The R231 Mercedes-Benz SL Is An Ugly But Awesome Bargain

Smart Buy / 16 Comments

It's not a pretty convertible, but it's a great value.

The latest 2023 Mercedes-AMG SL 63 might be the greatest version of the iconic SL nameplate since the W198 Gullwing. Since the AMG department developed it from the ground up, it feels more inline with its Sport-Leicht origins than any of its recent predecessors. Unfortunately, the latest SL comes with a rather strong caveat to its desirability... the price. Prices start at $137,400 for the SL 55 and jump up to $178,100 for the SL 63. That's not out of step with the Porsche 911, but it's far outside the realm of affordability for most shoppers.

But what if you want a Mercedes-Benz SL without spending six figures. Well, if you're willing to step back a generation to the R231 model, you can score a pretty nice deal on one. In fact, the previous-generation Mercedes SL is now available for less than $25,000.

2013-2016 Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster Front Angle View Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL63 Roadster Front View Driving Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL63 Roadster Side View Driving Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL63 Roadster Open Top Mercedes-Benz

Why You Should Buy One

Let's make one thing clear: the R231 SL is nowhere near as fun to drive as the all-new R232, which was developed alongside the AMG GT. That being said, it's still a tremendous grand tourer with plenty to offer. The R231 was introduced for the 2013 model year in the US market, lasting until the 2020 model year. It received a mid-cycle refresh for the 2017 model year, introducing new engines, model name changes, and a new nine-speed transmission.

This two-seat luxury convertible sat at the top of the Mercedes lineup, meaning it packs the company's flagship technology. Some of these high-tech features include massaging seats, Active Body Control suspension, night vision, Airscarf neck heaters, and Magic Sky Control glass roof with selectable transparency.

2013-2016 Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster Front Angle View Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster Front Angle View Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster Rear Angle View Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster Rear Angle View Mercedes-Benz

The Performance

Mercedes offered the R231 SL in four configurations for North America: the SL 400 (later renamed SL 450), SL 550, SL 63 AMG, and SL 65 AMG. The SL 400 was introduced for the 2014 model year as an "entry-level" model with a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 producing 329 horsepower. This model became the SL 450 for the 2017 model year, with output increasing to 362 hp. The SL 500 was available at launch with a 4.7-liter twin-turbo V8 producing 429 hp, later increasing to 449 hp in the SL 550.

Like the new R232 model, the R231 SL came in two AMG flavors, one with a V8 and the other with a V12. The SL 63 AMG's bi-turbo V8 originally developed 530 hp but was increased to 577 hp. At the top of the lineup, the SL 65 AMG packed a 6.0-liter twin-turbo V12 producing 621 hp and a whopping 738 lb-ft of torque. Since Mercedes will likely never build a V12-powered SL ever again, the SL 65 could become a collector's item.

2013-2016 Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster Engine Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL63 Roadster Engine Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL65 Roadster Engine Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL65 Roadster Badge Mercedes-Benz

The Price

Since the SL offers such varying levels of performance, prices range widely depending on the specific model. An early SL 550 with over 100,000 miles can be found starting at around $25,000. Of course, buying a highly depreciated luxury car with this type of mileage can often be a recipe for pricey maintenance. If you're willing to spend around $30-$35,000 on an SL 550 or SL 400, it's possible to find one with around 60-70,000 miles on the odometer. Prices obviously go up from there based on mileage, condition, and age.

The two AMG variants are more expensive, but they aren't as pricey as you might think. A well-driven SL 63 with just under 100,000 miles starts for around $45,000, meaning you could buy three for the price of one new SL 55. The SL 65 is a pretty rare car, but the cheapest one we could find was a 2013 model with 54,000 miles for just under $75,000. This is by no means inexpensive, but compared to any brand-new 12-cylinder luxury car, it's a bargain.

2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL65 Roadster Open Top Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster Badge Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL63 Roadster Badge Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL65 Roadster Badge Mercedes-Benz

The Interior

Even the most recent example of the R231 SL will feel out of date next to a new Mercedes with its relatively tiny infotainment screen, old school gauges, and array of physical buttons on the dash. That being said, this is still a top-notch cabin with expensive materials and soft-touch surfaces. The technology may be dated, but buyers who are overwhelmed by all the screens in modern cars may find this generation of SL quite refreshing.

Unlike the current AMG SL, the R231 was strictly a two-seater, so there's no squeezing the kids in the back for a morning school run. The trunk is also pretty limited thanks to the hard-top roof design, which takes up a significant amount of space. In terms of practicality, the SL is best used as a second vehicle.

2013-2016 Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster Dashboard Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster Front Seats Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL65 Roadster Dashboard Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL65 Roadster Driver Seat Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL63 Roadster Trunk Space Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL63 Roadster Gauge Cluster Mercedes-Benz

Verdict

The R231 Mercedes-Benz SL was not our favorite luxury convertible when it was new, nor was it our favorite SL generation in recent memory. In fact, we'd go so far to say that this was the worst-looking SL Mercedes ever built. But that doesn't change the fact that prices are now criminally low for a car that bundles outstanding luxury and performance into one vehicle. The styling may not be as cohesive as other SL generations, but considering you can get one for less than the price of a loaded Mazda Miata, we'd be willing to overlook it.

2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL63 Roadster Front Angle View Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL65 Roadster Open Top Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL63 Roadster Rear Angle View Mercedes-Benz
2013-2016 Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster Steering Wheel Mercedes-Benz

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2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL65 Roadster Front Angle View
2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL63 Roadster Rear View
2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL63 Roadster Wheel
2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL63 Roadster Central Console
2013-2016 Mercedes-AMG SL63 Roadster Dashboard
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