Mercedes SL's ... SL43 versus SL400

I had arranged to borrow the above SL43 for a few hours, but due to a misunderstanding with the dealership, I only managed half an hour and about 10 miles in it. This proved to be nothing like long enough to come to terms with such a complex car, so what follows is very much my first impressions, until I get a chance to drive one longer.


First off, this new R232 series is a very different car indeed to my R231 series. It is marketed as a Mercedes AMG, rather than as a Mercedes Benz, and that one word change signals a real change in character. The first thing I noticed was the seating position and cabin architecture, you sit low and the steering wheel and instruments are higher up than in my car, which gives a less relaxed feel. Perhaps this can be changed by adjusting the seat, but I could not get it to the comfortable position I expect  in an SL.  The next thing that struck me was the ride quality, which on the admittedly poorly surfaced B roads, was pretty awful, no doubt not helped by the huge 21" wheels. I have no doubt that on perfect roads it will handle superbly, but such roads are sadly in the minority in the UK. The steering felt  light and precise, but I was alarmed as it tugged back at me on occasions, no doubt some form of lane assist system which I did not know how to turn off. I have no doubt that with a bit of time the tech in the car would become more easy to use, but on a first drive it is bewildering.

The power output of the 2 litre 4 cyl engine in the SL43 is only a little higher than the 3 litre twin turbo in my SL400, and both are rated at the same 4.9 sec 0-60 time, so it is no surprise to find that they are both similarly fast on the road. The SL43 engine is undeniably a very clever bit of kit, yet it lacks the character of the V6. 


Getting back in my car and cruising home I was struck by just how very different the two SL's feel. Mine has that classic Mercedes feel ... comfortable, relaxed and smooth, whereas the new car feels tougher, harsher and more complex. I am not saying that one is better or worse than the other, just that they are  aimed at a different market. After all, the classic SL sales  have diminished in recent years, so it is understandable that Mercedes would want to break the mould to attract new customers. Nothing new there either when you look back at the changes between the R107 and the R129 for instance, controversial at the time, but both now classic cars. 

Does that mean my SL400 is now a classic car in the making?

All words and photos copyright to John R Hunter