by Morgan Carter
The SL-Class has always been a popular model for Mercedes-Benz, and the current generation remains competitive in the market despite receiving only minor updates since its launch in 2013. It may not be the sportiest or most luxurious vehicle offered by the manufacturer, but it's perhaps the best amalgamation of the two factors under one retractable roof. Buyers can choose from the standard turbo V6 with 362 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, or the more beastly turbo V8. Neither engine can compete with the more potent powertrains offered by segment rivals like the Aston Martin DB11 or BMW 8 Series, but they are far from lacking. Nonetheless, the market is becoming saturated with more up-to-date rivals, and even Mercedes' own AMG GT is now drawing attention away from the flagship model. 2020 is rumored to be the SL roadster's final year, and whether it gets a redesign or is consigned to the annals of history, the classic convertible has enough of a reputation for excellence to eke out one last year of successful sales.
With 2020 rumored to be the last year for the SL-Class Roadster, not much has been done to update the vehicle. Push-button start is now a standard feature on both trim levels - the fact that this feature has only been added now is a sign of the SL's age. A special Grand Edition will be available for the Merc's final year, with only 100 units produced with unique Graphite Gray paint, a designo Tundra Brown Pearl interior, and staggered 19- and 20-inch AMG wheels.
Moving with the times, the SL has been streamlined to fit in with the market when it comes to style. It still features the same long hood paired with a relatively short rear, but many of its standout features from the past have been dropped. Riding on 19-inch alloy wheels, the Roadster boasts a sportier body style than its sedan progenitor, with an equally sporty exhaust system to match. The aggressive front fascia is adorned with full LED automatic headlights and daytime running lights. The power-retractable hardtop roof gives the SL Cabriolet the illusion of being a coupe, until the flip is switched and its true nature as a stylish convertible is revealed. For 2020, Mercedes-Benz is offering the SL in a limited Special Grand Edition, which features unique Graphite Gray paint on the outside along with 19- or 20-inch AMG-style wheels. It also gets SL Grand Edition badging.
With the stature of a sportier car, the SL convertible is long and low, but far from slim. It stands 182.3 inches long with a 101.7-inch wheelbase that supplies a relatively spacious cabin. It rides low to the ground, with an overall height of 51.2 inches. The overall width of the Roadster is 82.6 inches, meaning you will still need to be aware of your surroundings in the hustle and bustle of city life. The SL 450 weighs in at a hefty 3,825 lbs, while the SL 550 adds a couple of hundred pounds to a maximum of 4,012 lbs.
The color palette for the SL-Class convertible consists of ten shades, with Black and Polar White as the standard solid options. The non-premium metallics consist of Obsidian Black, Iridium Silver, Graphite Grey, Brilliant Blue, and Selenite Grey. Further designo metallics are available, with Cardinal Red costing $360 and Diamond White $795. For $1,300, buyers can select designo Selenite Grey Magno matte.
A choice of two high-powered engines gives the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class roadster extremely high performance figures. Rear-wheel drive is the only option for the Merc, while rivals like the BMW 8 Series offer an all-wheel drivetrain variant. With the standard 362-hp V6 engine, the SL 450 has plenty of zip. It isn't quite as quick as the all-wheel-drive BMW convertible, which reaches 60 mph in just 4.6 seconds. However, the Merc can complete the 0-60 mph sprint in 4.9 seconds, according to the manufacturer, as opposed to rear-wheel-drive BMW's 5.0 seconds.
The SL 550 gets the more powerful twin-turbocharged V8, which develops 449 hp and 516 lb-ft, allowing it to shave off some of that sprint time, reaching 60 mph in just 4.3 seconds. This is slower than the BMW M850i which reaches 60 in under four seconds, although this particular 8 Series has the benefit of 523 hp and all-wheel-drive. Still, the SL Roadster is plenty quick for a convertible that emphasizes luxury over athleticism.
The base engine on the Mercedes SL-Class is a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 that directs 362 hp and 369 lb-ft to the rear wheels only. A 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic transmission smoothly rows the gears for the roadster during acceleration, but it isn't quite as smooth on the downshift. This powertrain is more than strong enough to lug the nearly two-ton convertible around town or hurtle it down the highway, and passing at speed is a simple task for the capable V6.
