Review: Mercedes-Benz SL (2012)


Impressively refined with a smooth ride. Metal folding roof means it's as quiet as a coupe. AMG versions are brutally fast.

Doesn't feel particularly special given the price tag. Comfortable rather than outright sporty. Steering lacks feel.

Mercedes-Benz SL (2012): At A Glance

The archetypal grand tourer, the Mercedes-Benz SL boasts a pedigree that few grand tourers can match. Launched in the 1950s in its maker’s pursuit of Le Mans glory, the SL has matured into one of the best two-seater sports cars money can buy, with an opulent interior and powerful range of engines.

The sixth generation SL was launched in 2012 and is built almost entirely of lightweight aluminium – a first for a volume production Mercedes-Benz – which means the car is 25 per cent lighter than its all-steel equivalent and more ridged. Mercedes-Benz has also made significant weight reductions with the folding roof, seats, suspension and running gear.

The interior of the SL is a lavish and opulent affair, with deep leather seats, soft touch materials and brushed aluminium trim. Both the driver and passenger get acres of space and the SL is ideal for long trips, with plenty of room. Admittedly, things get a little blustery with the roof down, but the optional wind deflector improves things no end. The retractable roof is also easy to use, folding away neatly into the boot at a press of a button, leaving a respectable 364 litres of storage.

The engine line up consists of four options, including two AMG models, ranging from 306PS to 630PS. The 0-62mph sprint can be covered in as little as 4.3 seconds by the V8 biturbo while the naturally aspirated V6 will achieve that target in 5.9 seconds. The SL350 and naturally aspirated V6 was phased out in April 2014 and replaced with the SL400, which uses a V6 biturbo with an increase of 27PS.

All of the engines are mated to a seven-speed automatic, with four driving modes, which span from comfort to full on throttle-blipping racing. However, regardless of which mode you choose, the SL is always surefooted and predictable in its handling. Admittedly, the car feels more comfortable as a gentleman’s cruiser, but it will still answer a need for speed. Only the AMG versions can rival the Porsche 911 or Maserati Granturismo.

As with all great things, the Mercedes-Benz SL is expensive and prices for the entry level SL400 start at £70,000 while the brutal AMG versions will set you back upwards of £100,000.

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

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

Length 4612–4640 mm
Width 1877–2099 mm
Height 1300–1315 mm
Wheelbase 2585 mm

Full specifications

As you’d expect from an upmarket grand tourer, the interior of the Mercedes-Benz SL is a luxurious and opulent affair with copious amounts of leather and aluminium trim. The two-seater layout ensures that both the driver and passenger get plenty of leg and headroom, while the heated leather sports seats ensure that long trips can be covered in complete comfort.

Admittedly, things get a little blustery with the roof down and this makes it a little uncomfortable, but the optional wind deflector solves this problem. The retractable roof is easy to use, folding away neatly into the boot at a press of a button, which makes it perfectly apt for the British weather.

With the roof up, the SL feels like any other fixed-roof GT car, with little in the way of road or engine noise. Obviously, if you push the SL hard, the engine becomes noticeably loud, but this is to be expected from any car with potent powerplants. If you specify one of the AMG engines then be prepared for thunderous engine note, which'll rumble through the cabin like a small earthquake.

The dashboard of the SL is well laid out and intelligent in its design. The facia is dominated by a large seven-inch display, which clearly shows the sat nav and infotainment system. The large screen is flanked by aluminium air vents, which add a nice touch of style along with the leather stitched trim. All of the buttons and interior controls are large and easy to find. We particularly like the heating controls, which are operated by rotary dials that have a satisfying ‘click’ when rotated.

For the driver, the cabin layout is faultless, with a workman like simplicity that makes it a pleasure to use. The driving position is comfortable and adjustable via three buttons located on the door while the view of the road (and all four corners of the car) is clear and unobtrusive. Sometimes manufacturers get carried away with flagship models and overcomplicate things, but thankfully Mercedes-Benz has resisted the urge do this and this and made the SL an exercise of smart simplicity.

The boot capacity for all SL models is 504 litres, which reduces to 364 litres with the roof down. The SL is also supplied with a useful boot cover that makes it impossible for you to squash anything in the boot when the roof folds down. However, when the roof is retracted, it is rather difficult to fit larger objects into the boot, so it’s always an idea to load up before lowering the roof. 

As you'd expect, the AMG models get the usual scattering of racing logos and letterings, along with carbon fibre trim and uprated leather seats. The door sill panels also get chrome illuminations, neck-level heating and ambient lighting. However, no matter what trim you choose, the SL is always comfortable and spacious. 

