Engine: 3.0L biturbo V6
Power: 362 horsepower, 369 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
EPA Fuel Economy (MPG): 20 city, 28 highway
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 11.5 city, 8.4 highway
US Price: Starts at $86,950
CAN Price: Starts at $104,900
Whenever I get into a car to review, I try not to look at the Monroney sticker that tells you how much it costs.
If I’m not already aware of what a car costs, I like to drive it around, check out the interior and generally spend some time with a car before I try to guess what the price tag is.
On the pricing spectrum, if a car’s perceived price and actual price are close, that’s great. If perceived price is higher than actual price, that’s even better; we have a bargain on our hands! But if perceived price is lower than the actual price, that’s problematic.
I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the 2017 Mercedes-Benz SL 450 Roadster would cost. Looking at everything, I thought I’d be OK paying in the mid-$70,000 range. The interior is quite dated, the driving dynamics are a mixed bag, and it’s a car that people have generally forgotten about because of all the other stellar cars in the Mercedes lineup. Helping matters, however, is the fact that the car is a beautiful Benz with great roadster styling, is powered by a meaty biturbo V6 (but not the biturbo V8) and still looks like something fancy from the outside, so I thought my assessment was quite fair.
And then I nearly had a heart attack when I checked how much it cost: As tested, it broke six figures, and even the base price without all the fancy options was far above my estimate. The SL 450 starts at $86,950 in the U.S. (and $104,900 in Canada). Right away, that’s a big problem because it doesn’t feel like it should cost that much.
The Value Problem
My mother the car snob flat out told me, “This doesn’t look like a car that costs six figures.” And she’s right. I’ve seen C-Classes with nicer, more modern interiors, and this is a problem because the SL was just refreshed, so you’d expect it to have the latest Mercedes goodies inside. The other issue is that in my test car, cars that automakers generally go out of their way to ensure are perfect for the press, there were a few electronics that displayed glitchy behavior, like the automatic/powered trunk partition.
But It Isn’t All Bad
The first thing you notice in the interior are the gorgeous red leather seats. You see the elegant and functional vent design and fancy-looking console-mounted gear shifter, which is much nicer and more intuitive than typical Mercedes shifters, which reside behind the steering wheel where the wiper controls would be in other cars. But then your eyes make it over to the plastic dash panel with a dated-looking telephone keypad and you try to use the infotainment system and it sours your experience. The infotainment system is operated by a rotary knob and a touchpad, but the system’s layout isn’t user-friendly, with too many menus and not enough information immediately available. Two nice features, however, are the quick charging USB port in the armrest and the Magic Sky roof that allows you to get some sunlight even with the hardtop convertible roof up.
The steering wheel is also lovely to use and has a heavy weight to it under regular driving. At highway speeds, however, it displays a bit of twitchiness that’s uncharacteristic of luxury cars. The controls for the adaptive cruise control are also hidden from plain sight behind the steering wheel, so it requires a driver to take their eyes off the road to use it until you have its functions memorized.
If value isn’t something you care about in cars, the problems don’t stop there. As a grand touring car, the suspension is far too stiff to be comfortable during relaxed drives, and yet it’s not stiff enough to make it a bonafide sports car.
With 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, the 3.0-liter V6 is also plenty fast, but it doesn’t sound amazing, and the car is too heavy to be thrilling, so you’ll need to option up to the V8 model to get any sort of drama. The nine-speed transmission also makes unexpectedly harsh shifts. The roadster seems to hesitate when pushed and the transmission seems to be easily confused, which is strange because it works so well in other Benzes. The stop/start feature is also harsh. As a sports car, it’s not sporty enough, but as a luxury grand tourer, it’s also not luxurious or smooth enough.
The Verdict: 2017 Mercedes-Benz SL450 Roadster
If you’re looking for a true Mercedes experience, this isn’t the best car to start with. For less money, you can get something else from the Mercedes family that is more luxurious, more modern, drives better, and is easier to live with. This is the first time I’ve been disappointed with a Mercedes.
If I have six figures to spend on a Mercedes convertible, I’d have no problem buying a fully loaded AMG C-Class convertible (when it arrives), which offers a stunning interior and a fantastic engine along with far better driving dynamics. The E-Class Cabrio is also a great choice. Both of these Mercedes droptops also hold two more people and feel more expensive than they actually are, which is something that cannot be said for this SL 450.