New & Used Mercedes-Benz SL Class: In Depth
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The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is a hardtop roadster that's been the Benz boulevard cruiser for a half-century. In AMG trim, the SL also has exceptional power and handling. This year, a new base six-cylinder model joins the lineup.
MORE: Read our 2015 Mercedes-Benz SL Class reviewThe 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.
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. These models were confident touring machines when covering distance, and tenacious handlers on a curvy road. With excellent seats and great suspension tuning, the SL had become an ideal pick for those—even taller drivers—who want a sports car capable of covering 500 miles a day or more in absolute comfort.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 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. Most SL models come with Active Body Control, which makes the SL corner like a smaller, lighter car while not flustering occupants.
Most people buy an SL to be comfortable, and this roadster doesn't disappoint in that department. The new Magic Sky Control is optional, allowing the occupants to choose between clear glass above when the top is up or an opaque filter to block out heat and light. The fabulous Airscarf neck-wamring vents are again available, making cool-weather top-down driving supremely comfortable. A decent standard Harman/Kardon audio setup can be replaced by a Bang & Olufsen system that includes an ingeniously packaged subwoofer in the passenger footwell. The Mercedes COMAND interface is standard, controlling the infotainment setup through a console-mounted knob and a 7.0-inch display. COMAND also includes navigation with Google search capability.
For the 2015 model year, the SL gained a new base powertrain. In the SL 400, there's a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6, the same one also appearing in the E-Class sedan for the first time in 2015. It's rated at 329 horsepower, with 354 pound-feet of torque. SL65 AMG roadsters now also have a seven-speed automatic.