Mercedes-AMG SL 55 4Matic+ (2023) review
The Mercedes SL roadster has been reinvented under the AMG umbrella. Is that a good thing?
Shane O' Donoghue
Shane O' Donoghue

Published on April 7, 2023

It's all change for the Mercedes SL, entering into its seventh generation as an AMG-developed product from the start. This suggests that it's designed to be more sports car and less GT than its immediate forerunners, perhaps with the Porsche 911 Cabriolet in sight. Saying all that, the very first SL was built for motorsport, so perhaps it's just going back to its roots.

Also unlike its predecessors, the new model - codenamed R232 - gets four seats, a fabric roof and - in most variants - four-wheel drive. A significant reinvention for a classic nameplate, on the face of it.

Regardless, Irish buyers with deep pockets - and good relationships with their bank/portfolio managers - can now order the new Mercedes-AMG SL in one of three flavours. Our first test drive is in the mid-ranking SL 55.

In the metal

The Mercedes-AMG SL is nothing short of spectacular to look at, with its high waist, sharply sloping windscreen and muscular haunches. You'd be forgiven for thinking it's a new Mercedes-AMG GT at first sighting, as its design does indeed look like an evolution of that car's. The aggressiveness in the styling has been ramped up, however, thanks to the latest take on the AMG radiator grille and sharply-detailed, slender LED lights front and rear.

In side view, there's more weight in the SL's design than the also-about-to-be-replaced GT, with a longer front overhang and a 70mm longer wheelbase. It's quite a clean design, however, with a small 'gill' detail aft of the front wheels and door handles that retract out of the airflow. Speaking of which, the SL gets an automatically deploying rear spoiler on a curvy rear end that disguises its bulk well.

Gone is the heavy old folding hardtop (first introduced to the Mercedes SL in 1989 on the 'R129' generation) and in its place is a compact and attractive fabric hood. Opening and closing of the roof takes only about 15 seconds and is possible up to a speed of 60km/h. It's black as standard, though buyers can pay a relatively small fee to have either a red or grey finish instead.

When the roof is in place, it's hard to believe that there are rear seats in the new SL, but as in its closest rival, the Porsche 911 Cabriolet, the seats are not the most spacious and best left for smaller occupants for short journeys - ideally with the roof down. We'd expect owners to use the back seats for luggage, to extend the relatively small boot. And anyway, it's not possible to fit the wind deflector when there are people in the rear.

Obviously, cars such as the SL are all about those in the front seats, and it is a really lovely cabin, taking the current Mercedes interior design language and enhancing it with tactile materials, lots of bling and a few standout features such as the four large stylised air vents and matching speaker grilles. Meanwhile, the angle of the sloped portrait-style touchscreen - measuring 11.9 inches across the diagonal - can be electrically adjusted depending on glare and reflection from the sun when the roof is down. It sounds like a gimmick, but is remarkably effective.

As we've seen across the Mercedes range, the 'MBUX' operating system is packed with functionality and connectivity features - and the SL's is based on that of the S-Class. Once you get used to the touch-sensitive controls on the chunky steering wheel you hardly need to press the screen at all, and you can flick between menus in that manner without taking your eyes off the road. The digital instrumentation can also be controlled in the same way - five display styles are available, called Classic, Sport, Supersport, Track Pace and Discreet.

The SL's steering wheel has a couple of extra controls on it below the spokes. On the right, there's a rotary switch to allow selection of the driving mode - and the selected option is displayed on its LCD screen. The left-hand controller allows access to a range of settings, including the exhaust, rear spoiler position, manual gear selection and the AMG Dynamics feature, which then pops up a menu on the touchscreen with a bewildering array of choices. It'll take a while to become familiar with, but it's great to have it all to hand.

Driving it

The AMG badge and aggressive appearance of the Mercedes SL lead to an expectation that it's going to be a serious sports car. That idea is quickly dismissed after just a few minutes at the wheel, certainly when the car is left in its default driving settings. The 4.0-litre engine is muted, the suspension is relatively comfortable and the automatic gearbox smoothly shifts between its nine ratios. Sure, it's fast (how could it not be with up to 476hp and 700Nm from that twin-turbocharged V8?), but it's somehow lacking in drama.

On the flipside, you could quite comfortably spend many an hour at the wheel of the SL. Even without the wind deflector fitted, the cabin is free from excess buffeting at normal road speeds once you have raised the side windows.

Explore the sportier settings and you'll discover an alter-ego to the SL, one more befitting of the AMG badge. Only in the S+ mode does the exhaust come alive with the V8's workings, also adding gratuitous pops and bangs on the overrun and during gearchanges. Roof down, it sounds wonderful. The gearbox is snappier in this guise, too, banging in ratios with more intent, though still softer than you'll find in many sports cars. We're glad to see that the manual setting means just that - the transmission won't up-shift for you, allowing you sit on or near the (notably smooth) rev limiter if that's what you want to do.

Naturally, the suspension stiffens up as well and while it can be upset by ridges across the road, it doesn't turn the SL into a hard-riding, track-only sports car. Indeed, on a section of poorly-maintained back roads, damp from earlier rain, the wide tyres had no issue keeping the car on the straight and narrow, even driven quickly.

Some of that stability comes from the standard 4Matic all-wheel drive, making it easy to deploy the engine's full performance without fear of sliding backwards through a hedge. While that's obviously a good thing, keener drivers might find it a little too capable, reducing their involvement with the car as it soaks everything up safely anyway without their intervention.

Saying that, we do approve of the SL's communicative steering and well-modulated brake pedal, so it's no isolated luxury car masquerading as an AMG roadster either.

What you get for your money

Irish prices for the new Mercedes-AMG SL start at an eye-watering €238,395 for the SL 43. That's the only rear-drive model in the range and is powered by a four-cylinder petrol engine with an electric turbocharger, making 381hp. It is the most efficient model in the line-up and emits 202g/km, keeping it out of the top band for annual motor tax.
Next up is the SL 55 4Matic+ tested here, costing from €311,945, while the SL 63 4Matic+ above it is priced at €363,835.

All models are well-equipped as standard - as you'd hope for the price - but there are loads of customisation options available to buyers, allowing them spend tens of thousands more on personalising their SL to their preferences.


Expectations are a terrible thing. Now under the Mercedes-AMG umbrella, the SL could be expected to be a slightly more practical take on the relatively hardcore AMG GT Roadster. It's nothing of the sort. Sure, the myriad driving settings allow the owner to add a harder, sportier edge to proceedings when they feel the need, but otherwise the new SL does everything it has always done in terms of playing the open-topped Grand Tourer, with ample performance, eye-catching looks, a high-quality cabin and the ability to effortlessly cover ground quickly. Arguably, it does all of that better than ever, despite the significant reinvention of the formula.


Tech Specs

Model testedMercedes-AMG SL 55 4Matic+
Irish pricingSL from €238,395; SL 55 from €311,945
Enginetwin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8
Transmissionnine-speed automatic (AMG SpeedShift MCT)
Body styletwo-door, 2+2 roadster
CO2 emissions288g/km
Irish motor tax€2,400 per year
Fuel consumption12.9 litres/100km (21.9mpg)
Top speed295km/h
0-100km/h3.9 seconds
Max power476hp at 5,500-6,500rpm
Max torque700Nm at 2,000-4,500rpm
Boot space213 litres
Rivals to the SL 55 4Matic+ (2023)