsche 911 and Aston Martin Vanquish Volante may be viewed as play toys for the well-heeled, the 2016 Mercedes SL makes a better case for everyday livability thanks to its folding hardtop and cadre of comfort-focused amenities. Not to say the SL is a slouch. Even the $85,000-plus "base" model -- the V6-powered SL400 -- is potent. For those who want to make a bigger impact when they roll into the country club (with over 13 cubic feet with top up, the trunk can swallow two golf bags), there are the AMG performance models, including the V12-powered SL65 with over 600 horsepower and roughly $220,000 price tag.
With a lineage dating back six decades to the 300SL, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz SL grants instant access to an iconic automobile. Unlike its race-bred ancestors, this 6th-generation SL coddles with amenities like massaging seats, neck heaters and technology that does everything from integrate with phone apps to automatically stop the car.
If you itch for a sizzling performance car that will attack twisty roads or the track, go with the more dynamic Porsche 911 or the Jaguar F-Type, which also offer all-wheel drive (AWD). Drivers desiring more exclusivity can find it in convertible variants of the Bentley Continental and Aston Martin Vanquish.
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With a mid-cycle refresh around the corner for the 2017 Mercedes SL, changes are minimal for the 2016 version. They include more power for the SL550, five years’ complimentary service for mbrace telematics service, and a Mille Miglia 417 edition limited to just 400 models.
Despite offering up to 621 horsepower and a ridiculous 738 lb-ft of torque in the top-dog AMG SL65, the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is designed more as a grand touring machine than...
... a pure sports car, albeit one that can go extremely fast when required. Put another way, you won't get the razor-sharp reflexes of a Porsche 911 or Jaguar F-Type. However, a Porsche 911 and Jaguar F-Type don't offer the kind of no-limits luxury that you'll find in an SL-Class roadster. Even with its emphasis on comfort, the SL provides an engaging driving experience when a twisty road calls. The SL's Active Body Control system -- available on the SL400 and SL550, standard on AMG models -- virtually eliminates body roll, enhancing handling. The brakes are very good as well, and can be upgraded to outstanding with the $13,000 carbon-ceramic setup available on the AMG high-performance variants.
BITURBO V6 ENGINE
Not that Mercedes-Benz buyers are necessarily bargain shopping, but there's no question that a less expensive SL is a good thing. Introduced last year, the Mercedes-Benz SL400's twin-turbo V6 engine offers plenty of horsepower for nearly 5-second acceleration to 60 mph, at a price that's over $20,000 less than the V8 model.
MAGIC SKY CONTROL
Goofy name aside, the Magic Sky Control is one of the coolest things we've seen. At the touch of a button, the panorama roof panel on the SL's hard convertible top goes from opaque to transparent, giving you all the joys of sunshine on your shoulder, but without messing your hair.
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is the rare 2-seat roadster for tall adults. Even with the hardtop roof in place, there's ample head- and legroom for 6-footers. Top-notch materials and exacting construction exceed even the high expectations of cars wearing the 3-pointed star. Finer details include leather upholstery designed to reflect the sun. The audio system is amazing, and on the practical side, there's plenty of storage space, with 13.5 cubic feet of trunk space with the top up. Turn on the Magic Sky Control, and you can go on a weekend trip and enjoy an open-top experience, without luggage in the foot-well.
Unlike the BMW 6 Series convertible and even its own sibling the E-Class Cabriolet, Mercedes-Benz's flagship drop-top doesn't have rear seats. This translates to a 10-inch-shorter length than the BMW and a better-proportioned design. Yet despite its modern style, the SL is conscious of its heritage, boasting a long roof and short trunklid. The grille, with its centrally mounted star, evokes the original 1950s’ Gullwing, while the contoured sheet metal, bi-xenon headlights with LED accents and fender-filling 18-inch wheels are solidly 21st century. The SL looks elegant, top up or down. AMG variants flaunt staggered 19- and 20-inch wheels and twin-outlet tailpipes.
You'd expect even the $85,000 base-model Mercedes-Benz SL400 to be generously equipped, and you'd be right. Leather upholstery is standard, as are heated 12-way-power seats with memory, and a power wind-blocker to help minimize wind-mussed hair. Also standard is Mercedes-Benz's COMAND system with navigation, Bluetooth and satellite radio running through the harman/kardon audio system. The V8 models offer as standard equipment, Mercedes' Airscarf neck-level heating system, driver-selectable adaptive suspension and a hands-free system to open the trunk. Also notable are the Active Multi-contour seats with massaging function, plus heating and ventilation. The SL63 and SL65 AMG models feature AMG styling adornments.
There are many ways to make the Mercedes SL more pleasing, starting with the aforementioned Magic Sky Control. You can also add a wonderful-sounding Bang & Olufsen audio system. One very cool feature is the Splitview center screen, which allows the driver to see navigation instructions, and the passenger to watch a movie, all on the same screen at the same time. There are also upgrades to the wood-and-leather interior trim, plus a Driver Assist Package that bundles blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and radar-based cruise control. If that's still not enough, there are the Designo-commissioned treatments for a bespoke experience.
The 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 in the SL400 puts out 329 horsepower, while the twin-turbo 4.7-liter V8 in the SL550 adds 120 to that -- 20 more ponies than last year's model. Step up to the AMG SL63, and you're looking at a 577-horsepower behemoth. If that still doesn't suffice, there's the 6.0-liter twin-turbo V12 putting out 621 horsepower. As the quickest of the pack, the AMG SL65 goes 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds. (The SL400, with half as many cylinders, still hits that benchmark in only 5.1 ticks.) All SL-Class models use a 7-speed automatic transmission to route power to the rear wheels, and every SL includes a start/stop function to improve fuel economy. The SL65 still tallies up a $1,300 gas-guzzler tax, though.
3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 (SL400)
329 horsepower @ 5,250-6,000 rpm
354 lb-ft of torque @ 1,600-4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/27 mpg
4.7-liter twin-turbocharged V8 (SL550)
449 horsepower @ 5,250 rpm
516 lb-ft of torque @ 1,800-3,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 16/24 mpg
5.5-liter twin-turbocharged V8 (SL63 AMG)
577 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm
664 lb-ft of torque @ 2,250-3,750 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 16/25 mpg
6.0-liter twin-turbocharged V12 (SL65 AMG)
621 horsepower @ 4,800-5,400 rpm
738 lb-ft of torque @ 2,300-4,300 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 14/21 mpg
With the introduction of the SL400, Mercedes' iconic roadster became attainable for less than six figures, but at nearly $86,000 (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price/MSRP), it's anything but cheap. Prices only scale from there, with the SL550 starting just shy of $109,000 and the AMG SL63 at over $150,000. At nearly $220,000 when factoring in the gas-guzzler fee, the AMG SL65 is among the priciest Mercedes-Benz models you can buy. Thousands more can easily be applied to these figures with options. With such a wide range of prices, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class competes with luxury and ultra-luxury convertibles ranging from the Porsche 911 to the Bentley Continental. Before buying, check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area are paying. The Mercedes-Benz SL's resale value is predicted to be quite poor, and at these prices depreciation costs bring the value down quickly.