The Car Connection Mercedes-Benz SL Class Overview
The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is a luxury two-door convertible with an impeccable pedigree. Over decades, the SL has stood atop the automaker's lineup as a luxury cruiser and status icon.
MORE: Read our 2022 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class review
With the SL-Class, Mercedes-Benz has few rivals. It competes against the BMW 8-Series, Chevrolet Corvette, Jaguar F-Type, and Porsche 911.
A seventh-generation SL-Class debuted for the 2022 model year, this time as a 2+2 with all-wheel drive and a soft top. For the first time, it was completely developed by Mercedes' AMG performance arm.
The 2022 Mercedes-Benz AMG SL-Class adds a rear seat for the first time since 1989, and the soft top helps it save 46 lb versus the last-generation's retractable hard top. Its new Modular Sports Architecture uses aluminum, magnesium, steel, and fiber composites to save weight. Developed by AMG, it has 18% more torsional rigidity than the car it replaces and 50% more than the AMG GT roadster.
The new SL has a sharper edge than any SL since the original. Mercedes' familiar M177 twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 provides the power. It's available in two states of tune. In the base SL 55 model, it makes 469 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, enabling a 3.8-second 0-60 mph run and a top speed of 183 mph. The SL 63 version gets more boost to up the output to 577 hp and 590 lb-ft. That cuts the 0-60 mph time to 3.4 seconds and increases the top speed to 196 mph.
The SL has five-link double-wishbone suspensions front and rear and comes standard with adaptive dampers and rear-axle steering that turns the rear tires up to 2.5 degrees opposite the fronts at speeds up to 62 mph. Standard on the SL 63 model and optional for the SL 55 is a linked hydraulic suspension that replaces anti-roll bars. It further flattens the already flat cornering, which teams with sharp steering to make the SL a better handling car than it's ever been.
A new form factor gives the SL a different look. It still has classic sports car lines with a long hood and short deck, but the wheelbase is 4.6 inches longer to make room for a rear seat that better serves as a parcel shelf. It's low and svelte, with organic lines that resolve at a drooping tail with a five-position active spoiler. The new power soft top raises or lowers in 15 seconds at speeds up to 37 mph.
The cabin gets a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster with a variety of display themes, and an upright 11.9-inch center touchscreen. It also sports the usual array of beautiful Mercedes materials, including nappa leather, aluminum trim, and metal speaker grilles for the standard Burmester audio system. Also standard are sport seats with heating/cooling and massage, neck-level heating, a heated steering wheel, navigation, and 20-inch alloy wheels.
Mercedes also gives the SL plenty of standard and optional safety gear. Automatic emergency braking, a surround-view monitor, adaptive LED headlights, and a driver-attention monitor come standard and buyers can opt for adaptive cruise control, active lane control, and active blind-spot monitors.
Mercedes-Benz SL history
The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class can trace its lineage all the way back to the 1950s 300SL, which began with the original Gullwing and was later offered as a roadster. 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 SL320 and SL600. The former had a 3.2-liter inline-6, while the SL600 came with a 389-hp, 6.0-liter V-12, the first to grace an SL. This generation also saw the start of AMG tuning of the SL, with very limited runs of the V-12-powered SL70 and SL73 as well as the SL55 and SL60, which used V-8 power.
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 feature set. Most noteworthy was its new retractable hardtop, an evolution of the roof design in the compact SLK-Class roadster.
Starting in 2003, the lineup included the 302-hp SL500, the 493-hp SL55 AMG, and the 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 wanted a sports car capable of covering 500 miles a day or more in absolute comfort.
Mercedes gave the SL a visual update for 2009, which coincided with changes to the interior and some of the equipment. There was new styling for the previously cheap-looking instrument panel, and the steering wheel was replaced with a new version that used the same design as other new Mercedes models. Mercedes offered an SL AMG Black Series model for 2010, with an uprated V-12 engine, a fixed roof, and a $300,000 price tag. In the 2012 model year, the SL lineup was reduced to a pair of V-8 models: the SL 550 and SL 63 AMG.
The sixth-generation SL made its debut at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit as a 2013 model. Its new styling brought a more buff front end, while the rear end adopted the tapered taillights of the SLS supercar. A new twin-turbo 4.7-liter V-8 took over for the old normally aspirated V-8 in the SL 550. It was originally rated at 429 hp and 516 pound-feet of torque, but it was eventually pushed to 449 hp. As such, it was capable of a 0-60 mph run in the mid-four-second range.
The SL 550 was joined in this generation by the high-performance SL63 AMG and SL65 AMG roadsters. The $147,000 SL63 AMG got a brawny 530-hp, twin-turbo AMG-built V-8 and its own suspension tuning and performance equipment, while the SL65 AMG sported a twin-turbo V-12 good for a massive 621 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque. Most SL models came with a hydraulic suspension system that made the SL corner nearly flat like a smaller, lighter car, while not flustering occupants.
An auto-dimming roof was optional, allowing occupants to choose between clear glass above or an opaque filter to block out heat and light. Neck-warming vents were again available, making cool-weather top-down driving more comfortable. A decent standard Harman Kardon audio system could be replaced by a Bang & Olufsen system that included an ingeniously packaged subwoofer in the passenger footwell. The Mercedes infotainment interface controlled the infotainment system through a console-mounted knob and a 7.0-inch display. The system also offered navigation with Google search capability.
A new "entry-level" model joined the SL lineup for 2015 and marked the end to a long absence of 6-cylinder power in the model's U.S. range. This twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 was offered in the SL 400, where it produced 329 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, sent to the rear wheels through a 7-speed automatic like in other SLs. The SL65 AMG also switched to a 7-speed automatic for 2015.
For 2016, all SL 550 models gained 20 hp for a total of 449 hp. Mercedes also offered a limited run of 400 Mille Miglia Edition SL 550s with special paint, upholstery, and trim pieces.
For power, the 2017 SL range adopted new non-AMG engines and transmissions, again offering a wide variety of choices for discerning buyers. The lineup started with the SL450, with a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 making 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. Above it, the SL550 offered a twin-turbo 4.7-liter V-8, which was upgraded to 449 hp and 516 lb-ft. Both were teamed to a new 9-speed automatic. AMG models carried over with their existing—and powerful—drivetrains.
The SL-Class was refreshed in 2017 with a clean look that included new LED headlights, a reshaped twin-powerdome hood, and a more upright grille. Inside, it gained a larger infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay.
Mercedes left the SL-Class hardtop convertible unchanged through the 2019 model year. A Grand Edition marked the 2020 model year, while Benz cut the AMG roadster from the SL lineup. The SL skipped the 2021 model year in preparation for its 2022 redesign.