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BMW 4 series


Mercedes-Benz SL-Class

Summary

BMW 4 series

BMW's new 4 Series blasted onto the world stage with a chonky schnozz on it that only a mother could love. If BMW didn't want anyone to look at the rest of the car, it did a cracking job of it, because everyone had something to say about the big gnashers now grafted to the 4's front end.

I was nervous about it, too, because the 4 Series has always been so elegant and the current 3 Series - on which it is based - is quite nice to look at. It also threatened to overshadow just how good a car the BMW 4 should be, based as it is on the excellent 3 Series.

And, of course, one also had to wonder if a sports coupe like this would be any good around town. Limited vision? Hard to get in and out of? A true four-seater, or just a squishy 2+2? So many questions. 

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6.4L/100km
Seating4 seats

Mercedes-Benz SL-Class

Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the 2016 Mercedes-AMG SL63 with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Well. They don't make cars like this anymore, do they? Time was, a big coupe or convertible were de rigeur for the well-heeled banker, with 12 cylinders almost a given and fuel consumption measured in super tankers, or more likely just not talked about at all.

The world has changed but Mercedes’ SL hasn't. That's not strictly true, of course. The SL63 may drop four of the SL65's 12 cylinders, but at just half a litre smaller and still with twin-turbos it generates the enormous thrust a luxo-barge like this needs. The things that made it an icon are indeed still there - lots of tech, a style all its own and a name everyone recognises.

Safety rating
Engine Type5.5L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency10.2L/100km
Seating2 seats

Verdict

BMW 4 series7.8/10

The BMW 420i is a terrific car if you're after a bit of style and sophistication. Not everyone will warm to your car's nose, but if you get it de-chromed, like this white one, it really does look pretty good. It's a car that uses very little fuel, moves along smartly and is brimming with a decent amount of tech, even if it could do with a bit more safety gear at this price. 

I reckon this car is settling well into the automotive landscape and ignoring it because of a few loudmouths think the grille is too big would be a terrible waste.


Mercedes-Benz SL-Class7.3/10

The SL's overall score is somewhat skewed by everyday concerns, and rules are rules - an average punter will find the price of this car somewhat confusing and the devil-may-care attitude to fuel consumption bewildering.

If neither of these things are a problem, then the SL63 makes plenty of - well, not sense, because it's not a particularly clever or considered car - but it fills a niche that not so long ago we all thought would go the way of the dodo.

The fact it sells so few examples is betrayed by some of the cabin amenities and the fact that Mercedes hasn't put much effort into reducing the car's weight to improve its consumption or sharpen up the handling.

The fact it still exists at all is pretty damn cool, though, and for certain people an SL63 purchase is the culmination of a lot of hard work.

If it is your dream car, the SL63 won't disappoint. Everyone who rode with me said it was mightily impressive, but you've got to really want it. When you're not far off buying a Ferrari California T or Aston Martin V12 Vantage S for the money, you'll need a real yearning for the three-pointed star to go this way. And if you do, good luck to you - you've probably worked quite hard to get here.

Would you consider the SL63 over a Ferrari or Aston-Martin? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Mercedes-AMG SL63 pricing and spec info.

Design

BMW 4 series

The internet exploded when it became clear the big kidney grille was for real. To be fair, BMW did itself absolutely no favours by ensuring the photos of the 4 Series made the twin grille look Easter Island statue sized. 

And it persisted in doing them naked, without number plates to break up the look. In the flesh, it all works, the nose is striking but not completely overblown. 

BMW coupe elegance reigns supreme in profile, however, with excellent proportions, and even in base form the wheels are the right size. The slim tail-lights and sculpted tail complete the look. It's a car I think most people love looking at. Hardly anyone mentioned the grille.

The cabin is excellent, as are all of the newer BMW interiors. It's not really a base model, given the price, but the mix of Alcantara and synthetic leather is very pleasing. 

The big screens for the media and instruments headline the cabin with high-tech style and while it's not avant-garde, it's sharp and feels premium, which is just as well.


Mercedes-Benz SL-Class6/10

The SL has always been completely unapologetic about its size and seems to be designed to accentuate rather than hide its length and width. The long bonnet screams power and prestige, and get out of my way, and is reminiscent of the little-loved McLaren SLR project of some years ago.

The size of the Mercedes logo on the huge front grille leaves you in little doubt about the brand of car that’s about to pass you at speed and some might say (okay, I would) that its large surface area is a little vulgar.

Like the SLR, the design doesn't seem to have a particularly cohesive strategy, with a number of Mercedes elements from around the traps that climb over each other. Roof up it looks awkward because of the gigantic posterior while with the roof down it looks overly long and, again, tail-heavy.

Folding hardtops are notoriously cumbersome and need a lot of room to hide them, but the silent operation is something to behold.

Elements that are worth deleting if possible are the dodgy 'Biturbo' badges. It's that kind of bling that gets people raising their little finger at you.

