Full 2008 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class Review
What's New for 2008
Aside from a new 18-inch wheel design for the SL550, Mercedes' luxury roadster remains unchanged for 2008.
There may be other Benzes, other luxury roadsters and higher-priced exotics, but when it comes to combining vaunted history, sporting presence and celebrity glamour, very few other cars can match the 2008 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class. When the current-generation Mercedes SL debuted five years ago, it won us over with its high level of style, leading-edge technology and exceptional performance capabilities, and that impression hasn't changed in subsequent years.
Thanks to its Active Body Control suspension, for example, the SL is secure and confident at speed and handles with a surprising amount of finesse -- notable qualities in a car that is at heart a luxury cruiser. Yet this Benz also rides softly enough to avoid rattling the average luxury buyer, and is quiet and secure as any coupe with its automatic retractable hardtop in place. On the inside, the SL delivers all the usual high-end features along with the supple leather upholstery and rich wood inlays expected in a Mercedes-Benz.
Mercedes has taken steps to keep the SL-Class fresh over the years, often by augmenting engine size and output. Today even the "entry-level" SL550 pumps out 382 horsepower from its V8 engine. Beyond it lie the SL55 AMG and SL600 with 510 hp each, while the king of the hill is the SL65 AMG with 604 Porsche-slaying horses, not to mention a massive 738 pound-feet of torque. Suffice it to say, speed is not an issue for any member of the Mercedes-Benz SL family.
While the 2008 Mercedes-Benz SL is a high achiever in many areas, it isn't perfect. It's definitely heavy for a two-seat roadster, and this limits its agility on tighter roads. Driver enjoyment is similarly hampered by wooden-feeling steering and brakes. In addition, the cabin is marred by fussy, overly complicated controls for the audio and navigation systems.
As such, individuals wanting a luxury convertible with a more interactive driving experience might find the Porsche 911 Carrera/911 Turbo and the four-seat BMW 650i/M6 to be better choices. Alternately, the Jaguar XKR or Cadillac XLR-V could be appealing simply because they offer similar levels of style, yet cost significantly less. Still, the Mercedes SL represents the quintessential choice in this segment, and its classic mix of luxury, performance and style puts it among our all-time favorites.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
A two-seat luxury roadster, the 2008 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class comes in four variants. In ascending order of price, they are the SL550, SL55 AMG, SL600 and SL65 AMG. The SL550 (the only one with a five-figure sticker) comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, leather seating, wood trim, heated power seats, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, a Bose surround-sound audio system, satellite radio, the COMAND all-in-one control interface and a navigation system. The SL600 upgrades with napa leather, wood-and-leather trim for the steering wheel and shift knob, a power trunk closer and the Keyless Go start system.
In keeping with their higher performance aspirations, the two AMG models, the SL55 and SL65, add 19-inch wheels, exterior styling tweaks, a sport suspension and upgraded brakes. Inside, Mercedes replaces the wood trim with carbon fiber and adds an AMG-exclusive steering wheel with shift paddles. Unlike the SL55, the SL65 has the power trunk and Keyless Go start system as standard.
For the SL550 and SL600, one can order the optional AMG Sport Package. It adds 18-inch AMG wheels, high-performance tires and lower body sculpting. Park assist, adaptive cruise control, hands-free communication, run-flat tires, a sunroof and adaptive/massaging seats are also available. The SL55 AMG is eligible for the AMG Performance Package, which provides Formula One-style compound brakes, special 19-inch wheels, firmer "Nürburgring" suspension calibrations, a limited-slip rear differential and the deletion of the 155-mph speed governor, thereby allowing the car to reach 186 mph.
Powertrains and Performance
The base SL550 has a 5.5-liter V8 with 382 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque -- enough to sprint from zero to 60 in just over 5 seconds. The SL55 AMG has a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 with 510 hp and 531 lb-ft. The SL600 sports a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V12 with the same 510 hp, but its 612 lb-ft make acceleration feel even more forceful. Finally, the SL65 AMG has a twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter V12 that makes an astounding 604 hp and 738 lb-ft and is good for blasting the car from zero to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds. All transmissions are automatics (seven speeds on the SL550, five on the others) and send all that massive power to the rear wheels only.
Every modern safety feature is standard on the 2008 Mercedes-Benz SL roadster line, including stability control, side airbags (with both head and torso protection), a driver's knee airbag and pop-up roll bars. Mercedes' Active Body Control suspension technology is standard on all models and minimizes body lean while cornering, enhancing both performance and safety.
Interior Design and Special Features
A power-operated retractable hardtop is standard on all 2008 Mercedes SL-Class convertibles. It offers the insulation and security of a coupe when raised and the alfresco experience of a roadster when lowered. A choice of three wood trims (Walnut, Chestnut, Black Ash) are available in the SL550 and SL600, while AMG versions feature carbon-fiber accents instead. The dual-zone climate control system is easy to use, though the same cannot be said for the complex COMAND interface that houses the audio and navigation controls. Maximum cargo capacity is a decent 10.2 cubic feet with the top up, though only 7.3 with the top down.
In general, the 2008 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class roadster offers a rewarding and refined experience behind the wheel. When pushing the SL hard, handling is impressive, thanks to the excellent grip and the Active Body Control that almost eliminates body roll. Ride quality is also refined and supple. On the other hand, a curb weight of more than 4,200 pounds keeps any of the SL roadsters from feeling truly agile, and the wooden-feeling steering and brakes curb driver involvement. Acceleration is simply eye-flattening in the SL65 AMG, but we think the lower-powered versions better match the SL's talents and personality. As a further bonus, the SL550 costs about $92,000 less than the 189-grand SL65, and is certainly fast enough in its own right.