2009 Mercedes-Benz SL Class Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
May 18, 2008

The SL’s new look isn’t to everyone’s liking, but in AMG guise, it’s now more punch than paunch—and a worthy stealth Ferrari-chaser.

This conclusive review of the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL has been compiled by TheCarConnection.com’s car experts after consulting all the competitive reviews. TheCarConnection.com also drove the new Benz SL, and we offer our expert opinion to help you navigate through the reviews, read about the details that matter, and decide where opinions differ.

The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL is the German automaker’s top-of-the-line convertible, save for the ultra-exclusive SLR Roadster.

The SL-Class has been given a midcycle refresh for 2009, with various styling changes and equipment improvements across the line, along with a redesigned instrument panel and new steering wheel.

More noteworthy changes grace the high-performance AMG version: the SL55 AMG is now replaced by the SL63 AMG, which gets a new 518-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 and seven-speed transmission. A revamped SL65, with an AMG-tuned version of the SL600’s supercharged V-12, will be available later in the model year, and an ultimate-performance Black Series is on the way. According to reviewers, the changes to the AMG versions mean that these cars take a larger leap in performance from the standard-issue SLs, and they have dramatically different driving experiences than the SL550 and SL600.

Review continues below

Each of the models still offers a surprisingly comfortable, absorbent ride, along with great seats and top-of-the-class safety. Also, the innovative Airscarf feature, previously only available on the smaller SLK roadster, is now an option on the SL.

7

2009 Mercedes-Benz SL Class

Styling

Mercedes added a little more flair to the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL’s conservative appearance with these midcycle styling changes, but even in AMG trim, it won’t turn heads like a Porsche 911 or Audi R8.

The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL grand-touring roadster gets more flamboyant front and rear styling for 2009 and gains some design cues from the classic 1950s "Gullwing" SL. There’s an edgier, more chiseled look in front, with composite lamp fixtures that flank the new grille design and sweep around into the fenders, and in back, the styling is a little neater. It’s similar to what’s being phased in throughout the Mercedes-Benz lineup, while much of the rest of the SL’s softer lines are carried over. Meanwhile, functional side-fender air gills behind the front wheels serve as nods to the past, and (on non-AMG models) the hood has been redesigned to gain two prominent "power domes." Other changes, as described by Car and Driver, include “larger side mirrors with curious arrow-shaped turn signals and, in the case of the SL550 and SL600, a faux air ‘diffuser’ and trapezoidal exhaust tips at the rear.”

These changes didn’t sit so well with some reviewers, who lingered on the idea that the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL has gone many years now since a complete redesign. Car and Driver emphasized that the hood bulges do not correspond to “anything that gives the car more power,” and regarding the new front end, while Leftlanenews.com said that the rear styling looks dated, Britain’s Top Gear said that styling continuity was lacking: “Trouble is...they’ve grafted a square face onto rounded flanks, and it sits uneasily.”

The changes to the already elegant and sporty interior have been limited to a redesigned instrument cluster and steering wheel, and few reviewers had much to say about it. Leftlanenews.com pointed out the ability to “customize the interior with up to twelve single-tone and ten two-tone combinations of leather and wood trim.”

Meanwhile, the AMG versions get enough styling for spotters to easily differentiate them from standard SLs. Differences include a lower air intake in front, a bolder grille design with reshaped headlights, twin power bulges for the hood, special side skirts, and a different rear fascia. “That you're in the AMG version won't go unnoticed by the impoverished who can only afford Porsche Boxsters,” said Road & Track.

9

2009 Mercedes-Benz SL Class

Performance

The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL is a luxurious and perfectly good grand tourer, but if you want an edgy performer, you should focus on the AMG models.

We had no problem finding reviews that extensively covered the high-performance SL63; however, only a few reviewers had spent significant time with the SL550 or SL600.

Car and Driver noted that the V-12 versions of the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL come with a five-speed automatic rather than a seven-speed but had no complaints about the five-speed’s performance. Each of the transmissions includes Touch Shift manual control and paddle shifters, along with comfort, sport, and manual modes.

Reviewers of the SL550 complimented its responsive V-8, while the more powerful SL600 didn’t get quite as many good words because, explained Car and Driver, turbo lag could sometimes be an issue when driving on roads with tight switchbacks and wherever there was a need to quickly get on and off the throttle. Car and Driver estimated a 3.6-second time to 60 mph for the SL600 and 4.9 seconds for the SL550.

The big SLs generally handle much better than might be expected for a vehicle that weighs up to 4,555 pounds, depending on the trim, thanks in part to the second-generation Active Body Control (ABC) system. “ABC does a remarkable job of keeping body roll completely snuffed while soaking up all but the most torrid impacts,” said Car and Driver. ABC includes a Sport mode that tightens handling up even more and can lower ride height at higher speeds.

Big four-channel anti-lock brakes keep the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL’s speed in check. Car and Driver called them “completely fade resistant," but said that they “felt a touch artificial as the hypersensitive anti-lock system constantly fiddled with the brake pressure at each wheel,” especially on rough surfaces. The SL600 gets larger brakes to match the power, but several reviewers reported that they seemed taxed on mountain grades. “On mountainous portions of our test route, and despite a liberal use of engine compression braking, we still noticed an excessive smell of brake materials on the SL600,” reported Leftlanenews.com.

Driving impressions were decidedly different regarding the high-performance SL63—indicating that these are the models to favor if you’re so inclined to wear racing footwear. Motor Trend pointed out the “uncommon combination of massive low-end pull and willingness to rev” of the SL63’s 518-hp, 6.2-liter V-8, and Motive described it as delivering “the heaviest, most satisfying V-8 kind of power there is, tractable at the low end and manic at the top.”