Practicality

BMW 4 series

As a sports coupe, it's hardly a practical all-rounder but it's not a squishy 2+2 either. The rear seats are sculpted for maximum headroom and have the added bonus of holding onto rear passengers. 

Six footers won't be super-comfortable but it's bearable for short trips. There are two ISOFIX points back there, too. 

The front seats electrically fold out of the way for ingress and egress, but it's not an elegant process.

Front-seat passengers score two cupholders and bottle holders in the doors and a black hole for your phone and its wireless charging pad.

The boot takes an impressive 440 litres and the rear seats split and fold like good little soldiers.


Mercedes-Benz SL-Class7/10

“Practicality” is about as relevant to this car as a code of ethics is to a drug dealer or a contract killer, because the SL63 buyer is hardly worried about cupholders and boot space. For what it's worth, there are four cupholders in the two-seater cabin (which might explain why owners aren't worried about their liquid carrying prospects) and a minimum boot space of 364 litres and a maximum - with roof up - of 504, which is actually not bad.

Cleverly, there's a little robot-operated luggage cover inside the deep boot that stops your gear from being crushed when the roof goes down.

There's also space in the long doors where you might secrete a bottle of wine that would get a NSW Premier fired if he thanks you for it, and a bin in the console to hide your phone.

Price and features

BMW 4 series

The 420i starts at $71,900. That's a fair bit of money, I think you'll agree.

You get 19-inch wheels, a 10-speaker stereo, LED headlights with auto high beam, head-up display, power front seats, lighting package, auto-parking with reverse assistant, synthetic leather and Alcantara interior, 'Live Cockpit Professional' (fully digital dash), wireless phone charging and digital radio.

The massive 10.25-inch touchscreen may be smaller than the 12.3-inch digital dashboard, but it still looks huge. BMW's Operating System 7.0. is a cracking set-up, and you can control it via either touch or the 'iDrive' rotary dial on the console. It also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Both of them, wireless. You don't read that every day.

You also get 'BMW ConnectedDrive', with some remote services that last for three years. The subscription includes things like the endearingly weird 'Caring Car' and the far less weird real-time traffic information.

The 4 Series is available in eight colours. 'Alpine White' is the only freebie while 'Black Sapphire', 'Arctic Race Blue', 'Portimao Blue', 'San Remo Green' and 'Mineral White' are $1538 each (or part of the 'Visibility Package'). 'Tanzanite Blue' and 'Dravit Grey' are a hefty $2962.

My car for the week had the $6300 Visibility Package (metallic paintwork, sunroof, BMW Laserlight, Ambient Light, which is worth it for the amazing Laserlights alone), the $2860 'Comfort Package' (lumbar support, electric boot, heated front seats, 'Comfort Access' with 'BMW Digital Key') and an $800 black pack. All this took the price to $81,860.


Mercedes-Benz SL-Class7/10

It’s difficult to ponder the idea of value when a car is already approaching $400,000 at a rapid rate even before you start piling on the options. On the plus side, for a list price of $368,715 you do get an extremely long list of standard equipment.

Edited highlights include leather on almost every available surface, heated and cooled electric seats with a fan heater for your neck, a B&O stereo that will shatter the windscreen on request, aluminium trim that's real aluminium (mostly), Active Ride suspension, sat nav, dual-zone climate control, active cruise, LED headlights and a huge swag of safety gear.

The 12-speaker stereo also has DVD, limited smartphone integration via Mercedes' COMAND system, a seven-inch screen and, of course, Bluetooth.

Engine & trans

BMW 4 series

The 420i’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, codenamed B48, spins up 135kW/300Nm. Driving the rear wheels through an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, you'll go from zip to the 100km/h mark in 7.5 seconds, which is brisk, if not staggering.


Mercedes-Benz SL-Class9/10

The SL63 is powered by Mercedes’ increasingly famous V8, with two turbos along for the ride to add oomph and cut the car's famous consumption, at least slightly. The 5.5-litre unit produces a massive 430kW and a scarcely believable 900Nm of torque.

All of that heads rearward via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that helps sling the 4.6m, 1848kg machine to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds.

Fuel consumption

BMW 4 series

BMW's official combined-cycle figures seem to be slowly moving towards reality. The 420i's sticker figure of 6.4L/100km was met with an indicated 6.8L/100km, which was excellent going for almost exclusively suburban and urban running. 

It's a solid result, but being a BMW, it's premium unleaded only for its 59-litre tank.

With my generally unsympathetic (but not psychopathic) right foot, that means a real-world range of over 800km between fills.


Mercedes-Benz SL-Class6/10

Much as is the case with the price, there's no real way to soften the blow here - the SL63 drinks like a footballer on Mad Monday, except it does it every day. The official combined cycle figure of 10.2L/100km is quite easy to double, as we did, averaging 21L/100km in mostly flowing suburban traffic. In the car’s defence, the accelerator pedal spent a good deal of time near the firewall.

The SL does have stop-start to help reduce its considerable environmental impact.

Driving

BMW 4 series

One of the main things that sets a BMW sedan or sedan-based coupe apart is that they're good everywhere, except perhaps in quicksand. 

