Used 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class SL65 AMG
Edmunds' Expert Review
What few faults the SL-Class had in the past seem to have been addressed by Mercedes-Benz for 2009. The result is a more aggressively styled and significantly better driving sports car. And oh -- it still has that nifty retractable hardtop.
There was something about the outgoing Mercedes-Benz SL-Class that was just a little too cute. The peanut headlights and the softly curving tail gave it a feminine quality that its long-living blocky predecessor lacked. Although the design was elegant, it didn't say "drive me fast." Some even dubbed the SL a "trophy wife car" (but not us).
When it came time to refresh the SL for 2009, Mercedes set out to make the car more aggressive and striking. Although the result appears a little jarring in pictures, in person, the new face's swept-back headlights and wide-mouth grille successfully convey a more sporting intent. Judging by the impressed looks on the faces of jaded bystanders along the boulevards of West Hollywood, Mercedes should be able to declare its mission accomplished.
There's more to the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL than a face-lift. There are new AMG models: the SL63, which shares its 6.2-liter V8 with several other recent AMG models and the ultra-powerful SL65 AMG Black Series. Unique to the SL63 is a new multi-clutch seven-speed automated manual transmission. Dubbed Speedshift MCT, this innovative gearbox incorporates a wet-clutch system in which a series of six clutches allows for the pre-selection of different gears. The result is lightning-quick shifts without any of the herky-jerky motions of single-clutch automated manuals like BMW's SMG. The SL65 AMG Black Series adds twin turbochargers and subtracts weight for supercar-like performance, but this top-dog Benz triples the cost of a base SL.
Steering, brakes and handling have also been greatly improved across the SL lineup. The new Direct-Steer system continually varies the steering ratio depending on the front wheel angle, speed and load forces on the suspension components. Also, the revised Active Body Control features computer-controlled shock absorbers that constantly control body movement depending on the car's speed, steering angle and other factors. The overall result is a better SL (particularly in AMG form) that provides excellent feedback and flat cornering at any speed.
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class lineup represents a big improvement over past SLs. The car's ability to be both a smooth-riding boulevard cruiser and back-road-storming sports car is truly impressive. Plus, no other convertible in this premium price range offers the versatility of the quick-stowing hardtop (which can feature a glass sunroof). But the AMG versions -- particularly the SL65 and absurd SL65 Black Series -- can be tough to justify, since other cars like the Audi R8, Aston Martin V8 Vantage and Porsche 911 Turbo offer more performance and prestige for the same price -- or less.
Trim levels & features
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is a two-seat roadster with a retractable hardtop available in five models: SL550, SL600, SL63 AMG, SL65 AMG and SL65 AMG Black Series.
Standard features on the SL550 include 18-inch wheels; an active suspension system; active bi-xenon headlamps; a wind deflector; heated wipers and washer nozzles; rain-sensing wipers; auto-locking interior storage bins; dual-zone automatic climate control (with sensors that detect sun position, roof and window position, humidity/dew point and the number of vehicle occupants); power tilt/telescoping steering wheel; 12-way heated power front seats with memory; leather upholstery; Bluetooth; Mercedes-Benz's COMAND electronics interface; a navigation system; and a Harmon Kardon Logic7 surround-sound stereo with six-CD/DVD changer, iPod integration, SD memory card reader and an in-car hard drive for digital music storage. The SL63 AMG adds a 6.2-liter V8, Speedshift MCT transmission, 19-inch wheels, AMG exterior and interior trim, and multicontour sport seats with multiple lumbar and bolster adjustments.
The SL600 adds a twin-turbocharged V12 engine, different 18-inch wheels, rear park assist, a panoramic sunroof, a power trunk closer, keyless ignition/entry, cooled multicontour seats and Airscarf head restraints that blow warm air on occupants' necks for comfortable top-down cruising in cool weather. All these features, except for the engine and wheels, are available on the SL550 and SL63 AMG as part of the Premium 1 package, while the SL600's wood steering wheel and shifter are also optional on the SL550.
The SL65 AMG is equipped similarly to the SL600 but adds an even more powerful biturbo V12, unique 19-inch wheels, diamond-pattern leather upholstery and exterior and interior trim consistent with the SL63. Many of the AMG upgrades -- minus the engines -- are available on the SL550 and SL600 through a pair of packages. Active cruise control is optional on all Mercedes SL-Class models. For those looking to feed their inner Darth Vader, the sinister new SL65 AMG Black Series utilizes featherlight carbon-fiber body parts, a wider stance and numerous mechanical and aerodynamic upgrades for mind-blowing performance. The $300,000 price tag gets you the satisfaction of having the most powerful roadgoing Benz ever, but the roof is not retractable.
