Review: Mercedes-Benz SL-Class (2008 – 2012)


Great performance from all the engines with SL350 the pick of the bunch, neat folding metal roof.

Expensive with top versions more than £100,000.

Mercedes-Benz SL-Class (2008 – 2012): At A Glance

Four years ago, I wrote "Forget Ferraris, Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Lamborghinis, Porsches. The most desirable car you can buy is the new Mercedes 500SL. Wherever you happen to be, no other car impresses most of the people most of the time. It's the one car the world over that says you've arrived before you even start your journey."

That hasn't changed. The range has expanded up and down. You can now have a relatively fuel efficient £63,000 3.5 litre SL350 with 272bhp and 350 Nm torque. This is slightly better in all respects than the old 3.7 litre SL350. You can go one better with the new £75,880 5.5 litre 388bhp 500SL. Or you can go completely Puerto Banus with a £149,000 SL65 AMG that boasts 612bhp, 1,000Nm torque and a de-restricted top speed well over 200mph. Over the last year UK registrations have split 65.4% SL350, 23.2% SL500, 0.8% SL600, 9.1% SL55 AMG, while 1.5% cough up the extra £49,000 for an SL65 AMG.

People will know you have the latest model from the slightly cleaner styling with a more pronounced V shape bumper, three large air intakes, chrome fog light surrounds, new alloy wheel designs and new rear light lenses.

What does a Mercedes-Benz SL-Class (2008 – 2012) cost?

List Price from £79,965
Buy new from £58,620
Contract hire from £981.29 per month

Mercedes-Benz SL-Class (2008 – 2012): What's It Like Inside?

Length 4532–4605 mm
Width 1816–1827 mm
Height 1295–1317 mm
Wheelbase 2560 mm

Full specifications

Inside, you'll be marginally more comfortable in softer, more supple leather, with a nicer double-top-stitched instrument shroud.

And the state of the art solid roof still opens or closes in 16 seconds. Interestingly, the torsional rigidity of the car increases from 17,000Nm per degree with the top down to 21,000Nm per degree with the top up.

Child seats that fit a Mercedes-Benz SL-Class (2008 – 2012)

Our unique Car Seat Chooser shows you which child car seats will fit this car and which seat positions that they will fit, so that you don't have to check every car seat manufacturer's website for compatibility.

Which car seat will suit you?

What's the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class (2008 – 2012) like to drive?

At the launch we were slightly nonplussed but pleasantly surprised to be presented with Mercedes heritage fleet of older SLs, dating back to the 1950s. The idea was we would drive these first, and the reason soon became apparent.

The original late 1956 to 1962 300SL roadster is a wonderful car. It still puts out around 190 - 200bhp, so it's no slouch. It sits on fully independent suspension with the rear swing axles tamed by a lower diff than the famous 300SL ‘gullwings' and the addition of a compensator spring. It's still on drum brakes, mind you, so you can't treat it like a modern car. But it's by far the nicest 1950s - 1960s sports car I have ever driven. Far more enjoyable than an E-Type Jaguar, for example. (Can't tell you about the Ferrari 205SWB.)

The 1961 300SL we drove would still pull an indicated 125mph, no bother, though the speedo had a mind of its own. It was fast, handled decently and sounded glorious. Which is the main difference between the revised SL and the original 2002 SLs.

Next, I took out a new SL350 fitted with a couple of important optional extras: 7G-TRONIC Sport that is a programmed to change faster than the standard 7G-TRONIC and has the benefit of steering wheel paddleshifters. And ABC Active Body Control (standard on the SL500), which allows you to select stiffer suspension settings if you really want to motor. It also has slightly quicker steering now 2.5 turns lock to lock rather than 2.6 and a much more precise ‘feel' than before.

Pull the left hand paddle to change down, floor the accelerator and the banshee wail of the exhaust immediately tells you what Mercedes has changed. They've taken a good car at its best cruising and posing. And, without sacrificing its cruising ability, they've turned it into a sportscar.

