2022 Mercedes-AMG SL 55 Roadster Review: An astounding all-rounder
So this is what Mercedes-AMG thinks the SL should look like—sleeker, but with a means-business snarl that the last SL couldn’t quite manage.
There is no more “ordinary” Mercedes-Benz SL. That platform, discontinued in 2019, was replaced for 2022 by the all-new Mercedes-AMG SL, a product of the German firm’s AMG performance division. The result is one of the best-looking Mercedes models on the road. Especially in lemon yellow paint or our test car’s $1750 Patagonia Red Metallic, which was presumably named for the southern tip of Argentina and Chile and not the clothing company. At least it had lemon yellow brake calipers, items described on the window sticker as simply “yellow.” (Feeling zesty, I added “lemon.”)
Punch the accelerator and you think, Yes, that’s about 469 horsepower. The 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL 55 Roadster doesn’t exactly advertise its muscle, aside from a pleasant burble at idle through those four big rectangular exhaust outlets. But when you want the power, it’s there, thanks to that impossibly smooth and twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8. The car’s ample torque and commendable all-wheel drive system—every previous generation of SL has been rear-drive—give it a sort of squat-and-shoot feel under hard acceleration, and that phrase is meant as a compliment.
This is the same engine you’ll find in the more potent and virtually identical Mercedes-AMG SL 63, but that model has 577 hp. Its 0-to-60 time is only a few tenths quicker than the 3.8 seconds I managed in the SL 55. If you feel that added hustle and some additional standard equipment worth an extra $40,000, by all means, go for it. For my part, I found the SL 55 to be plenty quick and well-appointed, especially with the raft of optional equipment on my test car, which raised the price from the base $137,400 to $158,535, including a destination charge of $1050 and a well-deserved “gas guzzler” tax of $1300.
That figure may seem a little dear for a convertible with a cloth top. The previous two generations of SL wore an electronically folding metal hardtop, but Mercedes claims the soft top saves 43 pounds of up-high weight. (My test car wore the optional black-microfiber headliner, $1600.) That mass reduction presumably aids efficiency and handling and yet still strikes as sort of inconsequential on a car weighing in at two tons and change.
What is more likely is that customers simply preferred the cloth. There is a “Race” drive mode here, of course, and you can bring in Mercedes’s Active Ride Control, an adaptive air suspension standard on the SL 63, by choosing a $7300 option package. But history suggests the average SL buyer is not much inclined toward track use and would be unimpressed by the weight savings and resulting lower center of gravity. I could be wrong.
We had no complaints about the soft top, which provides a surprisingly quiet ride when up. The assembly folds up or down in about 15 seconds and can be operated at speeds up to 37 mph, nice if you get caught in the rain and can’t pull over. If it’s dry but cool, the Air Scarf, a vent system in the seat backs, will blow a whisper of warm air on your neck. With the wind deflector up, the interior is pretty pleasant down to ambient temperatures in the high 50s.
Okay, low 60s. I turned the seat heaters on but left the top down, because this is an SL and we were in Florida, and that is what a person in that situation should do.
Specs: 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL 55 Roadster
- Price (base/as tested): $137,400 / $158,535
- Powertrain: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8, nine-speed automatic transmission
- Horsepower: 469 hp @ 5500 rpm
- Torque: 516 lb-ft @ 2250 rpm
- Layout: All-wheel-drive, front-engine, four-seat roadster
- Curb weight: 4250 pounds
- EPA-rated fuel economy (mpg), city/highway/combined: 14/21/16
- 0–60 mph: 3.8 seconds
Inside, the center display looks odd, like a vertical iPad that some designer accidentally left in the car. You keep wanting to pull it off the dashboard and stash it somewhere else. The $2850 in real carbon-fiber trim added to the interior’s upscale nature, as did the handsome black Nappa leather upholstery. Other appointments are conventional but convenient. The exception is the very busy leather-wrapped steering wheel, whose elegant basic shape has been heartlessly sliced and subdivided into a patchwork of controls and spokes-within-spokes.
I have a theory that, in 30 years, when many of today’s luxury cars are in residence at a Pick-n-Pull junkyard, massaging seats will be the first thing picked and pulled. The Mercedes spine-fondlers are quite good, if no longer the best in the business; the seats in the new Genesis G90 will massage not only your back, but each butt cheek, the latter one tender half at a time. This, I contend, is the kind of progress that should cause automotive engineers to pop their buttons with pride.
