Stick Shift: Mercedes-Benz SL450 Roadster

When you think of the Mercedes Benz SL, a flurry of bedroom poster images come to mind. The beautiful SL 190, or iconic Gull-wing model perhaps. Sometime in the early 2000’s I drove my first SL convertible. Being almost too young to drive at all, I was only able to convince the salesperson to allow the test drive through a combination of creative storytelling and the use of my dads Audi A4. Being accompanied by an older friend, both of us dressed in our sunday best didn’t hurt either. The car salesmen, humoring us more than believing us, allowed the test drive. The experience was exhilarating.

Image by Brandon Randall
Image by Brandon Randall

Unfortunately, a major re-design in 2008 took the chart-topping SL down a peg or two. Both sales and general appeal decreased dramatically, and another refresh in 2012 did little to recover its former reputation of greatness. Now, in 2017, around 15 years since my memorable test drive, Mercedes-Benz proves that the third-time really is the charm. Happily, this newest entry delivers a truly intoxicating mix of luxury, quality and performance. Restoring the magic and grace that made early SL entries the object of so many Google image searches in the past.

On the outside, the new SL Roadster has inherited many of the same visual qualities as its siblings, bringing it in-line with other current Mercedes models. It looks sleek and modern, with sharp LED headlamps, a long nose and tail, those 19” 10-spoke wheels and oversized front air vents. More aggressively styled vents with chrome trim adorn the sides and hood as well, and never stopped being fun to look out at from behind the wheel. Lines follow the elegant shape of the new SL450, flowing naturally over its muscular body. A trick convertible hard top that’s fast and relatively quite rounds off the package perfectly.

From inside the cabin, the new SL’s priorities become even more clear. This posh convertible has been furnished with comfort in mind over all-out performance. This direction is important in differentiating it from other high end sport car models like the Porsche 911 or Jaguar F-Type. It’s clear that the new SL450 is meant to be a grand tourer rather than a race car. Interior trim consists of long stretches of black porcelain and beautiful burl walnut wood. Another clear demonstration of the SL’s posh pursuits is the fact that drivers of all shapes and sizes will easily find the perfect seat setting for maximum comfort, as the seats are highly adjustable, feature adjustable side bolsters for lateral support and have massagers too. Even on long road trips, especially in Normal or Eco mode with its suspension softened, the SL450 is a remarkably comfortable and quite travel companion.

The gauge cluster, air vents, buttons and dials all wear handsome metal trim that add a sporty element to the interior space and have a distinct feel of quality in both their touch and operation. The Nappa leather seats are buttery soft, heated or cooled, and sun-reflective even, perfect for those hot Arizona summers. When temperatures finally do decide to dip below 60 Fahrenheit, just below the headrest on the seats is Mercedes-Benz’s Airscarf, that will blow warm air on the back of your neck. The thick, leather wrapped and flat bottomed sport steering wheel is heated as well. One of my absolute favorite features of the SL450’s cabin was the Magic Sky glass panoramic roof. This appropriately named glass will transition from light to darkly-tinted, as if by Mercedes magic, with the push of a button, allowing you to control how much sun enters the cabin space.

The 2017 SL450 Roadster practically begs to be driven hard, and rewards you handsomely if you’re brave enough to oblige it. With a powerful 3.0L V6 twin turbo engine, it teases you constantly, especially in the two Sport modes. With that hypnotic, crackling exhaust, immediate power on tap and aggressive gearing, It’s always daring you to punch the accelerator and rip around the car out front, leaving slower traffic in a cloud of your expensive dust. With 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque at your disposal, Mercedes estimates the new SL450 will go from 0-60 in 4.9 seconds. Power delivery is smooth, with little turbo lag and in generous enough helpings to easily quicken your pulse.

The list of standard features for the SL450 has grown for 2017. It includes those previously mentioned 19-inch wheels, LED headlights and running lights with extremely helpful automatic high beams and headlight washers. There’s a retractable wind-blocker to keep the noise down when cruising at highway speeds with the top down. The suspension is adaptable depending on the selected drive mode as well. The list goes on and on.

Perhaps the biggest change is the use of a totally new automatic transmission, bringing us so many forward gears that I practically lost count. I didn’t. Their are nine. Unlike the awkward 7-speed in past models that could never quite keep up, This new gearbox is a real mind-reader! The engine and transmission are an eHarmony match made in car heaven. It never stumbles or falls behind, always holding you in that sweet spot where throttle response is immediate and neck snapping. Especially in Sport and Sport + mode. This new 9-speed automatic transmission is so good, you may forget that there’s a Manuel mode with the paddle shifters available.

Maybe it’s a good thing that I skipped ever experiencing the last two SL entries. All I have is a distant memory of an SL that was great, and our brand new model, that even in entry trim, is a near perfect roadster. Never mind the fact that there’s still an SL550 model and AMG variant. Yes, it’s very hard to find anything to dislike about this beautifully designed, luxuriously appointed, incredible from the top down luxury convertible. Whether you’re crossing multiple state lines or just running a quick errand in town, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz SL450 will make sure you’re always having fun and feeling special doing it.

Price as tested: $100,585.00

By: Brandon Randall


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