Mercedes SL Driven: New & Old - CHRIS HARRIS ON CARS

Uploaded by drive on 28.03.2012


This is the new 2012 Mercedes SL500.
It's an icon because, for over half a century, it has defined
its own market segment.
Everything else is, and was, an SL rival.
Whereas, the SL, well--
it's always just the SL.
So perhaps the best way to understand the new SL is to
trace its heritage.

So when you're considering the origins of the Mercedes SL and
lightweight theme that runs through it, it's actually
quite hard not to think about the
origins of the word super-car.
Because I'm sitting a car now--
from 1957 that has acclaimed top speed of a figure of 150
miles an hour and 225 horse power.
To me, that sounds like pretty rampant
performance for the day.
I mean, what must this car have looked like
to people in 1957?
It still looks pretty futuristic now.
They must have just thought it was the
Millennium bloody Falcon.
It's an amazing car.
A really amazing car.
And do you know what?
Even though it created a dynasty of ruthless Mercedes
Benzes, it is a much more specialized car than anything
we have now with an SL badge on it.
Not to say they aren't special cars now.
They are.
But they are much more rounded and much more usable.
This is just wonderful.
Here we are, roof down in Spain.
I'm loving it.
It doesn't have much grip.
Steering wriggles around through this massive
Baker-like rimmed steering wheel.
The gear box is just lovely and precise.
It just clicks into place.
It's an absolute joy.

Now, I have no idea what this car is worth, other than the
fact that it's a big sum of money, but
it's worth every penny.
They dials are beautiful.
The chrome, the metal, the leather.
And that's before we even discuss the noise.
Third gear.
Like a DB5 having its bits fondled.
It's just magnificent.
But the whole car is completely
glorious, and I'm in love.
So what we have here is a W113 Mercedes 230 SL from 1968.
To you and I, it's known as the Pagoda.
Now, I've never driven one of these things before, so I'm
actually pretty excited.
I love Mercedes SLs.
And I've always looked at this from a distance as a really,
really elegant, beautiful piece of design.
Sitting in it now, it's a high quality item.
These really were premium pearls back in the day.
They were furiously, fearsomely expensive cars.
You can see why everything is either lovely words, painted
metal, or chrome, or actually leather.
So it's expensive.
I'm wearing no seat-belt and I'm sitting upright, quite
close to the screen.
And it's impossible to avoid or resist the inclination to
just hang an elbow off the door and cruise around.
To me, it doesn't feel like a scratching sports car.
Compared to a 1968 Porsche 911, this feels
much more the cruiser.
2.3-D, just straight six engine,
lovely throttle response.
But you know what?
This great big steering wheel actually gives you very little
steering feel.
So everyone that goes on about steering feel being lost by
modern cars is, in fact, talking codswallop.
I suppose this car also infused in me a sense of not
wanting to go too fast.
Yes, it's a performance car.
But if I want to go quickly, this little 2.3 liter six
cylinder engine is lovely.
Listen to the noise.
Here we go.
I'll give you some noise.
Delicious sounds and it's amazing how sharp
the response is.
But the SL is a car that doesn't want to be hurried.
Doesn't want to be hustled.
And this is quite a light car.
1,295 kilograms and with that 150 horse power, sweet little
inline six.
2.3 liters, remember.
It's honey.
Very responsive.
Mechanical fuel injection.
It's a lovely little drivers package.
Compared to an equivalent 911 of the era, this is much of a
sports car but probably with a much broader appeal.
It can scratch and go quite quickly if you want it to.
But really it's about just sitting back and
having a good time.
And enjoying this gear change, which is a little Swiss watch
in its operations.
It's a short throw, and you feel the
cogs meshing together.
I love this car.
It's really gorgeous.
So in 1971, the cute little Pagoda W113 gave way to what
Mercedes internally called the R107.
Of course, to you and me it's the Bobby Ewing.

