For almost the last ten years, it's been hard to love the Mercedes-Benz SL. When it was redesigned for 2008, it was left with awkward, ungainly styling. Yes, it could be bought with some incredibly powerful engines, but in the early 2000s. And the 2012 redesign didn't help the SL regain that lost audience.
In an effort to breathe new life into the SL, Mercedes is giving the SL a refresh for 2017. The biggest changes are seen in what's now the new base model, the SL450. It gets the new AMG GT-inspired fascia, but it also gets a new 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 paired with the company's nine-speed automatic transmission.
If you're keeping track, that's the same 362-horsepower engine that's in the Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG (soon to become the Mercedes-AMG C43). But that's not the same seven-speed automatic that was so infuriating in my time with the C450. In fact, it's the transmission I insisted would solve all of the C450's problems.
Despite the SL450 only having two doors and rear-wheel drive, its curb weight is shockingly similar to the C450's. But in the C450, the seven-speed always felt like it was a bit confused and a step behind. The SL450's transmission, on the other hand, knew exactly what it was doing. It even got to the point where I stopped putting it in manual mode because automatic was just as good.
The new transmission also pays off with better acceleration. Mercedes says the SL450 will hit 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, but I don't doubt for a second it's quicker than that. When this transmission makes its way into the C450, expect similar results.
Unless you're planning to spring for one of the AMG models, the SL450 is the perfect Mercedes roadster.
I haven't driven the SL65, but I did get behind the wheel of an SL63 last year.Yes, 664 lb.-ft. of torque feels incredible. I can't imagine, however, that most people are going to feel much of a difference if they only bump up to the SL550. Yes, you get a V8, but that can't make it a better cruiser. In fact, the worse fuel economy might even compromise that aspect of the SL experience.
Pricing hasn't been released for the refreshed SL450 yet, but assuming it costs about the same as the old SL400, buying one is going to run you at least $85,000. And with a few options, that price will easily break the $100,000 barrier.
For your money, though, you'll get an incredibly capable grand tourer that's plenty quick, has a nicely appointed interior, and sounds wonderful. Seriously, the crackle and pop of the SL450's exhaust is addicting. You also get its trick convertible hardtop, which may be old news now, but the novelty of watching it go up and down never really gets old.
And perhaps most importantly, you get a car that feels like it wants to have fun. Yes, it can be comfortable and serious when you need it to be, but that's not all it can do. Put it in a sportier drive mode, and you can feel it urging you to drive faster. Drive harder. Grin. Scare your wife a little.
A lot of that is a result of how well-matched the engine and transmission are. The old seven-speed transmission couldn't quite get out of its own way, but the new nine-speed is smart enough to actually encourage having fun without tripping you up. It's not quite good enough to convince manual transmission enthusiasts to give up on rowing their own, but it's definitely good enough to make you question why they should pay at least another $20,000 for the SL550.