2010 Mercedes-Benz SL Class Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
January 7, 2010

The 2010 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class roadsters challenge luxury grand tourers and high-energy exotics alike with stupendously powerful engines and enviable ride quality.

TheCarConnection.com's editors have driven the latest Mercedes-Benz SL-Class roadsters and have written this road test from those experiences. Editors have compared the new Benz SL with other high-end sports cars to help you narrow your choices. Finally, editors have put together a full review of opinions and quotes from other publications to give you a comprehensive look at the 2010 Mercedes-Benz SL.

The 2010 Mercedes-Benz SL is the German automaker's most expensive convertible-for the time being. It slots beneath the new 2010 SLS AMG in the sports car realm, in price and performance, but not by much. Offered in V-8 versions (SL550 and SL63 AMG) and V-12 editions (SL600 and SL65 AMG), the 2010 SL-Class carries a base price of $100,000 for the SL550, leaping to a stunning $196,000 for the SL65 AMG. The 2010 SL-Class roadsters compete with the likes of the Porsche 911, Ferrari California, Jaguar XK, and Audi R8.

With a styling revamp in the 2009 model year, the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is no longer the chic trophy-wife piece it once was. Mercedes refashioned the SL's nose and flanks to lend it some testosterone, and it's effective. The nose has more edge and looks more chiseled, with a large single-bar grille that recalls some classic Benz roadsters while framing a large three-pointed star badge. The rear end is also tidied, and in all, the look is now more unified with the crisp new E-Class and C-Class range-not to mention the 2010 SLS AMG gullwing.
AMG versions wear deeper front air dams, a more pronounced grille, a hood with twin power bulges, and side and rear-end skirts for a distinct look. The Benz SL's interior saw less change last year; for 2010 a wood-and-leather steering wheel has been fitted to the elegant and sporty interior, along with new instruments.

The 2010 Mercedes-Benz SL range includes four distinct models, each with unbelievable power and acceleration. The SL550 has a 5.5-liter V-8 with 382 horsepower, and in tandem with a seven-speed automatic, accelerates to 60 mph in under 6 seconds, according to Mercedes. Next up is the SL600 and its twin-turbo, 510-hp 5.5-liter V-12 and five-speed automatic; Mercedes pegs its 0-60 mph time at 4.4 seconds. Two AMG models get their own powertrains: The SL63 AMG thunders along with the new AMG V-8 worth 518 hp, teamed to an automated-manual seven-speed transmission and good for 0-60 mph times of less than 4.8 seconds. Atop the lineup for mortals is a 604-hp, twin-turbo, 6.0-liter V-12 SL65 AMG that shoves its power through a five-speed automatic and slingshots to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. All versions have a stock limited top speed of 155 mph, and all SL-Class roadsters offer paddle shifters and rapid gearchanges. There's yet another SL-the SL65 AMG Black Series-that's really a race-ready tourer with a fixed roof and a wide carbon-fiber body. In general, the AMG editions have an altogether different driving feel from the non-AMG SL-Class roadsters, with tauter tuning and quicker steering. All versions have new Direct Steer systems with better road feel, and even the AMG cars have a surprisingly comfortable, absorbent ride. Mercedes fits an Active Body Control (ABC) suspension to all versions and gives drivers control over comfort, normal, and sport driving modes. Fuel economy's fairly abysmal, with the best figures of 13/21 mpg coming with the "base" SL550.

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Common to all 2010 Benz SL roadsters is a plush, spacious interior that's an enviable environment for long-distance road trips. The cozy, well-trimmed dash wears wood, leather, and aluminum trim in warm balance. The seats are among the finest in the class, with all sorts of power adjustments, along with massage and heat functions, and the packaging gives passengers ample legroom and headroom, even with the convertible roof raised. In several experiences with the previous SL, TheCarConnection.com finds the top arrangement incredibly tight to make an interior that was quieter and more refined than most coupes. Some interior materials may seem slightly off the million-dollar mark, but mostly the SL-Class is a rich place to ride.

Neither NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) nor the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has tested the 2010 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class for crash safety. There are extensive standard safety features on board each SL roadster, including dual front airbags and thorax airbags that inflate to give head protection, along with a driver knee airbag. Anti-lock brakes, as well as stability and traction control, are fitted, along with a pop-up roll bar that deploys automatically in the event of a rollover. TeleAid emergency telematics are also standard, including automatic collision notification. The SL does offer parking sensors and adaptive cruise control, but other safety features such as a rearview camera and lane-departure warning systems are not available.

