Full 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class Review
What's New for 2014
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class gains last year's Premium package and an analog dash-top clock as standard. Later in the model year, the SL's infotainment screen will be available with SplitView, which can project completely different images to the driver and passenger at the same time.
The driver seat of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class convertible is an exceptionally nice place to be. Newly fitted with standard active bolsters and massage functions this year, it affords a regal view over the SL's elongated hood, which shelters one of three astoundingly rapid and refined engines. Glance down at the steering wheel and there's a shiny three-pointed star staring back, perpetually reminding you of your boss-ness. Yes, it's good to be an SL driver, and Mercedes' iconic luxury roadster has arguably never been more appealing.
Well, as long as you can get past its, er, rather prominent front end. If there's one thing standing between the latest SL-Class and perfection, it's that big old schnozz. To be fair, the good folks at Mercedes aren't entirely at fault, as Europe's increasingly strict pedestrian-impact requirements have compelled many manufacturers to alter their designs. Nonetheless, numerous high-end European cars still feature graceful front fascias, including some other current Benz models, so it's a shame the SL can't be more visually gifted.
But suppose the SL's styling doesn't bother you. Maybe you like the sense of unapologetic strength it conveys, or maybe you just figure that you don't have to look at it while driving. If you're nodding your head, the only question is whether your cash flow can cover the SL's six-figure price tag. Because in every other respect, this is a spell-bindingly excellent car. Power, refinement, luxury, technology -- shoot, even the fuel economy's not that bad unless you spring for the preposterous V12-powered SL65. You simply can't drive a Mercedes SL without being amazed by both the depth and breadth of its skill set.
You can, however, find more specialized skills in certain rivals. The Audi R8 Spyder and Porsche 911 Cabriolet, for example, are lighter and more visceral, with fewer tangible layers between driver and machine, though that also means they're noisier and firmer-riding than the Benz. And if you are looking for more style in a similar package, the thrilling new 2014 Jaguar F-Type looks like the Duchess of Cambridge, while the SL has all the visual excitement of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Plus, the Jag's supercharged V8 has a sense of urgency that the SL's turbocharged engines lack.
But then you get back into the SL's driver seat and everything melts away, except the destination and the drive. Other high-end roadsters might be better in specific areas, but nothing hits the right notes as consistently and rewardingly as a 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is a two-seat, retractable-hardtop convertible that's offered in SL550, SL63 AMG and SL65 AMG trims.
The SL550 comes standard with 18-inch wheels, a driver-selectable adaptive suspension, LED running lights, active bi-xenon headlamps, automatic high beams, a panoramic glass roof panel, keyless ignition/entry, a self-parking system, dual-zone automatic climate control, 12-way active "multicontour" power seats (with heating and ventilation, four-way lumbar adjustment, massage functions and memory settings), sun-reflective leather upholstery, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors, a rearview camera, a power trunk lid with a foot-activated sensor, a power wind deflector and the AirScarf neck-level heating system.
Among the standard technology highlights are Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, the COMAND electronics interface, a navigation system, voice controls and a 14-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system with a six-CD changer, satellite radio, HD radio, digital music storage and an iPod/USB media interface.
SL550 options include a Sport Wheel package (19-inch wheels, high-performance tires, upgraded brakes and a sport steering wheel), the Active Body Control active suspension system and Napa leather upholstery with additional door and console coverage.
The SL63 AMG features a more powerful engine, a sport-oriented transmission, a sport exhaust, 19-inch wheels, Active Body Control with more aggressive tuning, upgraded brakes, various sporty styling flourishes, AMG Napa leather upholstery and carbon-fiber interior trim (replaceable with wood at no cost). The SL63-only AMG Performance package adds even more power and torque, a higher top speed, a limited-slip differential, a carbon-fiber engine cover, red-painted brake calipers, a special steering wheel and the option of a still more aggressive suspension setup.
Optional on both SL550 and SL63 AMG are a more powerful Bang & Olufsen 14-speaker surround-sound audio system, soft-closing doors, adjustable glass roof transparency (a.k.a. "Magic Sky Control"), the Night View infrared camera system and a Driver Assistance package that adds adaptive cruise control, a collision mitigation system with automatic braking, blind-spot assist and lane-keeping assist.
The range-topping SL65 AMG comes outfitted with a twin-turbo V12 engine, 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels (optional on SL63 AMG), most of the SL63 AMG's standard upgrades and all of the options shared by the SL550 and SL63 AMG.
Optional on both AMG models are carbon-ceramic brakes, AMG Performance Media (a collection of performance gauges and measurements displayed on the COMAND screen) and an Exterior Carbon Fiber package that tacks on various carbon-fiber styling elements.
