New & Used Mercedes-Benz SL Class: In Depth
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The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is a hardtop roadster with plenty of power on tap and impressive handling—the AMG models especially, though. The SL550 and SL63 models are powered by a twin-turbo V-8 and the top-tier SL65 AMG relies on a twin-turbo V-12.
Read our review of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz SL Class for car prices with options, specifications, and gas-mileage ratings.
The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class can trace its lineage all the way back to the 1950s-era 300SL, which replaced the original Gullwing. Through the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, the SL stayed roughly the same size but became heavier and more luxurious, with progressively larger and more powerful engines. In the mid-1990s, Mercedes-Benz's nomenclature changed, with the old 320SL and 600SL becoming the SL 320 and SL600. While the former had a 3.2-liter in-line six-cylinder engine, the SL600 came with a 389-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-12.
For 2003, the SL-Class was completely redesigned for the first time since 1990, and though it again maintained roughly the same exterior size it had an edgier, sportier feel to go with its extensive luxury features. Most noteworthy was its new retractable hardtop—an evolution of the roof design that had previously been proven in the SLK-Class compact roadster.
Most SL models come with Active Body Control, which makes the SL corner like a smaller, lighter car while not flustering occupants. From 2003, the lineup included the 302-hp SL500, 493-hp SL55 AMG, and 493-hp SL600 In 2007, the lineup was changed to the 382-hp SL550, 518-hp SL63 AMG, 510-hp SL600, and 604-hp SL65 AMG. Through to today, these models feel like confident touring machines when covering distance yet prove surprisingly tenacious on a curvy road. With excellent seats and great suspension tuning, they're ideal picks for those—even taller drivers—who want a sports car capable of covering 500 miles a day or more in absolute comfort.
The most desirable, exclusive, and collectible of the recent SL models is the SL65 AMG Black Series, which includes a number of performance upgrades good for the racetrack—plus a power bump to 670 horsepower. Over the past several generations of the SL, depreciation has been a significant drawback to SL ownership; because of high initial prices, SLs—especially AMG versions—can lose tens of thousands of dollars in value over each of the first several years.
For 2009, the SL models were given a design refresh, along with various styling changes and equipment improvements; the somewhat plasticky-looking instrument panel got a new look, and a new steering-wheel design got the model's look up-to-date with the rest of the lineup. The excellent Airscarf feature—which allows neck-level warmth when driving in cool weather with the top down—that had been offered in the SLK was made available in the SL. For the 2012 model year, the lineup was trimmed to two models, the SL 550 and the SL 63 AMG.
A new 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL Class made its debut at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show. New styling brings a more bluff front end to the SL, while the rear end adopts the tapered taillamps of the SLS supercar. A new twin-turbo 4.7-liter V-8 takes over for the old normally-aspirated base V-8 in the SL 550; it's rated at 429 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, and at a 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds.
The SL 550 is joined by the high-performance SL63 AMG and SL65 AMG roadsters. The $147,000 SL63 AMG gets a brawny 530-hp, twin-turbo AMG-built V-8 and its own suspension tuning and equipment, while the SL65 AMG sports a twin-turbo V-12 engine good for a massive 621 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque.
The new SL's impressive creature comforts include Airscarf neck vents and the folding hardtop, and new this year, Magic Sky Control, which turns the roof's glass panel dark like a pair of pricey sunglasses. A Bang & Olufsen sound system can replace the standard Harman/Kardon setup. All SL models also come with Mercedes’ COMAND infotainment system, which includes a 7-inch display screen, a DVD changer, Web browsing with Google search functionality, and navigation.