Each 2010 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class roadster is plushly outfitted. Standard equipment includes 18-inch wheels; dual-zone climate control; a telescoping steering wheel; power seats; leather upholstery; DVD navigation; an AM/FM/CD/DVD changer with iPod integration, Sirius Satellite Radio, real-time traffic, Harman Kardon surround sound, and HD Radio; and Bluetooth. Multicontour seats are optional on some models, and the AIRSCARF system, which blows warm air at neck level when the top's lowered, is available.

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2010 Mercedes-Benz SL Class

Styling

The 2010 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class roadsters neatly reverse the usual change of life-from subdued to "dude."

With a styling revamp in the 2009 model year, the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is no longer the chic trophy-wife piece it once was. What? You didn't know? "Mercedes admits that the restyling was necessary," Inside Line says, "because some of its customers complained of the 2003-'08 car being ‘too girly,' perceiving it as a ‘chick' car." Edmunds explains, "Although the design was elegant, it didn't say ‘drive me fast.'"

TheCarConnection's editors aren't convinced the SL is anything but rakish, but agree with other reviewers that the 2009 styling updates keep the Benz SL looking fresh in 2010. Mercedes refashions the SL's nose and flanks to lend it some testosterone, and it works. "A few effective styling changes," Car and Driver says, include a "new single-bar grille that evokes most of its SL forebears, flanked by L-shaped headlamps that evoke none of them." Kelley Blue Book remarks the new "deeply sculpted side scoops and a protruding nose mark a revolutionary departure from the conservative styling found on the previous generation SL." The rear end is also tidied, and in all, the changes to the Benz SL "successfully convey a more sporting intent," Edmunds points out. The look also is now more unified with the crisp new E-Class and C-Class range-not to mention the 2010 SLS AMG gullwing. And, Kelley Blue Book observes, the SL still "looks as good with the power-operated hardtop covering the cockpit as it does when retracted."

AMG versions wear deeper front air dams, a more pronounced grille, a hood with twin power bulges, and side and rear-end skirts for a distinct look. "That you're in the AMG version won't go unnoticed by the impoverished who can only afford Porsche Boxsters," says Road & Track.

The Benz SL's interior saw less change last year; for 2010 a wood-and-leather steering wheel is fitted to the elegant and sporty interior, along with new instruments. "Although the exterior received a significant overall refresh for 2009," Edmunds notes, "the subdued and classy interior carries over mostly unchanged." Car and Driver points out a "sporty new three-spoke steering wheel" and a "mildly revised instrument cluster." While the cabin is "awash in leather and power features," Kelley Blue Book says, "some of the controls - the new COMAND system, for example - are complicated and take some effort to master." Inside Line also criticizes how styling affects the function of the SL's controls: "we found the electronic LCD information readouts virtually impossible to see, top up or down," they report. "So when manually shifting, we never really knew what gear we were in or, for that matter, what suspension setting."

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2010 Mercedes-Benz SL Class

Performance

The 2010 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class has stealthy performance that takes some owners of rough-riding exotics by surprise.

The SL550 has a 5.5-liter V-8 with 382 horsepower and, in tandem with a seven-speed automatic, accelerates to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, according to Mercedes. Car and Driver says, "you won't find too many complaints on these pages about" it and calls its acceleration "impressive." Next up is the SL600 and its twin-turbo, 510-hp 5.5-liter V-12 and five-speed automatic; Mercedes pegs its 0-60 mph time at 4.4 seconds. It is, Car and Driver continues, "to say the least, more than capable," though they add, "turbo lag could sometimes be an issue when driving on roads with tight switchbacks," which "makes us wonder if it's really worth the $10,000 premium per extra cylinder that Mercedes charges for it over the SL550."

