Buckle up! Californian dream drive with the SL.
Into the sun. With the new SL.
It’s definitely an eye-catcher. Brilliant blue paint colour, streamlined body with AMG A-wing design featuring a body-coloured front splitter. Everything points to sporty genes, and you can also find them under the body of the new-generation Mercedes-Benz SL, which we are just driving across the city boundaries of Santa Monica. Its superior V8 biturbo engine provides powerful thrust. There is also a cleverly designed chassis concept which enhances our enjoyment when driving round bends, but more about that later.
Right now, we accelerate the SL to cruising speed and drive along the highway heading for the Pacific coast. We want to find out what the new generation of this legend has to offer.
Through California with the top down – can it get any better?
Ahead of us lies Pacific Coast Highway 1. It’s a generously proportioned piece of asphalt surrounded by sublime scenery: on the left is the Pacific Ocean, whose billowing waves are breaking gently against the cliffs today. From Point Mugu where we start our journey, there is a view over a vast expanse of water. It’s about 4,000 kilometres as the crow flies from here to Hawaii. On our right are the rugged mountains of California. We drive along the coast for a few kilometres, then it’s finally time: the first rays of sunlight fall onto the SL. We open the vario-roof and cruise along the Pacific coast with the top down and the V8 engine in the “Sport” DYNAMIC SELECT transmission mode, which rewards us with its sporty sound. Goose bumps are guaranteed.
A true gentleman among roadsters.
We have left the first few miles of the highway behind us. As the last villas of Malibu disappear in our rear-view mirror, we enjoy the relaxed, open driving experience to the full. On this stretch of road, the SL is a real gentleman of a roadster: the characteristics of the suspension can be adjusted with the aid of the five DYNAMIC SELECT transmission modes, just as the driver desires – and of course to suit the state of the road. We switch to “Comfort” mode , and the SL still feels sporty, but compared with the “Sport” or “Sport Plus” modes it provides noticeably more comfort. Small and medium-sized potholes – yes, even on the Pacific Coast Highway 1 you can’t escape them – are no problem for the suspension.
The different drive programs alter the characteristics of the V8 biturbo engine, and besides the suspension and engine, they also influence the transmission and steering. First of all we stay with 'Comfort' mode, and we are impressed with how smooth and gentle the engine is.
Sports car, cabriolet, roadster: the new SL.
Before we go in search of bends in the SL, we stop at a car park and have a short break. Time to take a closer look. The new generation of the SL has been redesigned quite carefully, but quite effectively: the unique radiator grille in Pan-American style and the AMG styling featured as standard are trade-marks and eye-catchers in one. The two powerdomes on the bonnet show off the sporty genes of a roadster which has a really challenging purpose: it combines the properties of an elegant roadster and those of a dynamic coupé. The interior also meets these sporty and aesthetic standards: the high-grip, 3-spoke sports steering wheel demonstrates a very high standard of quality and serves as a focal point of the ensemble. Road and engine speeds can be read off perfectly at all times thanks to the 2-tube instrument cluster design.
When bends become addictive.
Enough cruising. Now we unleash the SL wherever the speed limit allows it, holding tighter on to the sports steering wheel that sits perfectly in the hands. Deer Creek Road is a winding stretch of road with a 300-metre altitude difference, which the SL masters effortlessly thanks to its bi-turbocharged engine. We’re even left with enough power reserves to press the driver deep into their seat and leave him smiling happily when driving around the hairpin bends. In our imaginary roadbook, we also note down that perfect lateral support in the fine leather seats also comes as standard. Albeit an optional piece of equipment, the Active Body Control suspension with curve tilting function is thoroughly recommended for taking curves that little bit more smoothly.
When the DYNAMIC SELECT switch is set to 'Curve', the SL leans actively into the bend so that less gravitational force acts on the occupants, and the suspension tuning is also more comfortable. This also works to our advantage in view of the potholes in the road, particularly on the final stretch of our route.
Harmonic driving pleasure.
Turbo lag is a foreign concept to SL drivers, as are tiresome interruptions during gear changes. We switch to our favourite program, 'Sport Plus', which sharpens up the 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission allowing the gears to engage at lightning speed. The final touches to the driving pleasure symphony of the new SL are added by the redesigned steel suspension.
It provides the necessary comfort on the highway, but really comes into its own during sporty cornering thanks to its continuously adjustable, sportily taut dampers which constantly give the driver adequate feedback. This is also true of the more direct steering when the 'Sport Plus' mode is activated.
Peace over the Pacific.
There comes a point when all the bends of the Deer Creek Road have been conquered. We turn off onto a secluded gravel parking area. Up here, high above the Pacific, our first excursion in the new SL comes to a fitting conclusion. And as the sun disappears behind the horizon, we have a few short moments to think back on the impressive driving performance of the SL. There might be more radical sports cars available. .
But the SL is passionate, cultivated and sporty – it is an aesthete and an athlete in equal measure, and that is what makes it truly fascinating