Mercedes R231 SL350

Mercedes R231 SL, traveling in style for two

Mercedes R231 SL: With the new SL, Daimler-Benz continued a tradition that began 60 years ago with the 300SL Gullwing. With each new generation, cars like the SL became safer and more comfortable, but often heavier. For the first time, the R231 was made almost entirely of aluminum and weighed up to 140 kilograms less than its predecessor, the R230. Its all-aluminum bodyshell provided the basis for agile, sporty handling coupled with excellent roll characteristics and ride comfort.

Mercedes R231 SL

What set the R231 apart from other high performance cars was its style. First, the car was well-proportioned, even rakish, with just the right mix of aggression and beauty, a sporty stance, a pointy aero nose, and vents everywhere. When new, it was a real head turner, which is a big reason why people spend over a hundred grand on a car. From the long hood to the compact passenger compartment to the short rear overhangs, it is obvious that the Mercedes R231 SL was another successful introduction in a long line of large Mercedes roadsters.

There was plenty of room to feel comfortable on longer trips

Mercedes R231 SL350

Already The V6 offered plenty of power

In addition to being cleaner in design, the new SL also came with more grunt. The SL350 offered 306 hp with a maximum torque of 370 Nm (273 ft-lb), while the SL500 jumped with 435 hp to 700 Nm (516 ft-lb). It was also fast, going from 0-100 km/h in just 4.6 seconds (the SL350 managed the benchmark in 5.9 seconds). On the other hand, it was just as happy in the city as on the highway.

It proved to be a good mix between a comfortable cruiser and an all-out sports car. Standard equipment included a semi-adjustable multi-link suspension, although you could specify the highly desirable ABC (Active Body Control) air suspension if you wanted better body control. But even the standard setup was a decent enough system that did an impressive job of gliding over bumps and undulations, while retaining enough stiffness to make easy work of corners. Still, ABC brought out the best in the Mercedes R231 SL.

Mercedes R231 SL550

The latest generation SL also benefited from a higher level of equipment than the R230. Included or optional were

  • Active Hood
  • Attention Assist
  • Neck-Pro head restraints
  • Pre-Safe
  • Lane Keeping Assist
  • Active Blind Spot Assist
  • Intelligent Light System

Other goodies, again partly optional, were: Start/Stop, electric parking brake, shift paddles, windshield wipers with Magic Vision Control, umbrella holders in the doors, AMG sports package, Bang & Olufsen sound system, electrically operated draft-stop, Isofix anchorage system, keyless entry and starting, rearview camera and heat-reflecting leather.

Mercedes R231 SL350

The Mercedes R231 SL offered a roomy cabin

The interior of the Mercedes R231 SL was wider than before, so there was more space between the driver and passenger, and the seats proved to be incredibly comfortable, especially on longer journeys – heated, ventilated and fully adjustable. The heating was effective and there was the Airscarf system, new to the SLK, to keep your neck comfortable with warm air. With the roof up it was snug, especially for taller people, but not claustrophobic, and the introduction of Magic Sky Control darkened the glass roof at the touch of a button to cool the interior; the leather also reflects heat.

If you were looking for real performance, the Jedis at AMG had you covered with the SL63. Its twin-turbocharged, direct-injected 5.5-liter V8, which was itself an extra-strength version of the 4.7-liter engine in the regular SL550, made 534 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 800 Nm (590 ft-lb) of torque at 2000 rpm. In line with the latest S63 coupe and sedan, this was later increased to 564 hp at again 5500 rpm.

Mercedes R231 SL63 AMG

The Mercedes R231 SL was the last Mercedes roadster that could be ordered with a V12 engine

But the real nail in the coffin of insanity has to be the V12 SL65 with its 621 hp twin-turbocharged engine at a base price of $214,445. The thing is, the SL65 was no faster or quicker than the 557-horsepower SL63, which costs about $60,000 less. So why was it offered? Because, says MB, some buyers simply wanted the top-of-the-line car that others could not afford. Another reason must have been that it was a V12, the last one available in an SL after the SL600 had been discontinued.

