Skip to main content

2023 Mercedes-AMG SL43 Quick Spin: Proof You Really Don’t Need a V-8

mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 01 exterior front angle scaled jpg 2024 Mercedes-AMG SL 43 | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman
Photo of Aaron Bragman
Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman has had over 25 years of experience in the auto industry as a journalist, analyst, purchasing agent and program manager. Bragman grew up around his father’s classic Triumph sports cars (which were all sold and gone when he turned 16, much to his frustration) and comes from a Detroit family where cars put food on tables as much as smiles on faces. Today, he’s a member of the Automotive Press Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. His pronouns are he/him, but his adjectives are fat/sassy. Email Aaron Bragman

The Mercedes-Benz SL roadster is one of those iconic vehicles that’s mentioned in the same breath as the Ford Mustang, Volkswagen Beetle, Nissan GT-R and Chevrolet Corvette when talking about historically significant cars. The nameplate has been around for decades, with famous owners as diverse as Frank Sinatra, Princess Diana, John Travolta and Juan Peron. The SL-Class began in 1954 and was originally a racing model that was never meant for street use; eventually, it was developed into a personal luxury coupe and roadster, and the rest is history. Six generations and several philosophies have preceded the latest, seventh-generation version, which arrived for the 2022 model year. 

Related: 2023 Mercedes-AMG SL63 Review: Dynamic Droptop Coddler

This new SL comes with another new philosophy: While more recent SLs have skewed toward grand-touring-style personal luxury vehicles, the latest models are AMG-created. Mercedes is moving the SL back toward its more sporting roots: Gone is the retractable hardtop and back is the fabric soft top. What’s more, all models have a standard 2+2 configuration; the only other time a four-seater was even an option was on the third-generation model. The new SL even has a four-cylinder engine, which hasn’t happened since the very first generation sold from 1954-63.

mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 05 exterior profile scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 06 exterior rear angle scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 07 exterior front angle scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 08 exterior front angle scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 04 exterior front angle scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 03 exterior front angle scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 02 exterior front scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 05 exterior profile scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 06 exterior rear angle scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 07 exterior front angle scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 08 exterior front angle scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 04 exterior front angle scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 03 exterior front angle scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 02 exterior front scaled jpg

The Four-Banger Controversy

The new four-cylinder SL43 is what we’re here to talk about, as we recently got behind the wheel of this “base” SL for the first time. (We’ve previously driven the V-8-powered SL63, which you can read about here.) The SL43 is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 375 horsepower and 354 pounds-feet of torque and is mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission, all of which drive the rear wheels. It gives up 94 hp and 162 pounds-feet of torque to the next engine in the lineup, the twin-turbo V-8 found in the SL55. Mercedes says the SL43 can go from 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds; the SL55 does it in 3.8 seconds. 

There are two things to consider here: The first is that while the SL43 is lighter than its V-8 brothers, it’s not a light car; most reports state it’s just a tick under 4,000 pounds, which is a lot for a four-cylinder engine to haul around. That said, it also costs more than $31,000 less than the SL55, which is nothing to sneeze at. True, it lacks some of the 55’s equipment — e.g., torque-vectoring all-wheel drive, rear-wheel steering and an adaptive suspension, to name a few — but that should make it more engaging to drive, right?

Maybe. Where the V-8-powered SL63 packs a visceral, explosive punch, the four-cylinder is a more subtle animal. It’s very growly, and it propels this compact convertible smartly (the SL43 is by no means slow), but unlike the V-8, it has to be driven more specifically. The four-cylinder makes its power in the mid-to-high rpm range, so keeping it on boil is important if you want to drive it aggressively — which I did while participating in a road rally organized by my friends and tribemates at Out Motorsports on the vaunted Angeles Crest Highway northeast of Pasadena, Calif. On one of the most scenic, challenging and extraordinary drives in the world, the SL43 showed me what it could do, and it left nothing wanting despite giving up engine displacement to its more powerful V-8 siblings.

mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 09 interior front row jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 11 interior front row scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 10 interior front row scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 16 interior backseat scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 09 interior front row jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 11 interior front row scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 10 interior front row scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 16 interior backseat scaled jpg

You Don’t Need a V-8 to Have Fun

In around-town driving, the SL43 isn’t all that different from its big V-8 siblings. It’s still low-slung, still rides stiffly and still has some rather heavy steering, with a tight but truly luxurious-feeling cockpit swathed in leather and metal and glass display screens. The two extra seats in the back are just as ridiculous in the 43 as they are in the 63. They’re not really suitable even for children; they must be there solely for insurance reasons or some tax-avoidance purposes in a country other than ours. The SL43’s automatic transmission is clunky and hangs up in slower, more easygoing driving just as it does in the bigger-engine versions. 

And just like the V-8 version, the SL43 comes into its own when you drive it hard. It blasted from corner to corner with surprising speed along the Angeles Crest Highway, and when you slip it into Sport+ mode, it corners with a flat predictability that you can adjust with accelerator pedal inputs. It doesn’t feel as light and tossable as many sports car competitors — that lighter engine versus the 55 and 63 doesn’t seem to translate into superior handling characteristics — but it does convey a sophistication you won’t find in less expensive sports car competitors thanks to its excellent chassis tuning. The brakes always felt strong and supportive, with no fade at all even with hard, repeated use. The SL43’s ride, which feels stiff and a bit bouncy on city streets, tends to smooth out at higher speeds, though this might simply be due to the generally excellent and smooth roads I drove in California. In short, while it still feels a bit too posh and coddling to be considered a sports car on the level of a Porsche 911, it’s more than eager to dance if you happen to have a venue in which it can.

More From Cars.com:

There are some tricks to know. First, you need to keep that little 2.0-liter in its sweet spot, which is mid-range revs and higher. The transmission does a very good job of this without any input, making the flappy-paddle shift-it-yourself transmission largely unnecessary once you’ve put the car into its sportier, more aggressive drive modes. Second, you do need to employ those sportier drive modes. Keeping the car in its Comfort mode makes it more docile (as much as any AMG-branded vehicle can be docile), so you’ll want to choose a sportier setting in order to amp things up to a firmer, more performance-oriented level; doing so results in a rewarding experience for the driver. It’s not the incredibly connected feeling one gets in a Porsche 911, but at least it comes with a more posh, luxurious interior and a style that’s newer and fresher than the Porsche’s familiar silhouette. 

mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 13 interior instrument panel scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 14 interior instrument panel scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 12 interior instrument panel scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 15 interior center stack display jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 13 interior instrument panel scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 14 interior instrument panel scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 12 interior instrument panel scaled jpg mercedes benz amg sl 43 2024 15 interior center stack display jpg

Which to Choose?

So here’s the problem with the SL43: The 2023 model I spent a week with had an as-tested price of $119,785 (including destination), which is a hard sell for a four-cylinder convertible — especially one with a provenance tied to the Mercedes-Benz SL. People expect an SL to have a big engine in it thanks to years of … well, it having a big engine in it. And while it can still be had with a big, powerful V-8 (for now), the idea of a four-banger SL raised a lot of eyebrows among enthusiasts I talked to at the rally event. Its closest competitor is the Jaguar F-Type roadster — for a little while, anyway; the 2024 model year will be the F-Type’s last. The problem with comparing it to the F-Type, though, is that for the price of a four-cylinder Mercedes-AMG SL43, you could get a supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 F-Type roadster with 575 hp. 

The main draw for the base four-cylinder SL43 is that it’s considerably less expensive than its V-8 brothers, but it still features all of those cars’ head-turning style, luxurious appointments and stunning interior tech. It’s a lot of fun to drive if you want to exercise its abilities, but it seems to be a better fit for people who care less about what’s under the hood and more about what color the hood is. Take the badge off the trunk lid and pretend it’s a V-8 if you need to, but know that even the four-banger is worthy of your consideration.

Related Video: 

Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

Latest news