Standard equipment levels:

SL350/SL400/SL500: Seven-speed automatic transmission with cruise control, steering wheel gear shift paddles and ‘S’ mode featuring modified shift points, climate control, panoramic glass vario-roof with blind, Multi-function sports steering wheel with flattened bottom section, metallic paint, ESP, first-aid kit and warning triangle, Bluetooth, ECO start/stop function, AMG bodystyling – front and rear aprons, side skirts, Bi-xenon headlamps, LED daytime running lights, parktronic with active park assist,

SL63 AMG:19-inch five-twin-spoke alloy wheels, sports suspension based on active body control  active suspension system which is adjustable in two stages, AMG radiator grille, AMG sports exhaust system, ‘V8 BITURBO’ lettering on front wings, Sports seats with AMG-specific seat upholstery and embossed AMG emblem in backrests, wind deflector – fabric, speed-sensitive sports steering, brake calipers, painted grey

SL65 AMG: Airscarf – neck-level heating, Keyless-Go, remote boot closing and hands-free access, closing aid for doors, SL 65 AMG-specific front apron featuring cross strut in high gloss chrome and side air outlets, rear apron with diffuser look with insert in vehicle colour and side sill panels, surround sound system – Bang & Olufsen BeoSound, AMG ‘V12 BITURBO’ lettering on front wings, AMG rear axle limited-slip differential lock

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

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

The SL is available with five engines, with power outputs ranging from a sedate 306PS to supercar rivalling 630PS. For most drivers the SL350 and its naturally aspirated V6 will be more than enough, with 306PS and 370Nm of torque. Put the SL to task and the V6 will gallop from 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds and reach a top speed of 155mph. What’s more, it can return a claimed 39.2mpg, which makes it surprisingly frugal. 

However, there is a fly in the proverbial ointment; the SL350 and its V6 was phased out in April 2014 and replaced with the SL400, which uses a V6 biturbo with a power increase of 27PS. The new V6 biturbo will use more fuel - 36.7 mpg – but improves performance with a 0-62mph time of 5.2 seconds. 

If power is your thing then the V8-powered SL500 will be the car for you, with its 4.6-litre engine thumping along with 435PS and 700Nm of torque. Not only is the V8 silky smooth and raucous on the throttle, but it also impresses at the pumps with a claimed economy of 31mpg.

Like the SL350 and SL400, the V8 is coupled to a 7G-Tronic Plus seven-speed automatic that allows the ‘box to be driven in manual or full auto modes. Mercedes-Benz auto options can sometimes be little hit and miss, but the 7G works well in the SL and provides smooth changes with plenty of running room between fourth and fifth gears.

If you puff a loud sigh at the idea of 435PS and want a truly brutal supercar experience then Mercedes-Benz also offers two AMG models. The SL63 AMG uses the same V8 as the SL500, but utilises a biturbo to produce 537PS and 800Nm of torque. If that's still not enough, then the range topping V12 SL65 AMG has 630PS and 1000Nm of torque. Both of these engines return a raw supercar experience, with a burbling soundtrack and a rapid turn of pace.

In fact, with the roof down, there are few racing engines that can match the pure joy of the AMG units, with a top speed of 155mph (electronically restricted) and a 0-62mph time of less than 4.5 seconds. But, be warned, with so much power on tap, the SL becomes more than a tad skittish on damp or challenging surfaces and can be a real handful to keep in check.

Admittedly, improvements have been made in the SL's handling with the new aluminium body but there is no hiding the sheer size of the SL. Push the AMG hard and you'll fight and wrestle with it as the rear-wheels try to snap sideways. The SL also struggles in tight bends, with numb steering making it difficult to identify which wheels have grip and which ones don't 

Both of the AMG engines are linked to a Speedshift Plus 7G-Tronic automatic, which can be driven in a ‘Controlled Efficiency’ or ‘sport’ mode. There’s also the option of driving in manual, via paddles behind the steering wheel. In practice all the options work well, with instant gearshifts and decent spacing between the ratios. We particularly liked the ‘Controlled Efficiency’ option for wet roads, as it changes up the ratios rather rapidly to avoid hard acceleration. As well as bigger powerplants, the SL AMG gets sports suspension and 19-inch wheels plus a number of buttons and switches that enable the drivers to tweak settings for the powertrain and suspension. 

If the truth be told, the V6s in the SL350 and SL400 are more than enough for daily use and we struggle to fathom why anyone would venture beyond the SL500 for high performance. For sure, the AMGs are fun, but the SL feels more comfortable with less power and this makes it a much more enjoyable car to drive.

Engine MPG 0-62 CO2
SL 350 38–39 mpg 5.9 s 169–176 g/km
SL 400 34–37 mpg 4.9–5.2 s 175–191 g/km
SL 400 Mille Miglia 37 mpg 5.2 s 179 g/km
SL 500 29–31 mpg 4.3–4.6 s 205–230 g/km
SL 500 Mille Miglia 31 mpg 4.6 s 212 g/km
SL 63 AMG 24–29 mpg 4.1–4.2 s 234 g/km
SL 65 AMG 24–24 mpg 4.0 s 270–279 g/km

Real MPG average for a Mercedes-Benz SL (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

24–37 mpg

MPGs submitted


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What have we been asked about the Mercedes-Benz SL (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

The paint is bubbling on my car. Is the manufacturer obligated to fix it?

The paint is bubbling on my red 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL. What are my legal rights regarding guarantee obligations from Mercedes?
Assuming this is the Mercedes-Benz Mars Red, the car will need to be stripped back to the metal, treated and repainted. Your first point of contact will be the dealer you bought the car from and not the manufacturer. There has been cases were affected vehicles have been resprayed outside the warranty period, but these reports are becoming more rare as these vehicles get older. For your consumer rights, see:
Answered by Dan Powell
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