Mercedes R231 SL65

Special stitching was an exclusive for the SL65

The facelift came with a completely revised front

A mid-cycle refresh of the Mercedes R231 SL was introduced at the end of 2015 for the 2017 model year. The grille opening was rotated 180 degrees to form a conventional trapezoid shape. With the corners converging upward, the inner edges of the headlights presented natural, parallel edges to the central opening. These changes, along with the smooth sheet metal, finally eliminated the crisscrossing angles and geometric remnants from the 2008 version of the R230.

Mercedes R231 SL550

The SL’s width was further accentuated with new lines in the lower bumper, as well as a wide, narrow “A-wing” spread between larger, square intakes. Two power domes accentuate the long, sweeping bonnet. AMG bodystyling was now standard.

The rear end, with its large one-piece taillights, remained virtually unchanged, except that the lamp cover was now entirely red. The bumper got air intakes along the edges and more rakish trapezoidal tailpipes flanked by a diffuser-like insert.

In addition, there were some adjustments to the “rather nondescript interior”, as one magazine called it. These included a new steering wheel design with a round center section and an all-black color scheme for the instrument cluster and dash-mounted analog clock. The red ambient lighting inside the cabin could now be changed to either white or blue.

Mercedes R231 SL500 designo

The designo line offered a wide area of individualisation

Mercedes R231 SL500

While the AMG catered to the sun-hungry millionaires, the SL500 (SL550 in the US) with its fabulous 455 hp V8 engine and above all the SL400 (later SL450 in the US) seemed almost bourgeois. Its V6 was slightly upgraded to 367 hp and 500 Nm (369 ft-lb). The new figures improved the 0-100 sprint from 5.1 seconds to 4.9 seconds and gave the car more than enough power for overtaking. It showed that the “budget” SL was an incredibly satisfying starting point.

The revised SL63 and SL65 made their world debut at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show, with market launch scheduled for April 2016. Both AMG models featured a dual-blade grille and larger air intakes and hood vents. The SL63 featured 19-inch, 10-spoke light-alloy wheels with a high-gloss Titanium Gray finish, while the SL65 had 19-inch, multi-spoke, ceramic-polished forged wheels.

Mercedes R231 SL63

Various designo options helped you to personalize your SL

The SL65 accelerated from zero to 100 km/h in 4.1 seconds, while the SL63 was slightly slower at 4.2 seconds (previously 4.3 seconds). Not that it really mattered. The SL63 was still wonderfully quick on the open road, and listening to its snarling V-8 pulse with the top down was pure pleasure. This was still a master of open-air motoring, with a royal price tag to match: $151,250 to start, or more than $40,000 above the gentlemanly SL500/550.

Of course, if true excess was your thing, Mercedes-Benz would still sell you the V12 SL65 for $220,475. That was a lot cheaper than the $263,000 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible, which was just as fabulous.

Everything from the C-Class to the S-Class had far better technology for everyday use. And not having something as basic as touchscreen controls in a car of this caliber felt like penny-pinching, though it probably had more to do with packaging new hardware.

Most owners were not too much concerned that their cars did not offer the latest multimedia package

Due to low demand, the SL65 was discontinued in July 2018, and the SL63 was discontinued in May 2019. That would be the last time a V12 would power an SL. And in 2018, no one would believe that in 2022, a four-cylinder engine would be one of the choices to power an AMG SL.

Mercedes R231 SL63

If you want to read more about the development and history of the Mercedes R231 SL, you can read it all in my book and e-book. It includes a buyer’s guide and explains the VIN/FIN and data card. The link will take you to the US Amazon site, but depending on where you live, your local Amazon site will carry the book under the same title. I am sure you will enjoy reading it, Bernd.

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