Two AMG models get their own powertrains: The SL63 AMG thunders along with the new AMG V-8 worth 518 hp, teamed to an automated-manual seven-speed transmission and good for 0-60 mph times of less than 4.8 seconds. Its "uncommon combination of massive low-end pull and willingness to rev have been well documented," Motor Trend reports. Atop the lineup for mortals is a 604-hp, twin-turbo, 6.0-liter V-12 SL65 AMG that shoves its power through a five-speed automatic and slingshots to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. Edmunds enjoys the "earth-rumbling power" in this edition, but says the rear tires "really can't distribute that thrust to the pavement effectively." Above all these flies a racetrack-tuned, carbon-bodied SL65 AMG Black Series that "cranks out a whopping 670 hp that should make it capable of reaching 60 mph in a scant 3.6 seconds," Edmunds states. While the Black Series (not reviewed here) will hit a 199-mph top end, all other SL roadsters have a stock limited top speed of 155 mph. Fuel economy's fairly abysmal across the lineup, with the best figures of 13/21 mpg coming with the "base" SL550 and the worst, at 11/18 mpg, in the V-12 SL600 and SL65 AMG.

All SL-Class roadsters offer paddle shifters and rapid gearchanges. Each of the transmissions includes Touch Shift manual control and paddle shifters, along with comfort, sport, and manual modes. However, the V-12 cars lose something in translation; they take "away two transmission gears," Car and Driver reports, "whereas the SL550 and the SL63 AMG come with seven-speeders." The seven-speed transmissions earn the most compliments: "We don't like the SL550's transmission," Inside Line remarks. "We love it. As the revs climb, you can bang off shifts right at the redline with either the steering wheel paddles or the good old console-mounted stick." With the SL63 AMG's MCT SpeedShift transmission, it's almost as if an automatic sits between the engine and rear wheels, when actually it's a multiplate clutch that handles shifts without a clutch pedal, producing "lightning-quick shifts without any of the herky-jerky motions of single-clutch automated manuals like BMW's SMG," Edmunds says. With the MCT, Motor Trend asserts, "it's almost impossible to confuse the process of choosing the proper gear." This transmission also has a "race start" function that lets drivers hold the throttle and brake, release the calipers, and tick off perfect 0-60 mph acceleration runs with electronic management of torque and traction.

With specific chassis tuning, tires, and brakes, the SL roadsters have a broader range of handling than you might suspect. "Steering, brakes and handling have...been greatly improved across the SL lineup," Edmunds reports, with recent upgrades. In general, the AMG editions have an altogether different driving feel from the non-AMG SL-Class roadsters, with tauter tuning and quicker steering. Mercedes fits an Active Body Control (ABC) suspension to all versions, and gives drivers control over comfort, normal, and sport driving modes. ABC "features computer-controlled shock absorbers that constantly control body movement depending on the car's speed, steering angle and other factors," Edmunds states. It doesn't strip out all the fun, though. "This thing just flat corners," Inside Line reports. "Want a bit of oversteer?" Car and Driver interjects. "Simply stab the gas-particularly with the stability control (ESP) off-and the big roadster's tail comes around quickly and predictably." Even the AMG cars have a surprisingly "compliant adjustable ride," Edmunds observes. The SL63, they add, is a "capable handler with a wider range of abilities than simply going fast in a straight line." The AMG versions also feel more relaxed than other hyper-quick luxury roadsters. "Few exotics can match the SL's impressively smooth and comfortable ride," according to Kelley Blue Book. "Dial in the suspension's Comfort setting and you could be in a luxury S-Class sedan for all your butt knows," Inside Line says, though Motor Trend thinks "there's some compromise to the ride" of the AMG models, "particularly when the ‘Sport' button on the center console is chosen." All versions have new Direct Steer systems with better road feel; it's "a touch slow immediately off-center but gets really serious, really soon," Car and Driver declares. Motor Trend sums it up, noting the 2010 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class has "a nimbleness belying the curb weight" of more than 4,000 pounds.

Big four-channel anti-lock brakes keep the SL's speed in check. Car and Driver calls them "completely fade resistant," but says 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 report that they seem taxed on mountain grades. Powerful six-piston calipers "confidently scrub off the SL63's easily accrued speed," according to Road & Track.

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2010 Mercedes-Benz SL Class

Comfort & Quality

The 2010 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class roadsters coddle two passengers-but they should travel light.

Common to all 2010 Benz SL roadsters is a plush, spacious interior that's an enviable environment for long-distance road trips.

Edmunds says the "spacious interior" offers up twin "convertible-friendly seats."
Reviewers agree with TheCarConnection's experts: The 2010 Benz SL's seats are among the finest in the class, with all sorts of power adjustments, along with massage and heat functions. "The 12-way power seats offer a huge range of adjustment," they add, "while the available multicontour seats can be molded to anyone's body shape." Kelley Blue Book notes "you'll be hard pressed to find a more comfortable set of seats."