I don't know about you, but to me this is the definitive
Mercedes SL shape.
This car was built for 18 years.
That's the longest any Mercedes was ever built.
They didn't stop making it until 1988.
And the basic shape and styling stayed the same.
Even today, it looks fresh.
It's an absolute design classic.
Now, the funny thing is I've already driven
one of these before.
And it was a 500SL automatic.
That's the classic LA spec, isn't it?
A great big bruiser of a car.
You just stuck it in D. It went pretty fast.
It was a bit wallowy.
It wasn't a sports car in the conventional sense.
But it was a lovely way of getting around.
Today, rubbed my hands.
They said, have go in an R 107 and presented me with a red
manual 300SL.
And I just thought, oh no, this is just rubbish.
However, this is a bit of a revelation, this car.
I'm loving it.
188 horse power from a three liter straight six.
1,510 kilograms without the hard top on it.
It's not that quick.
The gearing is a bit too long, but it makes this lovely
straight six noise.
It's a great place to be.
You've got the heavily sprung seat and this enormous
steering wheel.
I mean, it really does steer with all the precision of a
great, big yacht.
But other than that, I think it's a lovely, lovely car.
And so this is where all that knowledge and experience
culminates, the new R231 Mercedes SL class.
First impressions.
Well, it's bigger, physically bigger, and longer.
But it's lighter.
The car now has a twin-turbo V8.
This car has 435 horse power, 516 foot pounds of torque, and
it weighs 1,785 kilograms.
Do some maths, and you have a car that--
despite not being a dedicated AMG performance model--
has nearly the same power to weight ratio as a 2001 SL55.
It's a really, really fast car.
It absolutely shags it along.
Now that's kind of a good thing but also a slightly
awkward thing as well.
First of all, you have a level of effortless performance that
was just missing in the previous SL car.
You stroke this thing along in drive, leave the gear box in
its economy setting with the stop, start and gage and
everything, and it's really, really fast.
But it doesn't mean that the temptation is there to go
really quite quickly.
And then, this new SL, well, it presents who with a couple
of problems.
First of all, the steering is very light.
It's electric, and at low speed, that's great.
But at higher speed, you do you feel slightly detached
from the experience.
It's a shame because the rest of the chassis is so flipping
competent The right comfort is extraordinary.
You feel the strength and integrity of the structure of
the car and air suspension.
I don't bother with the sport mode.
Leave it in comfort, and you have got
the consummate cruiser.
The steering column is rock solid.
It doesn't feel like it's a convertible at all.
We have the lovely seven speed wet-clutch transmission. that
AMG calls speed shift.
It worked brilliantly with this gear box to give you a,
sort of, quasi AMG experience.
The noise is sensational, yet it's a
really, really fast car.
It's a car that you want to drive fast.
But when you get there it just feels, for me,
a little bit detached.
Is that a criticism that I should be
leveling it at an SL500?
Because, come on, people don't use this car to go and scratch
around race tracks, do they?
They use it to be able to just cruise wherever they want to.
Drive 1,000 miles roof up, roof down in utter comfort.
And this car in that role is still the best on sale.
It's remarkable.
In here, we're not really too worried about any buffeting
from the air outside.
It feels cocooned.
With the roof up, it's as quiet as a normal coupe.
I've got wind or air-scarf to warm the back of my neck.
I've got heated seats.
I've got this cabin, which to me is an unqualified success.
So let's talk about the styling then, because I think
the inside is an unqualified success, personally, I'm not
so sure about the outside.
I don't think it's a munter.
But equally, it's not a car that makes me think, oh god, I
got to have one of those-- like, say, the new Boxter.
So it's a bit tippy-toe on 18 inch wheels, as well.
So I do think it could look a little bit more-- for want of
a better word--
Now, if I've been a little bit less than blown away by this
car when you really try and get up it, let's put things in
We know already that there's an SL63 coming, and that car
will fulfill that role.
I suppose, actually, if I flip it on its head, I was just
surprised at how fast this car was.
And that by the time I'd got up it and started going, that
the amount of just straight line performance perhaps not
overcame the chassis but I found it surprising.
No, all in all, pretty fine motor car.