About a week ago the NDA on the updated, mid-cycle refresh 2017 SL was lifted and we finally got to take the car out for a test drive. Mercedes have made some significant changes to the car that overall add up to make a big impact.
For one, they’ve changed the front end. When the last iteration was released in 2013, very few people liked the looks on the front of the car. There was just something about it that was not aesthetically pleasing. Perhaps it was the boxy lines or the square headlamps and the pointy nose. Whatever it was, the car was not as attractive as we might have liked. Which was a shame, because the basic car underneath was what we wanted from a GT: powerful and luxurious.
Now though Mercedes have dealt with the looks and the results are stunning. The new 2017 SL looks a lot like the GTS at the front – a highly celebrated car – and the car looks sportier and much more attractive. We’ve gone from Germanic slab to Germanic style.
The car also features a new mechanical differential on the rear axle. This new differential allows the new SL to turn in much more sharply in corners and the performance increase is noticeable over the last car. Mercedes have also tried to reduce the weight of the car. The aluminium body now shaves an extra 200lbs or so off the weight. Combined, these improvements have dramatically increased the car’s turning potential. Despite still weighing in an over 4800 lbs, the car can now turn faster and tighter – so tight in fact you think you’re in a thoroughbred sports car.
Adding all these improvements together and the 2017 SL is a much more enticing offering from Mercedes than the 2013 SL. But how does it compare to the other big GTs out there on the market? Have Mercedes done enough to make the SL the desirable GT of our times? Let’s find out.
BMW 6 Series
The BMW 6 Series was supposed to be a response to Mercedes’ luxury CLS cars, but although it’s a four door, I think it deserves a place in this review. It is essentially targeting the same market as the SL is today.
One advantage the BMW 6 series had over the old SL was looks. The car was a beauty to behold and had none of the weirdness we’ve come to expect from big GTs. (I’m thinking of the Audi A7 Sportback). The car is basically elegant. But now the Mercedes have bolted the front of the beautiful GLS onto the SL, it no longer appears as if BMW can claim the looks crown.
As always the ride of the BMW is excellent. If it’s one thing BMW does really well, it’s making performance high-end vehicles. BMW, like on the Mercedes’ SL have gone with twin-turbos to reduce input lag. And like the SL, you can get a 6 series with a V8 engine. Furthermore, the BMW comes with an 8-speed transmission.
But even the fastest BMW pales in comparison to the SL lineup when it comes to raw power. The 650i M Sports version of the car will deliver 449 bhp, compared to the top of the line SL65 AMG which delivers well over 600 bhp.
One inside, the car is more spacious than the SL, having back seats. And granted, luxury GTs should be about space. The accommodation on the inside of the 6 Series is beautifully built and roomy. And in this regard, the 6 Series does edge out the SL very slightly.
The interior controls on the BMW are also superior. Mercedes have again gone with a unified controller for their display next to the gear stick and not a touch screen. This makes navigating the car’s systems less intuitive than it could be. You’ll find yourself futilely reaching to push the screen more often than you’d like. With the 6 Series, you don’t have this problem.
There are quite a few second hand 6 Series BMWs hanging around online if you don’t want to pay the £59,025 – £71,695 these cost new. But make sure you do a car registration check before you buy to avoid any nasty surprises.
The GLS may be a beautiful car, and the SL may riding on the back of that car’s sex-appeal. But there is one car out there that takes the crown in the looks department. That car is the GranTurismo.
The GranTurismo holds fast to the GT tradition. The car seats four, it has a beautiful interior and it handles quite well.
Let’s get down to the performance first. Before the SL got it’s new rear mechanical diff and went old-school, you might have said that both these cars handled similarly. Here were two big GT cars that went really fast in a straight line, but struggled a little bit in the bends. However, thanks to the 2017 update, Mercedes have worked some differential voodoo on the SL and now that car takes a clear performance lead.
That’s not to say that the GranTurismo is a slouch. It’s not. The car produces 400 bhp at 7,100 rpm and the car feels relaxed at all speeds. And the suspension is managed by computer and is steel-sprung, which produces tremendous grip.
But the Maserati falls down on shifting. Whereas Mercedes have updated their gearbox to make shifts faster, Maserati’s gearbox is sluggish. In fact, the problem is so bad that the flappy paddle override impedes performance. Yes, the car is quick, doing 0-62 in 4.7 seconds if you have the 4.7 litres 450 bhp Sport version. But the car could be quicker were the gear changes a little faster and more robust.
On the inside, the car is exactly what you’d expect from an Italian luxury car maker. Maserati has put significant effort into improving the quality of the interior over that of previous generations. However, the proportions of the car still don’t allow for a huge amount of headroom. So if you do happen to be on the taller side, getting in and out of this might be problematic.
Having said this, the SL does suffer from similar problems, so this is no reason to choose the SL over the GranTurismo.
Aston Martin DB9
Now we’re finally getting to a car that is close to the price range of the top of the line Mercedes SL. As such, the DB9 is more of an apples-to-apples comparison with Mercedes’ offering.
And rather like the 2017 SL, the DB9 represents one of the greatest comebacks in history. The DB9, like the SL65 AMG, comes with a V12. And as a result, you should expect a touch of understeer from that big engine up front. Both cars do suffer from this, but both cars accommodate it well. Just give the car a dab of throttle to sort out problem out.
The DB9 also comes with a six-speed paddle override gearbox like the Maserati. But this gearbox’s shifting is sublime, taking you all the way to the car’s maximum speed of 183 mph.
Inside the car is finished beautifully. The interior is crammed full of different luxury wood effects and beautiful leather. It’s enough to make you fall in love.
But as with many low-volume car outfits, there’s a price to pay. The electricals suffer a little and there is the odd quality control issue which may cause you some hassle.
Having said this, the Aston Martin is in most people’s opinion a better-looking car than the old SL. And even though it was released all the way back in 2013, I’m sure that today most people would agree that it’s still better looking. But haven’t Aston Martin always been streets ahead in that department?
Bentley Continental GT
Lastly, the Continental GT – the last word in driving comfort and luxury. What’s so surprising about the Bentley GT is that the basic models of the car actually come in cheaper than the higher-end SL varieties.
The car comes in a number of varieties, and is actually a bit cheaper than previous versions of the car. In 2012 Bentley offered the car with a new V8 engine option, to bring it into line with the rest of the market. Thanks to this the car will go 40 percent further per gallon than before. And so, unlike the SL, this car may be slightly politically correct.
There’s also a GTR-3 version of the car, introduced back in 2015 that goes 205mph, the fastest of any Bentley ever.
Is the car better than the SL? Well, if you want the last word in luxury, then yes. But why do we buy Bentleys? Well, it’s because we want something that’s a bit exclusive and over-the-top. This Bentley is annoyingly affordable and even does good mileage.
Thus, Bentley lets itself down a bit on its traditional selling point with the Continental GT. The SL, on the other hand, has made quite a return.