What started as a lightweight race car for the street, the Mercedes SL-Class quickly morphed into the symbol of personal luxury that we know today. The last-generation R231 model was so ponderous, it seemed ill-fit for its Sport-Leicht (Sport Lightweight) name, so Mercedes knew it had to make a significant change. The 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL63 and SL55 are the first to be developed from the ground up by the AMG department. Theoretically, this means the all-new R232 generation model should get back to its sport lightweight roots. But does it work out in practice?
Mercedes flew us out to Orange County, California to experience its new drop-top sports car on a sun-kissed drive to Palm Springs. Sadly, we were met by uncharacteristic storms and freezing temperatures, but we didn’t let that detract from our enjoyment. The abnormal weather gave us a great chance to put the SL’s standard all-wheel drive to the test, and we’re happy to report AMG hasn’t disappointed here; this is easily the best SL in recent memory.
Exterior Design: Back To Classic
Our most pressing criticism with the outgoing SL focused on the styling. The car had very few angles we found attractive, and the folding metal hard-top gave it awkward proportions. This new model changes the formula tremendously, lengthening the wheelbase and extending the overhangs to create a more powerful stance. At the front, the SL gets AMG’s signature Panamericana grill (harking back to the original race car) with angular headlights. AMG ditched the folding metal roof in favor of a fabric roof, a move that we think does wonders to the SL’s curb appeal, making it look more like a classic roadster. Not only does the soft top look better in our opinion, but it saves 46 pounds from the curb weight.
Mercedes offers 12 paint colors for the SL, including two exclusive shades, Hyper Blue Metallic (pictured above) and Monza Grey Magno, which pairs beautifully with the available red roof that can fold away in just 15 seconds at speeds up to 37 mph. Whether it’s a subtle white or a bold yellow, the SL draws more attention than a comparable Porsche 911. With six wheel options ranging from 20 to 21 inches, this latest SL is a total knockout.
Interior Design: Luxury Plus Tech
Mercedes calls the new SL’s interior Hyperanalog, a combination of minimalist old-school design with digital enhancements. An 11.9-inch touchscreen sits in the middle, running the latest MBUX software we loved in the S-Class. This screen can often get hit with sun glare when the roof is down, but Mercedes planned for such a scenario by adding an electronic pivot function, allowing the display to go near-vertical for better visibility. A secondary 12.3-inch screen sits behind the steering wheel and includes vast customizability, allowing drivers to view multiple gauge cluster themes or a full-color map. As expected, the new SL is a technological tour de force.
The rest of the cabin includes top notch materials, with the option to lean more towards comfort or sport. Active multi-contour seats with massage come standard on the Touring Line, while the SL63 Performance Line swaps them out for AMG Performance seats. While the performance seats hold occupants in more tightly during corners, we wouldn’t want to sacrifice the comfort of the standard massage chairs. Both seat options include Mercedes’ cool Air Scarf technology, which blows hot air on your neck to keep you toasty, even with the roof down.
Cargo Space: Enough For Golf
The latest SL’s longer wheelbase enabled the engineers to include a rear seat for the first time since 1989 in true 2+2 fashion. Though the space is only suitable for children or adults on a very short trip around the block, it is an overall improvement to the SL’s practicality. We imagine most buyers will put a towel down and use the rear space for golf clubs or small dogs. As for the trunk, the overall size has gone down from the previous model but the usability is improved. Mercedes says the trunk measures 7.5 cubic feet, and an automatic trunk partition opens another cubic foot when the roof is up.
The outgoing SL packed up to 13.5 cubic feet with the roof up (8.5 with the roof down), but the folding hardtop created an awkward load space that was nearly inaccessible with the roof retracted. Mercedes says the new soft top SL can fit two sets of golf clubs, which is perfect for the intended customer.
Performance: V8 All The Way
AMG may be dealing with a V8 shortage this year, but it won’t impact the SL. This car is available in two flavors, both powered by a potent 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 sending power out to 4MATIC+ AWD through a nine-speed automatic transmission. The “base” SL55 model produces 469 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, yielding a 3.8-second 0-60 mph time and a 183 mph top speed. Stepping up to the SL63 ups the output to 577 hp and 590 lb-ft torque, but the massive boost only results in a 3.5-second 0-60 time and 193 mph top speed. For an increase of over 100 hp, we expected more significant performance gains from the SL63. Fuel economy is not available yet, though we don’t expect either SL to be frugal.
The SL55 comes standard with Active Ride Control suspension that soaks up bumps in comfort mode and reduces body roll in the corners. Optionally (or standard on the SL63), a hydraulic roll stabilization system replaces the traditional anti-roll bars to create an even flatter cornering experience and softer ride.
Driving Impressions: Perfect Blend
We split our day driving the SL55 and the SL63, and we came away believing the SL55 is more than enough car for 99% of buyers. It delivers heart-stopping acceleration, complemented by one of the best V8 exhaust notes available on the market. The SL63 feels punchier in the mid-range, but the difference isn’t obvious unless you drive at ludicrous speeds. Mercedes says the new SL fills a dual role, replacing both the AMG GT Roadster and the S-Class Cabriolet. We think the SL fills this role brilliantly, offering a more comfortable ride than the outgoing AMG GT and a more thrilling drive than the S-Class.
This car is a jack of all trades. It can comfortably commute long-distance highway drives giving you a back massage, then mess up your hairdo and give you an eargasm with its V8 engine. AMG mastered all elements of the driving experience here from the accurate steering to the rear-biased AWD system. This is not a lightweight car despite its name, but the rear-axle steering makes it feel compact. Our only complaint, the nine-speed automatic lacks the world-class quickness of a dual-clutch automatic, but it makes up for it with unparalleled smoothness.
Pricing: Expensive, But How Expensive?
As of this writing, Mercedes has not provided any pricing information for the 2022 SL. Though we don’t have any official numbers, we know the prices of comparable Porsche 911 models. Mercedes says the SL55 stacks up against the 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet, which starts at $137,200, while the SL63 rivals the 911 Turbo Cabriolet, which costs $187,100. We expect the SL to undercut the 911 on price, as Porsche is typically the most expensive product in its competitive set. It will be interesting to see the spread between the SL55 and the SL63 because in our opinion, the SL55 is excellent all on its own. If there’s a significant price gap for the SL63, we recommend saving the cash and getting the SL55.
Verdict: Simply Brilliant
The Mercedes SL is an iconic nameplate and for the first time in several generations, we think it lives up to its legacy. This latest SL perfectly fulfills its mission to create the perfect all-around replacement for the AMG GT Roadster and S-Class Cabriolet. Buyers looking for a car they can drive around every day and enjoy on a frequent back road blast will find little to dislike about the SL. We’d rank it right up there with our favorite GT cars on the market, including the Lexus LC 500 Convertible and pricier exotics like the Aston Martin DB11 and Bentley Continental GT. As for the Porsche 911, we still believe it holds the slight edge on a race track or mountain road due to its lighter curb weight, rear-engine setup, and PDK transmission, but as a luxury car, the SL far outshines it.
There’s no such thing as a “perfect” car, but the Mercedes-AMG SL gets pretty darn close. If you can live with the tiny back seat and afford the price tag, there are few cars we’d recommend above it right now.