A four-cylinder AMG has no right to cost six figures. Here's what we'd buy instead.
Mercedes-Benz USA has announced it is bringing in a new entry-level variant of the iconic SL, the 2024 Mercedes-AMG SL 43. But we have two big problems with the SL 43, the first being that a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine powers it, and the second being that it has a six-figure price tag ($109,900 before destination).
Mercedes cites plenty of Formula 1 know-how going into the engine, specifically the electric turbocharger that can spool up before exhaust gases are flowing freely, minimizing lag and improving throttle response. In totality, the four-cylinder is good for 375 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque and will sprint to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. It looks similar to the other AMG SL models, and lest we forget, it is now an AMG-developed model from the ground up. We suspect it will be decent to drive, but it's still tough to swallow a six-figure price tag for a four-cylinder AMG.
It begs the question of what else you can get for similar money, and as it turns out, you can get some serious metal for way less or just a little bit more.
Yes, we know the SL is way prettier to look at than the M4 to look at, but when you're driving the car, you spend more time listening to the sound of its engine than looking at its face. In that regard, the M4 comes out trumps, as its S58 turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder sounds like a good straight-six should, delivers a thumping 503 hp and 479 lb-ft, and hits 60 mph in 3.6 seconds - all figures that completely trump the SL 43. We know there's more to life than mere numbers, though, but as an experience, the M4 Convertible is a truly sporty drop-top, and with M xDrive that can behave like AWD or RWD, it has flexibility that the RWD-only SL 43 lacks. The Bimmer also has rear seats, and while not very practical, neither are those in the SL 43. Best of all, though, it's nearly $20k cheaper than the AMG.
Boost may be the replacement for displacement, but no amount of boost can ever replace the symphony that is the 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8 engine in the Lexus LC 500 Convertible. With 471 hp and 398 lb-ft, and a 4.6-second 0-60 mph time, it comes out trumps here too, plus it's one of the fastest Lexus models ever built with a top speed of 168 mph.
The LC is not a pure sports car and leans heavily in favor of being a grand tourer. We suspect the AMG SL will be a keener handler as a result, but we hardly buy that AMG fans are considering any SL as a true corner carver. Even in convertible guise, the Lexus LC retains its rear seats; we wouldn't consign our worst enemies to use them, but in a pinch, they'll suffice.
If you're still not won over by the LC, then the argument that should seal the deal is simple: just look at it! That combination of achingly beautiful looks and a naturally aspirated V8 is enough to win any heart-versus-head debate.
Let's say you want more sportiness and less GT for your money. To this, we say you should buy the Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0. The SL's natural rival may be the 911, but the 911 starts at nearly $30k more, giving you a twin-turbo flat-six for the extra money. The 718 is only available as a two-seater, but it's got a mid-mounted engine, and in GTS 4.0 specification, that engine is a 4.0-liter naturally aspirated flat-six that sings to 7,800 rpm while plating up 394 hp and 309 lb-ft. It's down on torque but still hits 60 mph as much as a second quicker than the SL 43 (with the PDK gearbox). But here's the kicker - you can get it with a manual gearbox, too, adding a layer of interaction to the Porsche that you simply won't get in the SL.
We might agree that the SL is better looking (subjective though that may be), but for the performance, the experience, and the price, the 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 is a winner. Plus, you'll have $13k left over for options.
The M4 at the top of this list might not be to everyone's liking, but if you still have BMW in your blood, the 8 Series Convertible is a solid bet. For $4,400 more than the SL, you can get a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 with 523 hp and 553 lb-ft, all-wheel drive, and a bonkers exhaust note in the M850i xDrive Convertible. But, if you want to undercut the SL or have RWD as an option, the 840i Convertible has the choice of rear- or all-wheel drive and a more palatable price tag of $99,000-$102,000.
But, while you get to enjoy the sound of a 3.0-liter inline six, you lose out on some power, as the 840i makes only 335 hp, countering with a smidge more torque than the AMG at 369 lb-ft.
We say it's a worthwhile trade-off.
If you absolutely must have a Mercedes and it must be an AMG, then the E53 Convertible might be a better option for a boulevard cruiser. We'll admit it lacks the visual presence of the SL, and it doesn't have an AMG-built platform, but what it lacks in visual drama, it makes up for with one of the smoothest inline sixes we've ever sampled.
Its 3.0-liter straight six has conventional turbocharging and mild-hybrid assistance called EQ Boost, prompting outputs of 429 hp and 384 lb-ft. It's the smoothest integration of mild hybridization we've experienced to date, and it sounds sublime. It's quicker to 60 mph at 4.4 seconds and has a more usable rear seat, plus a $91,500 price tag. The E53 Cabriolet is due for replacement soon with a new CLE-Class that may ditch the six, so act quickly if this ticks your boxes.
This is an outlier for a number of reasons, as it's the most expensive alternative on this list, plus it's the most susceptible to insane dealer markups based on sheer demand. It's also the only product on this list that doesn't come from an established premium automaker, meaning a concession on material quality is expected too. Is it worth the step down in material quality? Quite possibly, provided you want something that's more supercar than GT. That's because the mid-engine 'Vette Z06 has the most powerful naturally aspirated V8 engine ever fitted to a production car, with the 5.5-liter LT6 V8 cranking out 670 hp and 460 lb-ft, plus a redline of 8,600 rpm. It'll smash the 60 mph sprint in 2.6 seconds and look good while doing it, plus handle like a true supercar. You don't get rear seats, but hey, it can't be perfect.
Join The Discussion