Undiminished return

Value comes and goes, as does our luxury convertible


WHEELS’ resident lefty John Carey holds fast to the law of diminishing returns, which declares that value does not increase commensurately with price. JC wields this baton most effectively during our annual Car of the Year testing week.

The argument goes that a $100K car is not twice a $50K car, therefore it should be judged less favourably on Value. Superficially, it makes sense: a $100K sedan cannot carry twice the people, nor will it accelerate twice as quickly, or cover twice the distance on the same fuel, or be twice as safe and have twice the features.

There’s an obvious flaw here. Is 2m² twice the size of 1m²? No, it’s four times, because both length and width double. So, if only one measurable quality doubles – say, engine output – is that sufficient to overturn the law of diminishing returns?

Cars are too complex to be valued in such a simplistic fashion. And it’s wrong to say that luxury or sports cars don’t represent good value. On the contrary, they represent fantastic value to their owners.

Yes, I’m about to argue that a $238,500 Mercedes-Benz SL400 represents good value.

Take the indirect red ambient lighting that gently illuminates the cabin at night. And the way the transmission automatically engages park when a door is opened (I had wanted to make sure I was wholly within my parking spot…). And speaking of doors, the pockets can take an umbrella. Perhaps this is partly why they’re so long.

This SL also has a variety of roadsterspecific value-add features, not least the electric retracting hardtop. It wouldn’t be a roadster without it, but don’t underestimate the work that went into finding a way to stow said roof and only lose less than one-third of the SL’s boot capacity.

And what about the boot’s kick-to-open (and kick-to-close) feature? That’s handy to have when my hands are full, though I do feel like an idiot doing the one-legged activation dance.

The front seats have heaters and coolers in them, and air vents to warm your neck.

The leather chosen for these seats partially reflects the sun’s heat, a welcome touch on a hot Melbourne day. And there’s a handy window master button that raises or lowers all four simultaneously.

Acoustically tuned voice-control entertainment system, autonomous driving features… How do we value these assistance technologies that no doubt cost millions to research and develop? And how much value should we ascribe to the quieter cabin, more compliant ride, effortless acceleration, and that evocative exhaust note?

You get my point. The SL400 is not seven times a well-specced Mazda 3, but its ‘true’ equipment list would be.

Those who ascribe to the law of diminishing returns will never see financial value in luxury cars like the SL roadster. But for the few wealthy enough to afford it, the SL’s value goes beyond the obvious. It’s all those thoughtful value-adds that subtly yet tangibly enhance the ownership experience.

And let’s not forget the ego. That is, after all, at the heart of everything Mercedes- Benz sells. No Benz does this better than the indulgent and decadent SL roadster.

At its core, though, sits an impressive and invigorating driving machine. Rides beautifully, sounds meaty, goes effortlessly, steers with alacrity and accuracy. All the while spoiling you better than most cars on the market.

It has a few foibles, which I’ve documented in past reports, but none that diminish the experience in any considerable way.

So, the big question: Would I buy one? No.

My automotive palette prioritises performance over panache. But for those in less of a hurry, and for whom motoring should be sumptuous rather than speedy, try an SL400 for size.

You’ll love it.


Years of unlocking doors on approach meant the Benz locked itself again when it sensed the key in my hand at the door handle. Doh!

A diamond in the rough

BEFORE handing the keys back, I took the SL to meet one of my favourite mountain roads. Did an 80km ‘special stage’ twice; once with the roof up and once with the roof down. I wanted to feel any difference it made to body rigidity and dynamics.

I noticed more impact to the former on rough roads, but considerably less than I had in previous SL generations.

There’s more scuttleshake with the roof down, but not much; the SL shakes a little when the roof is up, too. Neither did the


roof’s position overly impact the suspension’s ability to absorb bumps and ride undulations, though sharper edges did judder through with more authority. I swear having the roof down makes the SL a smidge more reluctant to turn in – not as eager – but again the difference between roof up and roof down is far from considerable.

Body reinforcement necessitated by a folding roof inevitably brings extra weight. At 1685kg, the two-seat SL may be lighter than previous generations, but it’s still hustling a fair mass. However, the reason behind the weight is justified. The roof’s position has little real-world impact on its overwhelmingly competent dynamics.


Date acquired: December 2014 Price as tested: $238,500 This month: 1595km @ 9.8L/100km Overall: 3178km @ 9.9L/100km