Like a record player with a Bluetooth connection, the Mercedes-Benz SL is a relic from a bygone era with a modern twist. The SL has been part of the company’s lineup for more than 60 years with the same basic philosophy: a stylish, luxurious two-door with presence befitting its rich price tag. The current, sixth-generation SL was introduced in 2012 and received a facelift for the 2017 model year.
After getting our kicks in the over-the-top, V-12–powered AMG SL65 last year, we’ve now spent some time with this bottom-rung SL, the SL450. Replacing the previous SL400, the 2017 model gets a bit more grunt to correspond with its badge uptick‚ an extra 34 horses from its twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 for a new total of 362 horsepower. More cylinders are available in the 449-hp V-8 SL550, the AMG-fettled V-8 SL63 with 577 horsepower, and the top-dog AMG SL65 with 621 horsepower. But the six-cylinder SL450 moves well enough to make these higher-powered versions seem overly indulgent—which, of course, is exactly why they exist.
Regardless, this blown V-6, which mates with Benz’s latest nine-speed automatic, is plenty special. It produces a nice exhaust burble at idle and a pleasant metallic rasp as it revs. There’s a strong swell of torque in the midrange, and the nine-speed is both intelligently programmed and quick to shift. Sixty mph arrives in a reasonable 4.5 seconds, 0.1 second ahead of the SL400 and only 0.8 second off the pace of the SL65 that boasts twice the number of cylinders and exactly twice the lb-ft of torque—for twice the price. And, not that it matters much in a high-end roadster, but the SL450 impressed us with its efficiency, achieving a miserly 31 mpg on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test.
The lighter weight of the V-6 in the nose—this 3850-pound SL450 weighed nearly 300 pounds less than the last V-8–powered SL550 we tested—also does wonders for the handling. Although it’s certainly not as nimble as a Porsche 911, the SL turns in sharply, feels supremely balanced, and carries its mass well through corners. The steering is accurate and confidence-inspiring, although we wish for more road feel. Riding on Bridgestone Potenza S001 run-flat tires, staggered 285 millimeters wide in the rear and 255 in the front, the SL450 gripped the skidpad at 0.93 g and stopped from 70 mph in 159 feet—not quite sports-car territory, but similar to the Lexus LC500’s numbers.
Best to Relax
Then again, we don’t expect the SL to turn in…