Stand-alone options on all 2014 SL models include a wood and leather steering wheel and the SplitView display screen (late availability) with separate driver and passenger image projections.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2014 SL550 is motivated by a 4.6-liter turbocharged V8 engine that pumps out 429 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. A seven-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive are standard. Thanks in part to the standard automatic engine stop-start system, the SL550 is EPA-rated at a decent 20 mpg combined (18 mpg city/25 mpg highway). In Edmunds testing, the SL550 stormed from zero to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds.
The SL63 AMG steps up to a 5.5-liter turbocharged V8 that produces 530 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a specialized seven-speed automatic with quicker shifts than the regular auto transmission. The EPA rates the SL63 at 19 mpg combined (16 mpg city/25 mpg highway), while Mercedes conservatively projects a 4.2-second sprint to 60 mph. Adding the AMG Performance package bumps output to 557 hp and 664 lb-ft of torque, enabling sub-4-second runs to 60 mph by Mercedes' estimation.
The SL65 AMG comes with Mercedes' 6.0-liter turbo V12. Output is rated at 621 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque, a massive burden managed by a seven-speed conventional automatic with AMG "Speedshift" programming. In Edmunds testing, the SL65 AMG bolted to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds. Fuel economy checks in at 17 mpg combined (14 mpg city/21 mpg highway).
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class comes standard with head- and thorax-protecting side airbags, knee airbags, stability and traction control, and antilock brakes with automatic brake drying. Also standard are automatically deploying roll hoops, PreSafe (an accident preparation system that can tighten the seatbelts, adjust the seats and roll up the windows if a collision or rollover is deemed imminent) and Attention Assist (a drowsiness-detection system that alerts you if you seem to be falling asleep at the wheel).
Mercedes additionally provides a rearview camera and mbrace2 safety telematics, the latter of which offers automatic collision notification, an SOS button, stolen vehicle location, alarm notification and remote door lock/unlock.
The main SL safety option is the Driver Assistance package, which adds adaptive cruise control with pre-collision braking and the dynamic duo of active lane-keeping assist and active blind-spot assist, both of which can apply a single brake to help steer you away from harm.
In Edmunds brake testing, the SL550 came to a stop from 60 mph in 114 feet, which is a bit long for such an expensive performance car with summer tires. The SL65 was better at 108.
Interior Design and Special Features
The SL's interior has long been a standard-bearer for roadster luxury, and this latest iteration doesn't disappoint. Materials quality is exemplary, with nary a compromise to be found, and the attention to detail is remarkable. That this level of craftsmanship coexists with Mercedes-Benz's latest technology, including the SplitView display option with dual driver/passenger displays projected from the same screen, is all the more impressive. The previous-generation SL fell off a bit in terms of cabin construction, but the latest generation's layout could be Mercedes' best all-around effort yet.
Interior space is another SL asset. It's hard to think of a two-seat car with more seat-track travel, and headroom is generous as well. The standard glass roof panel also contributes to an unmatched sense of roof-up openness, and it gets even better with the optional Magic Sky Control. This version of the glass roof alters its tint at the push of a button and is capable of blocking so much light at its darkest setting that the thermal energy entering the cabin trails that of a household light bulb, according to Mercedes. Even in fully transparent mode, both UV and infrared rays are effectively blocked. Regardless of the glass panel you choose, lowering the top takes less than 20 seconds.
With the top up, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class can swallow 10.2 cubic feet of luggage, which is a handy amount for a convertible. The 7.2 cubic feet of top-down space isn't bad, either, and there's also a surprising amount of room (and a generous storage bin) behind the seats.
If the AMG-tuned SL-Class models didn't exist, we'd spend this whole section waxing poetic about the 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL550. From behind the wheel, it seems as if there's nothing the "entry-level" SL can't do. Passing power is prodigious, braking reserves seem bottomless, and this 2-ton roadster's composure around turns is much better than expected -- particularly when the eerily unflappable Active Body Control suspension is specified. Yet when you back off, the SL550 obediently turns into the ultimate boulevard cruiser. Its automatic transmission shifts almost imperceptibly, while its suspension soaks up bumps like an S-Class.
Naturally, the AMG models are even more dynamic, with the SL65 AMG matching the performance of the flashier SLS AMG roadster in all of our instrumented acceleration and handling tests. However, despite the SL63's unique burbling exhaust note and the SL65's tire-melting torque, the three SL-Class variants are ultimately more notable for their similarities than their differences. We can understand the appeal of those AMG badges for impressing the neighbors, but truth be told, it's hard to imagine the SL550 being insufficient in any regard. Whichever Mercedes-Benz SL you choose, every drive will feel like a special occasion, and that's precisely what cars of this ilk are all about.