The same compliment cannot be paid to the SL 55’s miniature rear seats, suitable for two circus monkeys but a low percentile of humans. Their presence may convince some insurance company to give you the low family rate, but they’re essentially ornamental. Either make friends with performing primates or avoid using the rear chairs altogether.
Outside, the 10-spoke AMG Aero wheels ($350) and 20-inch Michelin Pilot Sports fill up the wheel wells nicely and give substantial traction on wet or dry pavement. Outward visibility is not great with the top up, but that’s what mirrors are for. I wouldn’t change much about the looks—the car appears smaller than the model it replaces, but the wheelbase has increased by nearly five inches, so kudos to the stylists and engineers for tight packaging.
Speaking of tight—at 7.5 cubic feet, the trunk is small but adequate. Not bad when you consider how much room the top takes up when stowed in front of it. A pop-up spoiler on the trunk lid’s top adjusts automatically with your speed, which, in an SL 55, is almost certainly legal, except when it is not.
On the road, the car feels sedate until you ask that suspension for some tricks. Modern cars being what they are, it’s difficult to say how much is owed to those Michelins, or the all-wheel drive, or the new five-link front suspension, or the standard rear-steer axle, but the SL 55 launches out of corners with minimal tail-wagging and dives into them with the rear end and nose following your ask. Ride quality is taut but never punishing; the lightly weighted steering offers the right amount of feedback. Brakes are linear with a proper pedal feel.
That 4.0-liter eight sings a lovely song at higher rpm, and the Speedshift nine-speed automatic, the only available gearbox, seems to always be in the right gear. Seventy-eight percent of the SL 55’s parts come from Germany, and they all perform in delightful German-operatic harmony.
Given the mission of a car like this, there’s very little here to complain about. Yes, of course, a new Corvette convertible will offer similar performance for about half the price, assuming you can find one at sticker (you probably can’t). But … this is a Mercedes.
That word has always commanded a premium and always will. The SL 55 is a good example of why it still should.
2022 Mercedes-AMG SL 55 Roadster
Price (base/as-tested): $137,400/$158,535
Highs: Splendid powertrain, versatile suspension, very quiet inside despite that cloth top.
Lows: Fuel thirst, and for premium fuel only. Visibility with the top up isn’t great. iPad-like center display is oddly placed. Pricey to start with, and the expensive options make it even pricier.
Summary: One of the best all-around AMG models yet. Fast but never frantic, luxurious but never for the sake of mere luxury.
While I’m sure this is a perfectly good and very nice driver, it’s more of a conspicuous consumption car — for people who want to show off their wealth. The same levels of style, luxury & performance are available elsewhere for much less $$. Also, the real problems with M-B begin when the warranty runs out. I have 3 friends who were seduced by Mercedes “premium” image. Two of them learned their lesson the hard way in the form of constant (and expensive) maintenance. Both abandoned the brand. The third one was independently wealthy & bought new models every year or so — even tho those cars had all sorts of warranty-related issues. He once told me no one should buy any out-of-warranty Mercedes — unless they were prepared to take on big time repair bills. The moral: pay attention to what J.D. Power and other ratings organizations are telling you. There’s a reason Mercedes doesn’t score well, especially when they age.
I recently owned a 2008 SL, which I consider to be the last generation of “classically” beautiful SL. Two things I will say: they are indeed a maintenance nightmare (I got cold feet and sold it, after just one expensive repair … the climate system.) And the “premium image” is real. People would stare at me driving the car, with the kind of frown they might reserve for someone who had just kicked their dog.
However, none of those things matter, when you get to an open road and mash the gas, or carve into a corner. The driving dynamics were simply incredible, the only word fit to describe the car is “sublime”. I have no doubt this latest car achieves the same, though perhaps it is doing so for a different audience?
The SL without the hardtop seems less special. It does look good with the top down. However that giant Ipad in the dash, no thanks.
A somewhat different perspective:
I was involved in a multiple vehicle crash in an R230 SL63 (not at fault) that totaled the car. Air bags deployed, roll bars popped up, windows automatically rolled down and within seconds an operator was inquiring as to my condition. The passenger compartment remained structurally intact and the drivers door opened normally. I was not injured.
I replaced it with an R231, and it has been a problem free 20,000 miles. True maintenance is expensive but not unusually so for cars in this category.
While I prefer a hard top, the new car looks great and I have no doubt it’s one of the most solidly built convertibles on the road.
SL’s are too heavy to be considered sports cars in my opinion, but are designed to travel at high speed on the autobahn over long distances in comfort. A great solidly built luxury GT.