The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL AMG cars feature a completely different, more aggressive MCT SpeedShift transmission, which can function as an automatic transmission but in its performance mode will match revs during downshifts and shift in cooperation with the braking system. The gearbox now has four different modes altogether for high-performance or comfort-oriented driving, along with a so-called Race Start mode, which is the equivalent of, Motive says, “essentially brake torquing the living hell out of this superpriced ingot of German metal.”

More aggressive suspension and chassis tuning for the AMG models up the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL ’s performance potential. Motor Trend thought that a “more than adequate power and chassis balance lend it a nimbleness belying the curb weight,” while Motive said, “The SL63 feels heavy here, but in a good way.” Later, the reviewer commended its grip and described it as “impossible to provoke.” Braking was nothing to complain about here: more powerful six-piston calipers “confidently scrub off the SL63's easily accrued speed,” according to Road & Track, which also said that the “steering feels considerably more direct than in standard SLs.”

Although TheCarConnection.com hasn’t yet driven the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL, our prior experience comparing the SL550 with the SL55 AMG, which the SL63 replaces, confirmed that the differences are way more than skin deep; with slightly different tuning to the steering, brakes, and transmission, it’s not simply a case of a more powerful engine stuffed in. The SL550—and SL600 especially—aren’t the kind of cars that beg to be driven hard, but the AMGs are.

8

2009 Mercedes-Benz SL Class

Comfort & Quality

An excellent body structure and standout powertrain refinement assure a high-quality driving experience in the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL.

Reviewers were almost unanimous in mentioning the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL’s feeling of solidity and its ability to absorb rough road surfaces without excess body motion. Car and Driver attributed the sophisticated air-spring system for absorbing “impacts that probably would have caused much more of a disturbance to lesser cars and their occupants.” Motive emphasized that the SL's on-the-road confidence and refined ride amount to a “satisfying paradox,” as “broken, choppy pavement — which we would encounter later — barely creeps into the cabin.”

Several critics described the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL’s exhaust note, which has been cranked up a bit. It’s still well suppressed, said Motive, but there’s an underlying “ripping, snarling, feral kind of tone,” and Motor Trend said, “Time and again we run up the revs and lift off the throttle just to revel in the exhaust's deep baritone burble on overrun.”

The sound may be raucous from the rear, but inside the SL promises to be one of the best convertibles for long road trips, as Motor Trend complimented an interior that, “with top down and rear wind deflector raised, stays conversation-quiet at 100 mph.”

Regarding materials used inside and out, there were few complaints or compliments. “One definite don't-like is the shiny plastic cover that reappears for 2009 inside the three-pointed star (at the front grille) if you order the radar-guided Adaptive Cruise Control,” said Motor Trend. “It looks cheap.”

In several experiences with the previous SL, TheCarConnection.com found the top arrangement incredibly tight to make an interior that was quieter and more refined than most coupes. However, interior materials were a little disappointing compared to rivals, as they have been in several other recent M-B models. Reviewers didn’t have much to say about the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL’s interior construction, so we’re assuming no news is good news.

10

2009 Mercedes-Benz SL Class

Safety

The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL is about the safest you can get in a car that has open-air capabilities.

The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL has not yet been tested by either the federal government or the insurance industry—neither have previous model years—and based on its low sales volumes and high price, it’s likely that it won’t be.

With an especially hefty body structure and an abundance of safety features, including a full array of airbags and an automatic-deploying pop-up rollbar, the SL is likely safer than many solid-roof coupes. Mercedes-Benz actually uses the claim “The World’s Safest Convertible.”

8

2009 Mercedes-Benz SL Class

Features

Awesome features like Airscarf, the trick top arrangement, and dreamy seats prove the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL has what matters to those into top-down touring.

All 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL roadsters come about as well equipped as any other car in its class—with amazing, highly adjustable seats, good navigation systems, and plenty of creature comforts—but with some additional high-technology equipment, as Mercedes-Benz tends to pioneer.

One example is Airscarf, a feature that’s been available on the SLK for several years and makes its debut in the SL for 2009. The clever arrangement brings warm air to your neck while driving in cold-air climates, allowing you to keep the top down on low-temp sunny days when you wouldn’t otherwise. All 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL roadsters include Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND system, a screen-driven interface that allows easy access to navigation and audio functions, and the panoramic glass roof and Parktronic parking aid are now standard equipment on the SL600.

The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL’s Harman Kardon audio system is another noteworthy feature. It allows you to play MP3 files through an SD memory-card slot, and songs can also be stored on the on-board 40GB hard drive. However, as Leftlanenews.com pointed out, only about 4GB is allocated for music storage, which amounts to about 1,000 songs, with the rest of the HD space saved for the navigation system and other functions. Leftlanenews.com was disappointed, saying, “The high-end sound system is supposed to provide sedan-quality audio in the space of a convertible, but we found it just average for cars in this niche.”

But when talking about features, we can’t forget about the hydraulic power-folding hardtop roof, which can completely open or close in only 16 seconds. “The mechanized roof is truly an engineering marvel, still stopping spectators in their tracks to watch it accomplish the task at hand,” said the Leftlanenews.com reviewer, who advised shoppers to note the smaller trunk space with the top down.

One of TheCarConnection.com’s most memorable drives in recent years was an early sunny summer morning trip through Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. The temperature couldn’t have been much more than 50, yet with the heater blowing at our feet and the Airscarf feature turned on, it was invigorating. We can’t wait to test this feature on an 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL.

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8.4
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 7.0
Performance 9.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
Safety 10.0
Features 8.0
Fuel Economy N/A
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