If you need more power, you can tack on an extra two cylinders with the 4.7-liter bi-turbo V8, which develops 449 hp and 516 lb-ft. The extra torque helps to get the SL 550 up to speed even quicker, and makes getting around town a lesson in restraint, as even mild application of the throttle delivers a shocking amount of power to the rear wheels. Only the most capable vehicles on the road could ever hope to give the SL 550 a run for its money when passing.
Despite its leanings towards luxurious comfort over playfulness, the SL-Class is more than capable on the road. The suspension absorbs mid-corner bumps with ease, although switching to Sport or Sport+ mode tightens it up to improve handling. Thus, even with nearly two tons of bulk swinging around a corner, the Active Body Control System is able to cancel out almost all body roll. This makes the Merc far nimbler than it may appear at first.
Still, the convertible is no sports car. The steering is light but precise, making the roadster far more capable around town, but there is no feedback to speak of. Pick up some speed, however, and the steering wheel gains a bit of heft to help the convertible stay stable on the highway.
As stated, the SL emphasizes luxury over performance, so it's no surprise that the ride comfort is exemplary. Despite coming standard with large 19-inch wheels, the roadster is able to soak up most road imperfections without a fuss, thanks to its refined suspension. But if you want a truly silky-smooth ride, flick over to Comfort mode and you'll feel like you're cruising down the road on a cloud. Wind noise is well-suppressed, even with the hardtop down, but road noise can intrude into the cabin at times.
Despite the Roadster monicker, luxury convertibles are not the most fuel-efficient of vehicles. Equipped with the standard V6 engine, the SL 450 is able to get 20/28/22 mpg across the city/highway/combined cycles. This is mostly on par with rivals, although the Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet does slightly worse at 18/24/20 mpg, while the BMW 840i Convertible gets 22/29/24 mpg. The V8 that comes with the SL 550 trades efficiency for power, getting only 17/25/20 mpg. Fitted with a 19.8-gallon fuel tank, the SL 450 is able to cover around 435 miles before needing to pull into a gas station.
While space may be at a premium inside the cabin, what is on offer is the plushest and most premium interior you could hope to find inside a luxury cruiser in this price range, even if it is starting to look its age. Two power-adjustable sport or multi-contour seats are provided, upholstered in the most upscale materials, with easy access to the controls for the infotainment system and comfort features. However, the infotainment suite is quite outdated with finicky controls that detract from its convenient placement.
Despite the amount of space between the wheels, the cockpit is relatively cramped. There are only appointments for two passengers, with plenty of legroom, but hip- and shoulder room are a bit tighter. Due to the low height of the seats, there is adequate headroom for adults of most sizes, but that becomes moot once the hardtop is lowered. The low placement of the seats does make getting in and out a little tricky, especially beside high sidewalks. Outward visibility is pretty good, but seeing around other cars will be the problem. The sport seats offer 12 directions of adjustment with four-way lumbar, so finding a comfortable position isn't difficult, and they can be upgraded to multi-contour seats with better bolstering and massage functions, if you want to feel even more pampered.
A variety of upscale materials are used in the construction of the roadster's interior. As standard, plush leather upholsters the seats in a choice of Black, Ginger Beige/Espresso Brown, Bengal Red/Black, or Crystal Grey/Black. For a surcharge of $900, the standard leather can be upgraded to Nappa leather in similar hues, as well as Saddle Brown/Black or Porcelain/Black, while Exclusive Nappa leather is offered in up to five colors for $1,900. Designo Nappa leather is also available for $2,600 in Sand/Black, Classic Red/Black, Platinum White/Black, and Tuscany Beige Pearl/Black, among others. A number of trim options are available, too, such as Black Ash, Satin Brown Poplar, or Aluminum. There are also several premium trims, such as AMG Carbon Fiber ($2,850), designo Black Piano Lacquer ($1,500), and designo Champagne White piano ($1,500).
Convertibles are not known for their excessive trunk space, especially when equipped with a power roof-lowering system. The SL Roadster is no exception here, but the impressive size of the vehicle means that trunk space isn't quite as dismal as you may think. With the roof up, there is a maximum of 13.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity available. This is enough space for basic applications like daily shopping, capable of accommodating half a dozen bags. At the press of a button, the hardtop folds down into a special compartment that separates the remaining 8.5 cubic feet from the section containing the roof.
Small-item storage around the cockpit isn't overly impressive. There are a couple of cupholders beneath a slide tray, a small glove compartment, and a cubby beneath the center armrest. There are door pockets, too, but they are shallow and narrow.