Performance & mpg
The rear-wheel-drive 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL550 is powered by a 5.5-liter V8 that produces 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque attached to a seven-speed automatic transmission. Mercedes estimates a 0-60-mph time of 5.3 seconds. The SL600 has a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V12 good for 510 hp and 612 lb-ft of torque. It has a five-speed automatic and an estimated 4.4-second 0-60 time.
The SL63 AMG features a 6.2-liter V8 good for 518 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is Mercedes' new seven-speed automated-clutch manual gearbox, dubbed Speedshift MCT. We recorded a 0-60 time of 4.6 seconds for the SL63. The SL65 AMG features a twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter V12 that cranks out 604 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic sends this earth-rumbling power to the rear tires, which really can't distribute that thrust to the pavement effectively. The SL65's 0-60 time is an estimated 4.2 seconds. If that ludicrous amount of power still leaves you wanting, the new, lighter and wider SL65 AMG Black Series cranks out a whopping 670 hp that should make it capable of reaching 60 mph in a scant 3.6 seconds.
The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class comes standard with stability and traction control, antilock brakes with brake assist, side head/thorax airbags, driver knee airbag and a pop-up roll bar that deploys automatically in the event of a rollover. It can also be raised by the driver at the touch of a button. TeleAid emergency telematics are also standard, including automatic collision notification.
How you experience driving a 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class depends entirely on which model you choose. The SL550 and SL600 are the boulevard cruisers of the bunch, although the 600's biturbo V12 makes it a tremendously powerful road burner. Compared to the AMG versions, the exhaust notes are less raucous and the rides are a tad softer (although all SLs have adjustable suspensions). But revised steering and Active Body Control systems produce a much better performance car that's more in tune with the driver's intentions than prior standard SLs. This also applies to the AMG versions, particularly the new SL63 AMG. Although it is a powerful, snarling beast of a machine, it is also a capable handler with a wider range of abilities than simply going fast in a straight line.
On the other hand, the range-topping SL65 AMG and its Black Series doppelganger's rear tires simply can't transfer the car's eye-flattening amount of torque to the pavement without lighting up like those on a Top Fuel dragster. The speed and acceleration advantage between the 63 and the 65s are very negligible, despite the not-so-negligible differences in power and price.
In the realm of two-seat roadsters, it doesn't get more spacious or more luxurious than the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class. With the hardtop raised, even our tallest editor, at 6-foot-3, had enough headroom, while legroom was also pretty good. The 12-way power seats offer a huge range of adjustment, while the available multicontour seats can be molded to anyone's body shape. Depending on trim level and selected options, those seats can also cosset their occupants with heated cushions, cooling ventilation and the Airscarf's warm air against their necks. It's hard to think of a cabin better suited to top-down motoring.
Although the exterior received a significant overall refresh for 2009, the subdued and classy interior carries over mostly unchanged. A new sport steering wheel is a welcome addition, as is the revised COMAND electronics interface. While the SL's system uses the same graphics and software as the new COMAND system in the C-Class, the SL unfortunately lacks that model's mouselike knob. Instead, it uses a less intuitive circular toggle button with four directional points. And while it's not great, it's not too bad either.
Features & Specs
More About This Model
This thing just flat corners.
The optional new Direct-Steer System on this 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Roadster, combined with the suspension's standard Active Body Control, makes the car particularly well suited for, well, anything. And right now "anything" is a hard run through the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles. Top down.
The setup gives you perfect feedback and absolutely flat cornering at any speed — so much so that we're soon testing our own mettle, pushing through the next turn at a higher speed, then higher, then higher yet. We never reach the car's limits; instead we reach ours and back off lest we test the laws of physics on a road with no Armco and a 7,500-foot elevation.
A Look at the New Look
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL550 represents the first major overhaul of the fifth-generation (R230) SL roadster since the car's introduction in 2003. Mercedes-Benz calls it a partial reskin, and the sheet metal differences are clearly visible.
Mercedes admits that the restyling was necessary because some of its customers complained of the 2003-'08 car being "too girly," perceiving it as a "chick" car. Indeed, there is no shortage of SLs being driven around by wealthy 60-year-old men and 30-year-old trophy wives.
So after more than 140,000 SLs since 2003, the company felt the iconic roadster needed a more masculine design to get more men behind the wheel. This Mercedes-Benz has clearly done.
New Tech Gets It Done
They've improved the SL under that new skin, too. The new Direct-Steer system continually varies the ratio of the steering from 12:1 to 15:1, depending on the angle of the front wheels and the speed and load forces on the suspension components. At the heart of the system is a new rack with ingeniously devised gearing — the gears actually vary in their distance from each other.
In and around the central position, the steering is a larger numerical ratio for good straight-line stability. Once the steering angle reaches 5 degrees, the ratio becomes smaller numerically and the steering quickens, reducing the number of turns lock-to-lock.