The car's packaging gives passengers ample legroom and headroom, even with the convertible roof raised. Edmunds states, "With the hardtop raised, even our tallest editor, at 6-foot-3, had enough headroom, while legroom was also pretty good." Trunk space is marginal; Kelley Blue Book reports the "ingenious folding top design doesn't take up the entire trunk when retracted," but the Benz SL's meager 10.2 cubic feet of space shrinks to 7.2 cubic feet free when the power-folding top is lowered.

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. Motor Trend compliments an interior that, "with top down and rear wind deflector raised, stays conversation-quiet at 100 mph." The cozy, well-trimmed dash wears wood, leather, and aluminum trim in warm balance. Some interior materials may seem slightly off the million-dollar mark, but mostly the SL-Class is a rich place to ride. "It's hard to think of a cabin better suited to top-down motoring," Edmunds concludes.

Some interior materials are a little disappointing compared to rivals, as they have been in several other recent M-B models. "One definite don't-like is the shiny plastic cover...inside the three-pointed star (at the front grille) if you order the radar-guided Adaptive Cruise Control," says Motor Trend. "It looks cheap."

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2010 Mercedes-Benz SL Class

Safety

The 2010 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class hasn't been crash-tested, and some cutting-edge safety gadgets aren't available.

Neither NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) nor the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has tested the 2010 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class for crash safety.

There are extensive standard safety features on board each SL roadster, including dual front airbags and thorax airbags that inflate to give head protection, along with a driver knee airbag. Anti-lock brakes, as well as stability and traction control, are fitted, along with a pop-up roll bar that deploys automatically in the event of a rollover. TeleAid emergency telematics are also standard, including automatic collision notification.

The 2010 Benz SL AMG roadsters have a traction control system that allows sporty driving with a choice of traction modes. "Three stages of traction control are available," Motor Trend explains. "Leave it alone, and the SL63 is a pussycat," they contend, but cycling through other modes allows either some wheelspin and car rotation or complete hands-off treatment by the electronics-where "it becomes a wonderful handful of powerful creature."

Kelley Blue Book believes the SL's "extensive list of safety features is unsurpassed in this category." However, while the 2010 SL does offer parking sensors and adaptive cruise control, other newer safety features such as a rearview camera and lane-departure warning systems are not available.

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2010 Mercedes-Benz SL Class

Features

The 2010 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class isn't the best exotic-roadster value, but it's swimming in entertainment and luxury features-some more effective than others.

The 2010 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class roadster is offered in four versions: SL550, SL600, SL63 AMG, and SL65 AMG (and as the SL65 AMG Black Series, not reviewed here). Each is plushly outfitted, and lavish options give all versions a customized personality fitted for the driver.

Standard equipment on all versions includes that "quick-stowing hardtop," according to Edmunds. Mercedes-Benz also fits standard 18-inch wheels; dual-zone climate control; a telescoping steering wheel; power seats; leather upholstery; DVD navigation; an AM/FM/CD/DVD changer with iPod integration, Sirius Satellite Radio and real-time traffic, Harman Kardon surround sound, and HD Radio; and Bluetooth.

All SLs include Mercedes-Benz's COMAND system, a screen-driven interface that allows access to navigation and audio functions while the driver keeps eyes on the road. Like similar systems from BMW and Audi, COMAND "can be unintuitive," Edmunds says. Mostly it's because the SL, unlike the COMAND setups in other Benzes, "uses a less intuitive circular toggle button with four directional points" instead of a mouse-like knob. "It's not great," they add, but "it's not too bad either."

Multicontour seats are optional on some models, and the AIRSCARF system, which blows warm air at neck level when the top's lowered, is available. The Benz SL's roof can also be ordered with a panoramic sunroof. Mercedes-Benz also offers a wide range of exterior paint colors and interior trims across the five-model lineup, including the "Nappa leather seats" and "wood shift knob" offered on the SL550, Kelley Blue Book reports.

Buyers will have to judge its value for themselves, but Edmunds echoes the sentiments of many reviewers when it contends the SL "can be tough to justify, since other cars like the Audi R8, Aston Martin V8 Vantage and Porsche 911 Turbo offer more performance and prestige for the same price -- or less."

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