2015 Mercedes-Benz SL400

2015 Mercedes-Benz SL400 2015 Mercedes-Benz SL400
Instrumented Test

It seems an inescapable eventuality: Reach a certain age (it starts with a four) and the little irritations of sports cars—the noise, the vibrations, and their spartan nature—begin to grow into full-blown annoyances. Angling the nose to keep it from scraping on driveways, getting in and out, and listening to the exhaust’s blat on the highway are exhausting. What were once considered charming signs of exuberance begin to seem as juvenile and unnecessary as beer funnels and water bongs.

Age doesn’t mean you forget the joy—you still appreciate unwinding a canyon road on a sunny day with a warm breeze rustling over the windshield. But too often, life is a traffic-choked drive to the office, convertible top raised, air-conditioning on recirc.

The Mercedes-Benz SL isn’t exactly a sports car—it hasn’t been since the ’50s. After the Gullwing, the SL morphed into a sort-of sports car for adults. It’s adult in its nature and adult in its pricing.

That big sticker, however, has kept many folks from parking one in their garage. To bring the SL’s price out of the six-figure clouds, Mercedes-Benz introduced the SL400 for 2015. Powered by a 329-hp 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 paired, as ever, with a seven-speed automatic, the SL400 begins at $84,925, or $22,900 less than the 429-hp SL550. Our well-equipped test car came loaded with the Sand Nappa leather Designo interior option ($4500), which makes the cabin look as if a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup exploded inside. Other options included Mocha Black paint ($2300), black interior trim ($1500), 19-inch wheels ($500), a dimmable glass roof called Magic Sky Control ($2500), and the Premium package ($4900), which includes a rearview camera, self parking, cooled seats, neck warmers, massaging seats, an auto-closing trunk, and a proximity key. Of the bunch, we’d be temped by the Designo interior and the Premium package, but the rest we could probably skip.

Even without all the options, this newest SL would still ooze refinement in the fit of the leather interior, the tight cut-lines, and its unflappable demeanor. Steering and handling are sports-car sharp, but extracting joy from the SL doesn’t cause any soreness. Next to most sports cars or supercars, sitting in or cruising along in the SL is like the difference between sleeping at home and sleeping on a futon. S-class refinement and top-up noise levels (65 dB at 70 mph) leave you free from fatigue, the AMG-like dynamics keep you involved, and the interior cossets like a Maybach.

On paper or at the country club, the smaller number on the trunklid might not impress. But acceleration to 60 mph takes 4.6 seconds and the quarter-mile goes by in 13.1 seconds at 109 mph. A standard Porsche 911 Carrera is four-tenths quicker to both marks; the SL550 hits 60 in 4.1 seconds. The V-6 delivers smooth, stress-free power. Launching is as easy as holding the brake, bringing the revs up to 2000 rpm, and releasing. There’s no wince-inducing launch control, just a scramble of wheelspin and the SL400 disappears.

On the skidpad, the SL held on with 0.92 g of grip while threatening to send its wide 285/30R-19 rear tires drifting. There’s a brave neutrality baked into the chassis, partially born of the tuning but also of the 50/50 weight distribution. Compared with the SL550, the lighter V-6 car puts less mass over the front tires. The SL400’s 3843-pound curb weight isn’t exactly light, but it’s a startling 295 pounds lighter than the SL550’s. The SL400 therefore is the spry one, with a playful nature and live-wire steering (2.1 turns lock-to-lock). The refinement and luxury do not diminish the SL400’s joy or dynamic chops in the least.

A car that performs this well without sacrificing comfort is easy to fall for. It would be even easier, however, if the SL400 were better-looking. This entire generation of SLs is not particularly elegant, taking a big step backward from its predecessor and breaking a long line of graceful designs. The long, square nose with huge headlights is awkward, and the rounded tail is at odds with the rest of the blocky aesthetic. Mercedes-Benz design needs to get their hands back into the clay and create a really stunning SL.

It may be hard to ignore the looks at this price, but if you can get past the sheetmetal, the new SL400 is the best-driving SL we can remember. The SL historically has been the quintessential mature sports car, but the latest generation manages to be both more sporty and more luxurious. Grown-up types who appreciate its dual personality will love using their adult-size salary to acquire one.