Brakes remain unchanged, with 13.8-inch-diameter front discs and 12.6-inch-diameter discs in the rear. And truth be told, no change or upgrade is needed. Apply the brakes hard and a giant hand seems to come out of nowhere to safely haul you down from any speed with excellent pedal feel and modulation.
Tire size also remains the same, 255/40WR18 front and 285/35WR18 out back, but the wheels wear a new design to match the car's more macho look.
As Easy as ABC
M-B engineers have also further refined the SL's standard Active Body Control (ABC) system. You'll remember that ABC completely eliminates antiroll stabilizer bars front and rear and replaces them with computer-controlled shock absorbers that constantly control body movement depending on the car's speed, steering angle and other factors.
In its newest iteration, the system compensates for the body's pitching, rolling and lifting movements, as well as continually adjusting the suspension settings to changing driving conditions. In fact, the system will automatically dial in oversteer when you're cornering hard to make the car more responsive, change to neutral at lower speeds, then change to understeer at high straight-line speeds to ensure straight-ahead stability.
The suspension ride is also adjustable. In more mundane everyday driving, dial in the suspension's Comfort setting and you could be in a luxury S-Class sedan for all your butt knows. Dial it up to Sport and experience a level of handling and maneuverability that is far beyond the driving capability of 99 percent of the drivers who will ever sit behind the wheel of this car.
Under the Hood
The SL's V8 still displaces 5.5 liters and develops 382 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 391 pound-feet of torque at 2,800 rpm. But M-B claims an improvement in fuel consumption. New EPA estimates for the car are 14 city/21 highway.
We wish the carmaker would improve the DOHC engine's bottom-end torque. When you punch down the throttle, you still have to wait a few milliseconds for the revs to build and the engine to climb up on the cams. When that happens, however, things happen, fast.
M-B claims a 0-60 time of 5.3 seconds, which is quicker than about 95 percent of all other cars we've ever tested. Still, thanks to the SL's numerically low 2.65:1 rear axle ratio, you can't really call this car's acceleration explosive. Instead there's a hard, steady push against your spine and eyeballs that doesn't let up until you either lift or hit the electronically controlled rev limiter at the car's 155-mph top speed.
Backing up the engine is the same seven-speed 7G-Tronic automatic transmission from last year, which, by the way, is not the same as the seven-speed auto in the SL63 AMG version of this car. In the SL550, the trans still uses a torque converter while the new Speedshift MC7 version in the SL63 AMG replaces the torque converter with a wet clutch.
We don't like the SL550's transmission; we love it. As the revs climb, you can bang off shifts right at the redline with either the steering wheel paddles or the good old console-mounted stick. Either way, shifts are bang-quick and solid as a safe.
What are even cooler are the downshifts. The 7G-Tronic boasts fast-action downshifts with a double-declutching function that is automatically triggered during manual downshifts. What that means is that the computer blips the throttle for you just like on a stick shift transmission with a clutch. It sounds so cool and it makes you feel like Helio Castroneves — driving, not dancing.
Inside the Cockpit
Mercedes-Benz executives are very proud of the state-of-the-art telematics system in the SL. The dash-mounted monitor is now brighter with better graphics and the company claims it has a more streamlined user-friendly menu structure.
A new music capability gives you a capacity of 4GB on the 40GB hard drive, enough for storing about 1,000 tracks of music. And they'll play back with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. You can also simply plug your SD card into the slot on the head unit and play back your own music catalog.
There's other newness inside as well, starting with a new-design three-spoke sports steering wheel with the now ubiquitous shift paddles. The instrument panel sports new-design dials with 3-D scale rings. When the ignition is switched on, the tach and speedo needles flick all the way to the peg, then settle back on the 6 o'clock position until the engine is started.
M-B claims that the new-design instrument panel provides optimal instrumentation shielding, but we found the electronic LCD information readouts virtually impossible to see, top up or down. If there is a control to make them brighter, we never found it. So when manually shifting, we never really knew what gear we were in or, for that matter, what suspension setting.
SL in Retrospect
Now that we're a few days separated from our drive, the word "capable" keeps coming to mind. This is a car that is immensely capable no matter what the road challenge or driving condition.
Yes, you can probably say the same thing about almost any Mercedes-Benz automobile. Still, we wouldn't trade the two-seat sportiness or the surrounding luxury for any other car — at least for the two days we were in the SL. It really is a unique combination of very-high-performance sports car and luxury car. There's still nothing else quite like it in the marketplace.
And the top drops in 16 seconds.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
Used 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class SL65 AMG Overview
The Used 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class SL65 AMG is offered in the following styles: , and SL65 AMG 2dr Convertible (6.0L 12cyl Turbo 5A).
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Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.