As the platform has matured and BMW's persistence with run-flat tyres has yielded improvements in tyre construction, the 3/4 Series platform (and many others - the internal name for the platform is CLAR) has once again become the benchmark for ride and handling.

For some people reading this, that's a lot of blah blah blah but the main point is, it's a terrific thing to drive whether you're dawdling along in traffic, dealing with traffic calming or bombing down your favourite deserted road.

The Bridgestone tyres on the 420i aren't as ultimately grippy and sticky as the alternative rubber on the 430i but they work well in town and are quiet on the 80km/h roads so prevalent in Sydney. 

The steering is absolutely lovely, providing just the right weight at any given speed and throwing in the road feel to inspire confidence.

Ride around town is compliant but with the whiff of fun if you decide to push things outside of the city. 

Its capabilities are still more than worthwhile day-to-day, however, because the way it handles the need to duck in and out of spaces in traffic is extremely handy.

The 2.0-litre four-cylinder is as smooth as rival Audi's. It doesn't sound like much (with a few vestigial pops in Sport mode) but it's certainly got the power to get you out of sticky situations and a transmission that's willing to play ball, whether in Sport or Normal.

Without the adaptive suspension of its 430i and M 440i brethren, this is a very smooth, easygoing sports coupe, with just enough sportiness to keep you interested, if you're that way inclined.


Mercedes-Benz SL-Class8/10

There are a number of impressive things about the way the SL drives. Firstly, astronauts will be familiar with the galactic thrust of the V8. It seems endless, seamless and ready to sling the big coupe into the outer atmosphere. Few engines of any kind can match the relentless go on offer in the SL and much of the credit should go to the seven-speed twin-clutch transmission.

Containing a torque figure like the twin-turbo V8's requires a lot of electro-trickery to stop you from being launched off the road. The great thing about all that stuff is that it works unobtrusively and smoothly.

Mashing the carpet in an SL without traction control would create much sound and smoke but little forward progress, such is the twist on tap. The SL has a range of modes from full-nanny (which is meant to keep you on the slippery Alpine road you've chosen to get you to some Swiss ski resort) while turning the dial all the way around to Race loosens the bonds.

It's in this mode you'll have the most fun and it does seem that the intermediate settings are a bit of a waste of time. Race mode does little to diminish the amazing ride quality provided by the active suspension setup, but relaxes the reins on the huge rear tyres. Exiting roundabouts is suddenly a huge laugh, with the tail cheerfully breaking traction and the two-mode exhaust thundering in a most pleasant way.

Better still is that when you jump on the brakes and shift down, the exhaust keeps the show going with angry crackles and pops, with more on the way when you lift off. There's little to match the aural pleasures of a properly tuned V8 and Mercedes has resisted the temptation to quieten it down on the outside and generate a fake noise for the inside. Although that would be stupid in a convertible, if you think about it.

The SL63, despite its AMG badge, isn't about all-out handling, of course. The Ferrari California would definitely show it how it’s done on a winding country road. The SL is more about flow, building momentum and rarely shifting down to second gear. The monstrous torque is enough to keep things rolling but should you wish for a bit more of the exhaust bellow, second is there for the taking.

Hustling the big convertible feels wrong, not because it can't do it, but because it's not really what it's for. Having said that, it offers a kind of fun that nothing else on Earth will provide, not even a Bentley GTC.

With the roof up, the SL63 is a quiet place but not remarkably so. The huge sticky tyres do the cabin's hush no favours, with an annoying roar on a wider range of surfaces than you might expect.

Roof down, it's hardly a paragon of virtue. A lot of wind noise reaches the cabin, even well below the huge speeds the SL can reach. So if you want to talk, it's windows up you'll need to deploy the mesh screen that bridges the roll hoops.

Safety

BMW 4 series

The 4 Series comes with six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, reverse cross-traffic alert and reversing camera.

The 4 Series hasn't been tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP and the 3's five-star rating can only be a guide because of the very different structure of the 4. 

Sports cars rarely fare well in the sometimes complex rules so carmakers tend to keep them away from the clutches of crash testers.


Mercedes-Benz SL-Class8/10

Six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controlsblind-spot sensor, lane-departure warning, brake assist, active safety bonnet, lane-keep assist, driver attention detection, AEB.

Ownership

BMW 4 series

BMW offers a ho-hum length of three years and 100,000km of warranty coverage. Mercedes has gone to five years so one wonders why BMW (and Audi) hasn't joined its German rival.

Servicing is entirely reasonable at $1650 for a five-year/80,000km package that covers the 12 month/16,000km servicing regime. 

At $330 per service, it includes things many carmakers don't, such as brake fluid and spark plugs. 

You can go full noise with the 'Plus Package', which costs $4500 and chucks in brake pads, rotors and even windscreen-wiper replacement. That doesn't seem like terribly good value to me unless you drive like a lunatic.


Mercedes-Benz SL-Class7/10

The SL63 is covered by Mercedes' three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. And, er, that's it.