2017 Mercedes-Benz SL Class Review

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2017
The Car Connection
2017
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class isn't quite a sports car, but it's a rapid, open-air touring coupe extraordinaire.

Nearly every vehicle in the Mercedes-Benz model lineup has become a little more emphatic and expressive over the past year or two; and with the arrival of a refreshed 2017 Mercedes-Benz SL lineup, the same applies to the luxury automaker's classic two-seater.

Not quite a sports car, but a very luxurious two-seat convertible—a high-luxury roadster, some might call it—the SL functions as "the S-Class of sporty cars" by offering a whole lot of elegance and high-tech luxury conveniences to go with its seemingly effortless power and surprisingly nimble on-road manners. Today's SL is available in SL450, SL550, AMG SL63, and AMG SL65 flavors.

The portfolio has been broader in the past, but it has certainly never been better. 

The SL aims at a wide range of models that bridge luxury and performance, including the elegant Jaguar F-Type, the Aston Martin DB9, and the Porsche 911 range, as well as the brutal Dodge Viper and thrilling Chevrolet Corvette. While the current model was launched for 2012, the 2017 model year has brought some significant changes, including a svelte new look and new 9-speed automatic transmissions.

We give the current model a 7.8 out of 10, with high marks for performance, comfort, and features. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Mercedes SL styling and performance

The current generation of the SL was already exuberantly wide and brash on the outside. Yet for 2017 its styling has been made even a little more emphatic, with new LED headlamps, a newly shaped twin-powerdome hood, and a somewhat more upright grille. Inspiration came from the legendary 300 SL Panamericana racing car with its steeply raked radiator grille. In front there's also an A-wing design that leads to a body-color splitter that evokes the old car.

We've always thought that the current generation of the SL was at a bit of a mismatch from the rear, where the tapered look and taillights seem to come from another car or another studio entirely; although for 2017 the taillights and some of the body panels have been massaged for a more athletic look. Inside, not all that much changes for the SL with its refresh. It's already a cockpit that feels executed with precision—a touring sports-car version of business-jet air travel, perhaps, with round aviation-style vents, and a big (slightly larger this year) infotainment scree. The infotainment is integrated within the dash, rather than freestanding, as in some of the brand's newer, lower-priced models. 

The vast majority of the SL lineup for 2017 gets new 9-speed automatics, although the hardly subtle top-performance AMG versions stick with a 7-speed Speedshift automatic. The 2017 SL lineup starts with the SL450, with a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 making 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. Above it, the SL550 offers a twin-turbo 4.7-liter V-8, now upgraded to 449 hp and 516 lb-ft. And at the top of the lineup, the Mercedes-AMG SL63 comes with twin-turbo 5.5-liter V-8 (577 hp and 664 lb-ft) while the SL65 gets a massive 6.0-liter twin-turbo V-12 engine churning out 621 hp and 738 lb-ft. We tend to think that the SL63 hits the sweet spot for performance and handling. The SL65 is the fastest, though; it can dash to 60 mph in just 4.0 seconds, or to a top speed of 186 mph.

The 2017 models haven't yet been assigned a rating by the EPA, but we're guessing they'll follow last year's. The SL400 managed 20 mpg city, 27 highway, 23 combined, which we expect to rise a little thanks to the new 9-speed. The SL65 probably won't do much better than its 14/21/17 mpg rating, however.

In any of its variants and versions, no matter how powerful, the SL feels far more like a grand-touring coupe than an all-out sports car. The base two-mode suspension, with or without the sport wheels and brakes, is actually our preference to the exotic and expensive Active Body Control upgrade. "Sport" mode with the base setup can feel a bit like "comfort," but the stock SL handles wide sweepers with grace. The electric power steering in the SL isn't engaging in any sports-car sense either. Although Mercedes-Benz has made some tuning adjustments in the 2017 SL, including the addition of the latest curve-tilting function to Active Body Control, so we'll update these impressions after revisiting the '17 model.

SL comfort, safety, and features

The SL's interior is a proper luxury cabin, with great room and fine fittings. Seats are wide yet supportive, and they conform snugly to a surprising range of body styles, thanks to 12-way adjustments, the most useful of which may be the bottom cushion extender. This year there's a new three-spoke, flat-bottom steering wheel, and a few of the buttons have been reconfigured. Behind the seats, there's only a tight space, wide enough for a briefcase. The trunk holds a roll-on bag or two with the roof raised, or only soft-sided bags when it's lowered.

The SL remains a retractable hardtop that can be operated at speeds of up to 25 mph. A trunk button powers the stowed roof panels up and out of the way for easier cargo loading.

All SL models come with Mercedes’ COMAND infotainment system. For 2017 the infotainment screen gets slightly larger. There's Apple CarPlay smartphone integration as part of a package, and the system offers full navigation as an option. Comfort- and safety-oriented options are really the SL's strength, though; things like Airscarf neck vents and magnificent Harman Kardon or Bang & Olufsen audio make this cabin a pleasure to spend hours and days in—as does the folding hardtop with available Magic Sky Control, which turns the roof's glass panel dark like a pair of pricey sunglasses.

On the safety front, the SL is exceptional among performance cars in that it inherits a lot of the world-class active-safety features that are given to the S-Class flagship sedan. From knee airbags to adaptive cruise control, Collision Prevention Assist Plus, radar cruise control, blind-spot monitors, and active lane control, this model is very safe on paper, but no crash-test data exists.

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August 14, 2015
2016 Mercedes-Benz SL Class 2-Door Roadster SL 550

GREAT Car . . . NOT so great looking!

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Our last SL was a 2006 with only 25,000 loving miles on it. We sold to a friend for more than any used car valuation said it was worth. But, he knew how we care for our automobiles (always garaged, always... + More »
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May 28, 2015
1996 Mercedes-Benz SL Class 2-Door Roadster 3.2L

A great touring car

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I have had this 1996 SL320 for several years having purchased it with 24k miles and currently having 68k miles. The car has performed flawlessly with the only major repair being the replacement of the... + More »
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April 13, 2015
For 2015 Mercedes-Benz SL Class

$100,000 good deal?

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Although my Mercedes SL400 goes out the door for a tick under $100,000, it's still a great deal when you compare it to a new SL550. You save about $22,000 and lose about a half a second of zero to 60 time... + More »
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April 19, 2017
2013 Mercedes-Benz SL Class 2-Door Roadster SL 550

Great Ride for the two of us.

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This car is awesome. The power it has makes getting on the freeway safer in my opinion. Have to drive to downtown Los Angeles regularly and whether stuck in traffic or cruising down the tollway, it is very... + More »
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December 28, 2015
For 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL Class

without a sparetire,this car is no good for canada

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i have this car for the last 3 years and and even after 4 other sl,s this is the best sl mercedes ever made. there is so much of acceleration and shifting and handling is still smooth the interior is... + More »
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April 20, 2015
For 2007 Mercedes-Benz SL Class

exceptional car

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This car has everything, it is a truly amazing ride. If you want luxury performance and a hardtop/convertible this is the car for you.
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