Thursday, 13 December 2018

SL is perfect for Regatta posing

MICHAEL BUBLÉ — wowing fans all this week at the O2 in London — has one, a sleek, current model

MICHAEL BUBLÉ — wowing fans all this week at the O2 in London — has one, a sleek, current model in a subtle shade of pastel grey. Singer Sheryl Crow had a beautiful white one until she sold it for a record amount in aid of a school fund.

Both stars know the magic of the SL. Those letters taken in isolation may not mean a lot to you or I but to a privileged few down the years they have become synonymous with the best that motoring has to offer.

The provenance of the Mercedes-Benz SL is legendary and stretches back over nearly 60 years. While crooner Bublé enjoys the latest model Mercedes SL at home in Canada, Sheryl Crow’s 190 SL dated back to 1959.

Both cars bear the famous SL appendage. But what does it signify? To unravel the mystique and significance of the SL in a modern world of motoring populated with lesser cars, you have to delve into the history of Mercedes-Benz and its conception of the SL range.

This has been as much a mission of detective work for me as it might be for you. I have to confess that finding my way around the myriad Mercedes models the German carmaker produces has never been easy. This was brought home to me once at the Frankfurt Motor Show where Mercedes-Benz filled a giant hall to show off its wares, rather than a mere stand with strobe lighting.

I was put on the SL trail by this week’s drive, a Mercedes-Benz SL 350. The SL model first saw the light of day in 1954. It rolled off the production lines in Germany and into the history books and 59 years later the SL-Class — the term refers to the numerous variations of the vehicle — is still with us and as desirable as ever.

SL means in German Sport Leicht, or Sport Lightweight and referred first to the lovely Gullwing 300SL, you know, the classy one with the upward-opening doors.

The Gullwing was succeeded in 1957 by the 300SL roadster. By now the upward trajectory of the SL was virtually assured with generations following on, including the SL 230 and up to — in terms of sheer power — the big 560SL produced in 5.6-litre V8-engined form from 1986 to 1989. The car I have been driving — the 350SL — emerged firstly in the third generation SL model made from 1971 to 1980, powered by a 3.5V8. And now, in the sixth generation of SLs being produced today, comes a test car that not only embodies all that history but is equipped as one would expect with the latest technology available in 21st century car manufacture.

I found the new V6 engine in the new SL 350, which develops 306hp and delivers 370Nm of torque, strong and muscular in the car’s new lighter form. According to Mercedes, the SL 350 “uses just 6.8 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres, making it almost 30 per cent more economical than its predecessor”.

Also helping out with the push on fuel efficiency there is a standard-fit ECO start/stop function. The 7G-TRONIC PLUS automatic transmission, which was easy to use has been “optimised in relation to fuel consumption and comfort”, and contributes to low fuel consumption.

You would not expect a car of this quality and engine size to be that economical but Mercedes is committed to getting the best miles-per-gallon return from its greener engines without compromising on performance. Thus the SL 350 accelerates from 0 to 62mph in 5.9 seconds, making it three tenths of a second faster than its predecessor.

The lightness of this new SL 350 is apparent: its aluminium body shell and other lighter working parts mean this car is 140 kilos lighter than its predecessor, making for great handling and ease of general driving.

For me the best kind of driving is open-top and the new roof on the SL is pretty impressive, too. It takes less than 20 seconds to put up or down. The SL vario-roof retracts into the boot and converts the car into a roadster or coupé.

Three roof versions are available: painted, with glass roof or with the panoramic vario-roof with something called Magic Sky Control which is fun to play with: the transparent roof switches to light or dark at the push of a button.

All in all, then, a very satisfactory new generation SL and a model of car for any serious motorist to aspire to.

lVehicle tested: Mercedes-Benz SL 350

lOn the road price: £72,530

lFuel economy: 41.5mpg

lCO2 emissions: 159g/km

lEngine: V6, 3,498cc petrol

lGearbox: 7-speed automatic

lTop speed: 155mph

l0-62mph: 5.9 seconds

By Nigel Wigmore

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