The 2-seat Mercedes SL Series is not only one of the longest produced vehicles under the Mercedes Benz badge, but one of the longest produced for any car make. It was first launched in 1954, and it is still going strong nearly 6 decades later, although it has seen plenty of changes along the way. It resides in the luxury grand tourer class of vehicles, with its SL designation derived from the German phrase for ‘Sport Lightweight.’ With over 6 design generations, the SL Series truly has had incredible staying power.
The first generation was introduced as a lightweight sports car, but later generation models were anything but light. Even though the sixth-generation SL Series was constructed totally out of lightweight aluminium materials, it’s still 1685kg, and its overall frame is now big and bulky. That doesn’t stop it from being a knockout in terms of design, and it has successfully crammed in a huge number of safety and technology kit.
Throughout its long history, the Mercedes SL Series has served as a flagship model for Mercedes Benz and held a special place in the hearts of many Mercedes aficionados. It repeatedly represented the best sports car experience on the open road, and usually came packed full of the latest technology and automotive engineering feats.
The 2-seater had a few body styles. One was a coupe that came with a removable or retractable hardtop, and the other was a roadster convertible. Over the years, the models included a large number of engine configurations and trim levels.
The most important thing to recognise about Mercedes Benz is that it knows how to make quality cars. Regardless of personal preference, it’s clear that each generation of the Mercedes SL Series is a well-made car. The SL Series has undergone a large number of changes and improvements over several decades, incorporating modern technologies and often leading the way with new features. Performance-wise, the SL Series has always been at the top of the heap.
For the fourth generation, the very popular 500 SL came to market. Under the bonnet was a 5L V8, fuel-injected double overhead camshaft engine. It featured 240kW of power at 5500rpm and 450Nm of torque at 4000rpm, all connected to a 4-speed automatic transmission. This version of the SL Series took just over 6 seconds to go from 0-100km/h and had a maximum speed of 250km/h. The model was also thirsty, with fuel consumption at 15-18L/100km.
The newest SL range has an entry-level SL 350 model and a top-spec SL 500. The SL 500 has a 4.6L V8 with 320kW of power and a whopping 700Nm of torque, which is up from the previous generation’s engine with 285kW and 530Nm. It also has a better fuel consumption rating of 9.4L/100km.
Each generation of the Mercedes SL Series has had plenty of standard kit. The fourth generation was ahead of its time in the early 1990s with an airbag for the driver and a pop-up rollover bar, as well as ABS, self-lowering suspension, and traction control. It also featured a power folding roof, automatically adjusting seatbelts, and fully independent suspension.
New features in the most recent SL Series include a FrontBass system for speakers, the Magic Vision Control adaptive windscreen wipe and wash system, and different suspension options. Active body control (ABC) is an optional suspension system, and both suspension systems feature an innovative electromechanical Direct-Steer system for easier steering and manoeuvring. Further standard features include attention assist, adaptive braking, and hands-free access for the boot, while there are optional extras like the Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control and the pre-safe autonomous emergency braking.
Not much can compete with the Mercedes SL Series, as is evidenced by its production run of more than half a century. It was a trailblazer among luxury sports cars, one of the most expensive cars available, and a real head-turner with the kind of prestige most people dream about from their cars. Even so, there are some strong competitors from fellow German automakers like Audi and BMW, as well as Porsche and Ferrari.
Rivals for the newer Mercedes SL Series include the Porsche 911 Carrera and Audi R8, both of which go toe-to-toe with the SL Series in terms of a price that’s well into the six figures. For those in the market for such a car, the Mercedes SL is a fantastic ride and a gorgeous addition to any garage.