Break out the noisemakers and the party hats. This year, the Mercedes-Benz SL roadster turns 60.
The original 1957 model was a descendent of the 1954 300SL “Gullwing” Coupe, which was the street car version of the low-slung, curvaceous 300SL race car of 1952.
In 1963, Mercedes introduced the next generation of the SL. They called it the W113 series. Buyers and fans of the car dubbed it the “Pagoda” because of the shape of its hardtop roof.
The R107-series SL hit the market in 1971. It didn’t leave dealerships until 18 years later, when it made room for the ingot-like R129 model. That lasted until 2001, when the R230 SL – and the SL’s first power folding steel convertible top – debuted.
The current-generation SL (aka the R231 series) came out in 2012 as a 2013 model. Thanks to the extensive use of aluminum in its body structure, it’s almost 300 pounds lighter than its predecessor. It’s also 20 percent more rigid than the R230 SL.
Mercedes has taken the entry-level SL and refreshed its looks, bumped up its horsepower and torque, and given it a new transmission for the 2017 model year. What was once the SL400 is now the SL450. It joins the twin-turbo V8-powered SL550, the 577-horsepower Mercedes-AMG SL63, and the flagship Mercedes-AMG SL65.
The SL has changed a lot in the past 60 years, but one thing hasn’t: sunny days. They always come around and they’re always worth the wait when you’re behind the wheel of a car like the 2017 Mercedes-Benz SL450 we recently spent a week driving. We would’ve put on a party hat to celebrate the SL roadster’s 60th birthday, but we decided the best way to honor the German drop-top was to let the wind blow through our hair.
2017 Mercedes-Benz SL450 Exterior
Although the SL roadster is 60 now, looking at our media loaner never got old. Whenever we parked the SL, we took a last parting glance at it as we walked away. It was more than a vehicle. It was a sculpture, a museum display that we could park in front of the grocery store or, as we did one weekend, on the side of the service roads surrounding the track at the Circuit of the Americas so we could take pictures of a ChumpCar World Series race. The sleek, seemingly wind-swept aluminum sheet metal nearly hugged the Bridgestone tires and 19-inch 10-spoke wheels, which filled the wheel wells perfectly.
That sculpture was coated with eye-catching designo Cardinal Red Metallic paint and adorned with dozens of points of bright work in the grille, brilliant light from the LED headlights, and fine slivers of LED illumination from the tail lights.
2017 Mercedes-Benz SL450 Interior
Mercedes-Benz’s designo artisans also had a hand in making the SL’s cockpit an attractive place to be by adding Deep White Nappa leather to it. That contrasted beautifully with the Black Ash wood trim and Black Exclusive Nappa leather elsewhere in the cabin. We greatly appreciated being surrounded by a tasteful use of mixed media, which also included the metallic accents on the door handles, steering wheel, HVAC vent surrounds, center stack, and shifter, and the soft-to-the-touch black DINAMICA headliner.
As much as we liked how the SL’s interior looked, we enjoyed its features even more. We didn’t need to pull out a key to unlock the car or start it. The doors had a soft-close feature. Both seats were heated, ventilated, and massaging. If it was too wet outside to lower the power-folding top, we could still enjoy the calming sight of rain drops on the translucent roof panel. The MAGIC SKY CONTROL system allowed us to darken or lighten the tint of the glass pane above by pressing a button. When we were feeling a little rowdier, we could crank up the 900-watt, 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen BeoSound surround sound audio system.
When the top was down (it took less than 20 seconds to get it there), carrying on a conversation with a passenger or someone on the other end of a Bluetooth call didn’t require anything close to a shout. We didn’t even need the power windblocker, but it was nice to know it was ready to deploy with the push of a button.
2017 Mercedes-Benz SL450 Performance
The entry-level SL’s 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 makes more horsepower and torque than before. Whereas the 2016 SL400 generated 329 horsepower and 354 lbft of torque, the 2017 SL450 cranks out 362 horsepower and 369 lbft. Instead of the SL400’s 7-speed automatic, the SL450 uses a 9-speed gearbox.
Pressing a button enabled us to switch through the four modes of the DYNAMIC SELECT system. ECO was designed to save fuel. In Comfort mode, we glided over the pavement. Sport made the SL feel more alive and ready to charge forward. Sport+ took that liveliness up another level.
No matter what mode the SL was in, its steering and handling dynamics constantly let us know that the car was sturdy, stable, and planted – even when we used our right foot to make the back end squat down and shoot the forced-induction firepower to the ground.
2017 Mercedes-Benz SL450 Safety
Some of the numerous safety features that are packed into the SL include front, head, thorax side-impact, and knee airbags; pop-up roll bars; Predictive Brake Priming that kicks in when you lift off the throttle suddenly; Automatic Brake Drying to keep the discs dry when it’s raining; and the boosted stopping power of Brake Assist.
Our particular SL had the optional Premium Package and Driver Assistance Package. The first one added a rearview camera and the peace of mind of Parking Pilot, among many other features. The second bundle included Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Function, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Steering Pilot, and more.
2017 Mercedes-Benz SL450 Overall
The 2017 Mercedes-Benz SL450 has an MSRP of $86,950.* The SL we were lucky enough to drive had an as-tested price of $108,385. If you want one just like it, go to an AutoNation-affiliated Mercedes-Benz dealership. Even though 2017 marks the SL roadster’s 60th birthday, we don’t expect you to bake a cake or throw a party in its honor. However, we have a feeling that once you bring your gorgeous new SL home, you’ll want to celebrate for a completely different reason.
*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.