Used 1996 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1996

Tweaked styling and new alloys freshen the exterior of the SL roadster. Underneath, ESP keeps drivers on track in lousy driving conditions. It comes standard on the SL600, and can be ordered for the SL320 and SL500. Side airbags are standard across the board. A five-speed automatic is included with SL500 and SL600. Cool gas-discharge headlamps are not available on the SL320.

Vehicle overview

For years, the classic roadster to own was the Mercedes 450SL. From 1973 to 1989, Mercedes peddled so many of these convertibles to the rich and famous that they became as ubiquitous as cocaine vials at high-society social events. Then, Mercedes revamped its classic, upping the technological ante by light years over the old car. The redone SL has been available in three styles since then; 320, 500 and 600 Series droptops.

The SL600 is a whompin' V12 two-door roadster. The SL isn't merely a S600 coupe with no roof. It is lighter, more nimble, and based on the SL-Class of roadsters. The bloodline it shares with the gargantuan S-Class is the 6.0-liter V12 that makes 389 horsepower and moves the car with authority. Stuffed into the SL, the V12 is a better performer and costs less than its big brother coupe, but at a stupendous $120,000, that's kind of a moot point.

The...ahem, lowly SL320 and SL500 are the more reasonably priced and more popular Mercedes roadsters. Prices for the SL320 and SL500 fell dramatically in 1995. The SL320, which was base priced at $95,000 in 1994, is starting at about $80,000 this year. Likewise, the SL500 fell nearly ten grand to $90,000. So, do you get less car for your smaller payment? No. The SL320 and SL500 have gained equipment since then.

This year, the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is standard on the SL600, keeping errant drivers in control in all types of adverse conditions. Also standard on SL600, and optional on SL500, are gas discharge headlamps. Side-impact airbags have been installed in the doors of all SL roadsters. A new five-speed electronic transmission debuts this year on SL500 and SL600 models. Also new for 1996, an infrared remote security system, slight styling revisions, and 12-hole alloy wheels.

We don't think you should go for the SL600. The SL500 is just as good, and better in some respects, than its more muscular brother. And with your savings you could get a Jeep Grand Cherokee for the kids to take to Keg-A-Beer University in the fall. If straight-line acceleration and social status are even less important to you, the SL320 serves nicely, and leaves almost 40 thousand in your pocket over the V12 version, nearly enough to spring for an E320 sedan to go with it.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.