For over 50 years, the Mercedes-Benz SL has been the brand’s two seat pinnacle of luxury and technology. The latest and perhaps ultimate example of that is the new 2009 SL-class. Now this almost timeless tourer is the picture of unquestionable success for both Mercedes and all who drive one. But with so much technology behind so much glamour, does the essence of a great driving machine remain?

The roots of the Mercedes SL-Class roadster go all the way back to the original gull-wing 300 SL, or “sports light,” of the early 1950s. In the decades that followed, Mercedes has constantly refined and upgraded the SL, becoming one of the world’s most prestigious cars.

So naturally, SL-loyalists expect more top notch style, comfort, technology, and performance from the updated and restyled 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL 550 and SL 600, and restyled they are, with bodywork that boldly declares their presence in a world of mild mannered drop tops.

A twin power dome hood and wide vintage-style single-bar grille lead off the new SL look.

But gone are the traditional rounded headlights, with the new L-shaped clusters housing Mercedes’ Intelligent Lighting System that puts a claimed 60-percent more light on the road at high speeds.

The flanks wear more prominent fenders and side gills that recall the original 300 SL.  The rear end features a new air diffuser design, as well as distinctive trapezoidal exhaust outlets.

Even more aggression is available from in-house tuner AMG. The SL63 AMG and SL65 AMG wear deeper, more sharp edged front fascias, and larger 19-inch alloy wheels. 

The SL started the modern trend of convertible hardtops, and the latest version can raise or lower in just 16-seconds, and when lowered is still compact enough to leave 7.2 cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk. That increases to 10.2 cubic feet with the top up.

The SL interior has not received as much attention as the exterior. The obvious updates are a new 3-spoke steering wheel, and a sportier instrument cluster.

But tucked away inside the seats of some SL models, is Mercedes’ available AIRSCARF system. AIRSCARF uses a high speed heater and internal ventilation system to blow warm air onto the driver and passenger’s necks. This helps the cars occupants stay comfortable when driving top down in cool weather; and believe us, it really works.

As does Mercedes’ proven 5.5-liter dual-cam V8 engine. Just as in the S-Class sedan, output is 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. The new SL 63 boasts AMG’s own 6.3-liter V8 with 518 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque. It’s the first all-AMG engine design, and shares no parts with other Mercedes-Benz V8s.

Both V8 engines connect to a 7-speed automatic with manual shift mode, but the AMG uses their own Speedshift MCT design. The complex MCT has four drive modes, high speed multiple downshifts, and automatic double clutching.

The famous Mercedes-Benz biturbo V12 is still available in the SL 600. It displaces 5.5-liters for 510 horsepower and 612 pound-feet of torque. The 6.0-liter SL65 AMG version pumps out a tire shredding 604 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque. But the V12’s feed through fewer gears with only 5-speeds available.

To help buyers maintain control of their new SLs, Mercedes engineers have developed Direct-Steer. Rather than use electric motor assist, the rack gear itself is variable-ratio, reducing the amount of steering input needed, especially at low speeds, without compromising feedback.

We spent time in both standard and AMG versions of the new SL at the car’s California press debut, and they delivered exactly what we expected.

Handling for all models is extremely sharp, with the Direct Steer System delivering very quick response to steering inputs.

The second-generation Active Body Control electronic suspension makes body roll almost nonexistent, especially in the firmer Sport mode, yet ride quality is undiminished, with the SL550 and 600 offering sedan-like comfort. The AMG cars are a lot firmer, which does mean some chop over rough surfaces.

SL-Class pricing also befits such prestige cars. $98,725 for the SL550, and $134,025 for the SL600. The SL63 AMG starts at $132,000, with the SL65 AMG at an over the top $188,025.

It’s been over 50 years since the first Mercedes-Benz SL hit the streets; and in that time it has built a reputation for performance and sophistication that is virtually unrivaled in the world of luxury roadsters.

The 2009 SL-Class not only continues that sterling reputation, but builds on it, making today’s SL the best SL, and the best luxury convertible, ever!


  • Base Engine: 5.5-Liter Dual-cam V8
  • Horsepower: 383
  • Torque: 391 Lb Feet