The extra power helps, of course. Getting on for as much as the 306bhp of the original SL500. But that was a lazy engine, and this one isn't. It relishes high revs and can provide as much fun as you ever really want. Yet the other side of its split personality remains the "look at me" boulevard cruiser that made the SL the World's most desirable 2-seater.

You might, therefore, wonder if there's any point in stepping up to the new SL500. Well, an extra 116bhp and a full 82Nm more than the old SL500 is a very good reason.

This car really does have as much power as any of us could sensibly want. Whack it down a couple of ratios, floor the throttle and it takes off so quickly and positively you pass 6 cars in the time it might normally take you to pass one. Excellent braking reins it in even faster. So while it might not go, stop and handle quite the same as 911, it ‘s easily as much of a sportscar as most of us can actually cope with. It also howls, rather than wails, with a more pleasing exhaust note than a Ferrari 430. Yet if all you want to do is cruise, it still does that as well as the 2002 SL500. Its only true competitor is the new Jaguar XK8 convertible, which is also a lot sportier than the old one.

The new SL500 takes the wind out of the sales of the 517bhp SL55 AMG. That's still a lot faster, of course. But whereas previously if you wanted a fast, sporty SL the 55AMG was the only choice, now the new SL is as much as many people are going to want. The 517bhp SL600 remains sheer one upmanship an the 612bhp SL65 AMG tells everyone you can not only afford the best, but also the best of the best. But with the speed restrictor holding these cars back to 156mph all you gain are seconds saved in acceleration that could just as easily get you into serious trouble with a wall or crash barrier. Up to you, though. If you can afford it and you want it, Mercedes Benz makes it for you.

For the rest of us, the SL500 is plenty enough to aspire to, and, with the possibility of 27mpg combined, the SL350 is even moderately sensible. Those two are the real life choices, and the choices most rich Brits are most likely to make.

Engine MPG 0-62 CO2
SL 300 30 mpg 7.8 s 217 g/km
SL 350 29 mpg 6.2 s 226 g/km
SL 500 24 mpg 5.4 s 272 g/km
SL 600 20 mpg 4.5 s 326 g/km
SL 63 AMG 20 mpg 4.6 s 328 g/km
SL 65 AMG 20 mpg 4.2 s 333 g/km

Real MPG average for a Mercedes-Benz SL-Class (2008 – 2012)

Real MPG was created following thousands of readers telling us that their cars could not match the official figures.

Real MPG gives real world data from drivers like you to show how much fuel a vehicle really uses.

Average performance


Real MPG

14–30 mpg

MPGs submitted


Diesel or petrol? If you're unsure whether to go for a petrol or diesel (or even an electric model if it's available), then you need our Petrol or Diesel? calculator. It does the maths on petrols, diesels and electric cars to show which is best suited to you.

What have we been asked about the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class (2008 – 2012)?

Every day we're asked hundreds of questions from car buyers and owners through Ask Honest John. Our team of experts, including the nation's favourite motoring agony uncle - Honest John himself - answer queries and conudrums ranging from what car to buy to how to care for it as an owner. If you could do with a spot of friendly advice before buying you're next car, get in touch and we'll do what we can to help.

Ask HJ

Part failure - should the dealer replace FOC?

I had a replacement central locking pump fitted to my Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG by a local authorised dealer. However, after just eight months, the part failed again. The dealer is now refusing to replace it under their genuine parts warranty as they claim that it has failed due to water ingress. Water was found in the boot but they are only surmising that this water caused the failure. They told me they do not have authority to open the pump and refuse to send it back to Mercedes-Benz for them to make an accurate assessment. Do they not have an obligation to prove that water ingress caused the pump failure and not just surmise that it did?
It is highly likely that water ingress caused the second failure because these cars are notorious for this.The question for you to ask is why didn't they fix the water leak when they replaced the pump?
Answered by Honest John
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