While there may be more modern, better-appointed luxury cruisers available on today's market, the almost vintage SL Roadster still offers more than enough features and comforts to earn its title as a luxury convertible. The leather-appointed sport seats offer 12 directions of power-adjustability with four-way lumbar, as well as heating and memory functions. Keyless ignition now complements the standard keyless entry, along with dual-zone climate control. The hardtop roof is power-retractable, with an electric trunk partition and a power wind blocker. The driver-assistance features comprise a rearview camera, adaptive high beam assist, forward collision avoidance, and Pre-Safe. The upgraded SL 550 gets heated and ventilated multi-contour seats with Airscarf neck warmers, but it trades out the four-way lumbar for massage functions. The safety suite can also be expanded with active blind-spot assist, active lane keeping assist, active brake assist with front cross-traffic alert, and Pre-Safe Plus if you opt for the Driver Assistance Package.
Despite the SL Roadster's now advanced age, the infotainment suite has managed to remain quite modern. Unfortunately, the addition of new features over the years didn't coincide with streamlining the interface for ease of use. The graphics look dated and the controls are finicky, even with the various rotary knobs and buttons. The screen is also quite small for a luxury vehicle, measuring only eight inches in length. From this interface, users can access navigation, Bluetooth, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, HD Radio, and SiriusXM. The standard sound system is a nine-speaker Harman Kardon surround sound system with two subwoofers, although this can be upgraded to a 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen premium audio system. A 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot can also be equipped to the suite.
The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class has not been evaluated for dependability by an independent body, and with so few models sold each year, there have been little to no complaints. No recalls have been issued for 2020 so far, but 2019 saw two recalls: for faulty front passenger airbags, and non-functional rear axle carrier bolts. Mercedes offers a pretty unremarkable standard warranty, with more advanced warranties available as options. The bumper-to-bumper and powertrain warranties are valid for 50,000 miles/48 months, with roadside assistance covered for the same period.
The SL-Class is an extremely low-volume luxury vehicle, so crash-testing it would be a costly affair. As such, neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has evaluated the convertible for safety.
The Merc gets a fair number of standard safety features, shared by both trim levels, but the majority are locked behind the Driver Assistance Package. It comes with ABS, stability and traction control, pop-up roll bars, a rearview camera, Pre-Safe crash mitigation, adaptive high beam assist, active head restraints, forward collision avoidance, driver attention assist, active parking assist, and eight airbags: dual front, front knee, front side, and head. The available features making up the optional Driver Assistance Package include active steering assist, active blind-spot assist, active lane keeping assist, active brake assist with front cross-traffic alert, distance assist, and Pre-Safe Plus.
While it may be an aging model, the SL-Class Roadster is still a classy grand tourer with a loyal following. And, with a powerful 362-hp V6 on the base model, or an available 449-hp V8 on the upper trim, it's not hard to see why. All this power comes alongside a luxurious interior with all the features you need to enjoy cruising down the highway with the wind in your hair.
Regardless of trim, the convertible comes with plush leather upholstery and classy, if somewhat dated, interior styling. Similarly, you get all the creature comforts you could need, such as dual-zone climate control, heated power-adjustable seats, and an infotainment suite that comes with all the features modern buyers expect. Unfortunately, the interface doesn't look or feel modern.
You won't get the performance of the more athletic BMW 8 Series Convertible or the increasingly popular and more up-to-date AMG GT, but the SL Roadster is still capable of delivering a fun driving experience with its powerful engines and competent handling. And, it does so while providing a more luxurious setting than you'd find in a true sports car, and a lot more cargo space than you'd expect from a convertible. Mercedes-Benz has not yet announced its intention to redesign the flagship convertible, so this could very well be your last chance to pick up a new SL-Class. Despite its age, it is a timeless classic that still holds plenty of appeal for today's buyers. Still, the more modern AMG GT could snag quite a few potential buyers, assuming they can afford it.
Mercedes' timeless luxury convertible doesn't come cheap, with even the base-level model nearing the six-figure mark. Getting behind the wheel of the V6 SL 450 will cost you $91,000. If that still isn't enough power for you, then you can choose to upgrade to the V8 SL 550, which comes with a $114,700 price tag. These prices are MSRP and exclude tax, registration, licensing, and Mercedes-Benz' $995 destination charge.
The 2020 Mercedes-Ben SL-Class can be had in two trim levels, the SL 450 or the SL 550. Under the hood of the entry-level model is a turbocharged V6 that develops 362 hp and 369 lb-ft, regulated by a nine-speed automatic transmission and transferred to the rear wheels. The upper trim gets a turbocharged V8 engine that delivers 449 hp and 516 lb-ft, and uses the same gearbox and drivetrain.
The SL 450 rides on 19-inch alloy wheels and boasts a full complement of LED exterior lighting elements. The interior is upholstered in leather, with dual-zone climate control, hands-free access and keyless ignition. The sport seats are power-adjustable in 16 directions and offer heating and memory functions. The infotainment comprises an eight-inch interface that controls the navigation, Bluetooth, HD Radio, SiriusXM, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto, with a nine-speaker Harman Kardon sound system playing back the audio, bolstered by two subwoofers.
Apart from the stronger V8 engine, the SL 550 gets heated and ventilated multi-contour seats with massage features and neck warmers. It also gets AMG-branded 19-inch alloys, a power trunk lid, and an automated parking system.
The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is a premium vehicle that comes standard with most of the features available to the convertible. Still, there are a few upgrades available to those willing to pay a bit extra over the already substantial asking price. The Driver Assistance Package ($2,250) is available to both trim levels, adding adaptive cruise control, active blind-spot assist, active lane keeping assist, Pre-Safe Plus, and enhanced forward collision avoidance with front cross-traffic alert. The SL 450 is a step below the SL 550 in terms of features, a gap that can be closed without adding the V8 engine when you equip the Premium Package ($4,100). This sees active parking assist, ventilated multi-contour seats, and a neck-level heating system added to the base model. For $2,500, you can equip Mercedes-Benz' patented Magic Sky Control, which functions as a state-of-the-art sunroof by directing electrical current through the glass roof to alter the transparency to block or allow light in without the worry of UV rays. A 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen premium system ($5,400) is also available if the standard fare isn't enough for you.
There's a pretty hefty price hike between the SL 450 and SL 550, so it really comes down to whether or not you really need the extra power of the V8 engine. The standard V6 on the SL 450 is plenty powerful for the convertible, and the car isn't really designed to be all that athletic, so the V8 seems almost wasted on it. With the SL 450, you can still throw on the Premium Package for $4,100 to get any of the features you might miss out on without the upgrade. It is also eligible for the plusher Nappa leather interior upgrades and the enhanced sound system, and otherwise shares the same safety features with the SL 550. There is no reason to break the $100k mark if you want to budget yourself, but if you have the money to spare, there's also no reason to limit yourself.
Redesigned for 2019, the BMW 8 Series is far more up-to-date than the now aging SL-Class Roadster. And it's not just the tech and styling that got an update. The standard six-cylinder engine is only slightly weaker than the Merc's, at 335 hp and 368 lb-ft, but the available V8 engine blows the SL's V6 out of the water with an impressive 523 hp and 553 lb-ft on tap. And the BMW isn't simply more powerful, it handles better than its German cousin, too. As luxurious as BMW vehicles are, the manufacturer has always placed a focus on performance first, so it's not surprising that the 8 Series Convertible is more fun to drive, even if it can be argued that the SL is more opulent inside, despite its old-school design. The BMW offers comparable trunk space to the SL, as well as slightly better fuel economy with its six-cylinder engine. The rear-wheel-drive base model is a smidge cheaper, too, so the better value buy definitely seems to be the 8 Series Convertible. If you don't mind the extra cost, you can opt for the high-performance all-wheel-drive M850i with its potent V8 engine, for which Mercedes has no direct response.
While not a convertible, the Lexus LC Coupe is a similarly powered, and sized, coupe rival to the SL Roadster. While it may have an optional V6 hybrid engine, it's the LC's naturally aspirated V8 that makes it so appealing. Even without a turbo, the powertrain develops 471 hp and 398 lb-ft. It's not as much as the turbocharged V8 in the Merc, but it's nothing to sniff at either. The LC Coupe will cost you a bit more than the SL Roadster, and it gets significantly poorer gas mileage thanks to the thirsty naturally aspirated engine, but it's stylishly appointed and comes with all the creature comforts and tech features you'd expect on a top-range trim level. It also gets a more advanced safety suite as standard. Overall, while the Mercedes SL might have more power, the LC is more fun to drive while maintaining its luxurious appeal. The Lexus is simply more modern and refined for today's market.