Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve longed for some proper grand touring: a long journey through beautiful scenery with someone I love in something stylish, comfortable, and fast. So perhaps I wasn’t at my most objective while being seduced by my recent trip to California’s gorgeous wine country with my wife in the brand-spanking-new 2024 Mercedes-AMG SL43.
Our journey started in San Francisco, where the Manufaktur Hyper Blue SL43 waited for me at the airport. After stashing my luggage in the trunk and backseat—the SL’s trunk is barely big enough for a medium-sized suitcase—we set off for some typical San Francisco tourist traps because we were, ya know… tourists. We saw the Full House house (my wife is a huge fan) and Fisherman’s Wharf before setting off across the Golden Gate Bridge for Sonoma County. I’ve crossed the Golden Gate several times before but it was my wife’s first time and seeing it at night, sans roof, left quite the first impression.
This sort of trip is exactly what this car was made for. So how did the new SL43—the latest and slightly controversial four-cylinder addition to the storied SL lineage—hold up during some actual grand touring? For the most part, it was wonderful but it certainly wasn’t perfect.
|2024 Mercedes-AMG SL43 Specs
|Base Price (as tested)
|2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder | 9-speed automatic | rear-wheel drive
|375 @ 6,750 rpm
|354 lb-ft @ 3,250-5,000 rpm
|7.5-8.5 cubic feet
|EPA Fuel Economy
|21 mpg city | 27 highway | 23 combined
|It still feels like an SL but the four-cylinder is underwhelming, without much of a fuel efficiency benefit.
The 2024 Mercedes-AMG SL43 is a unique addition to the SL’s long, rich history. Not only is this new generation the first to be built solely as an AMG model, the 43 is the first to use a four-cylinder engine in a very long while. If any SL enthusiasts are offended by a peasant’s engine in what is supposed to be the pinnacle of luxury grand touring, I feel you. There’s certainly something underwhelming about sinking into a gorgeous, two-seat AMG roadster and firing up the engine only to hear the gravelly groan of four cylinders. Sure, it comes to life with a bark but it’s no substitute for a proper V8.
That’s especially true when the car it powers looks as good as this. It’s stunning, especially in Hyper Blue with its long hood, short rear deck, and muscular wheel arches. While it isn’t quite as pretty as the Maserati Gran Turismo or as unique as the Lexus LC500 Convertible, it’s the best-looking SL since the R129 generation and made for a seductive companion on our four-day Californian journey.
If there’s an area where the SL43 doesn’t feel quite up to SL standards, it’s inside. Visually, the cabin is gorgeous, with a waterfall-style infotainment system and center stack, wonderful seats, stylish aviation-inspired air vents, and a sporty-looking steering wheel. And, for the most part, it’s a lovely place to spend some time. However, there are a few materials that would feel subpar in a $40,000 C-Class, making them feel incredibly out of place in a six-figure SL. For example, both the gear selector and wiper stalks feel cheap, the air vents look cool but feel Hyundai Elantra-grade in the hands, and the piano black touch buttons on the center console have a squishiness to them that doesn’t feel very premium. It’s a far cry from the bank-vault-grade cabins of the R129. Also, with the roof up, outward visibility is atrocious.
Driving the Mercedes-AMG SL43
Some SL owners will bemoan the four-pot under the SL43’s miles-long hood but there are some advantages. One is weight, as the 2.0-liter engine is far lighter than the twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 used in other SL models. The other is the drivetrain that comes with it. The SL43 is the only rear-wheel-drive SL, which not only makes it more playful than the all-wheel-drive models but further reduces weight. Hence, the 3,990-pound four-pot SL is precisely 353 pounds lighter than the V8 SL63. And with 375 horsepower and a 0-60 mph time of 4.8 seconds, the SL43 certainly isn’t slow, carving up some of the stunning roads connecting Sonoma County and Napa Valley with plenty of power.
Its nine-speed auto-swapped cogs admirably as well, without ever putting a foot wrong during my four days with it. Did I yearn for an engine that matched the beauty and excitement of the car’s looks? Of course, a good V8 or even V6 would have been lovely. But the four-pot did its job admirably.
Our grand tour thankfully provided me the opportunity to test the SL43 in a variety of different roads and conditions to really put it to the test. We drove it in dense city traffic, street parked it in suburbia, cruised on the freeway, carved up scenic twisty roads, climbed thousands of feet of elevation, and then descended back down. Through all of it, the AMG SL43 never blinked. It was smooth and comfortable when it needed to be, composed and dynamic when I asked it to be, and stylish and quiet when the mood struck. It may only have a four-cylinder engine but the newest entry into the SL family feels like a worthy member.
Sure, its steering is completely numb but so is almost every SL’s. Numb as it may be, the AMG’s steering is quick and precise, which allowed me to place its long nose with ease. It also rode beautifully, despite its low-riding suspension, optional 21-inch wheels, and low-profile tires. California’s worst freeway surfaces were dispatched with ease. The only real complaint with its drive is the piss-poor turning radius, which made parking a chore. Aside from that, the SL43 is a joy to drive, especially over long distances.
The Highs and Lows
There’s a lot to love about the Mercedes-AMG SL43, even though it isn’t as fast or as thrilling as the V8 versions. It looks sensational, rides beautifully, and has more than enough power. But there are a few standouts that really make it feel special. Mercedes’ now-famous Air Scarves have been around for years but having warm air directly on our necks allowed us to stay toasty with the top down in 40 and 50-degree weather. The seats themselves are also lovely and never grew tiresome during our many hours behind the wheel. Few cars are as well-rounded of long-distance companions as the new SL and it’s the little things Mercedes has learned over decades of SLing that make it so great.
Even with my rose-tinted vacation specs and the charm of its beauty, I still found some flaws. For instance, the roof controls are idiotic. First, you have to press a mushy touch button on the bottom of the touchscreen, which brings up the roof menu, then slide the roof’s toggle bar to the open position, and hold it there for 15 seconds. Since the roof controls are built into the touchscreen, you also have to wait for the MBUX infotainment system to fully load when the car starts to operate it, and that doesn’t feel very premium. Mercedes also built all of the wiper controls into the turn signal stalk, thus eliminating a stalk by the column-mounted gear selector. But there are too many controls packed into one stalk and it’s confusing. The engine also sounds pretty lame, even in its sportiest modes and at full chat. When a sporty car looks as good as the SL43, it should sound good, too.
Mercedes-AMG SL Features, Options, and Competition
The SL43 is the entry-level model in the AMG SL lineup. At its $111,050 starting price, you’d expect to get a healthy standard equipment list and you do. As standard, the SL43 gets massaging seats, a heated steering wheel, 19-inch wheels, active LED headlights, a Burmester surround sound system, and a surround-view camera.
As far as competition goes, there isn’t much. Few cars in the SL43’s price bracket are true grand tourers. The Lexus LC500 Convertible and BMW 840i Convertible are its closest competition. The Maserati Gran Cabrio (the convertible version of the new Gran Turismo) will also be among its toughest competitors when that finally debuts. All of those cars are excellent, though, and it’s hard to place the SL43 among them. The SL43 certainly has the least interesting engine of the bunch, even when compared to its competitors’ entry-level engines. BMW and Maserati offer six-cylinder engines with infinitely more character and the LC500’s glorious V8 is about as exciting as engines get.
I’d be lying to you if I said I paid much mind to the SL43’s fuel economy while I was on vacation. I had far more exciting things to pay attention to. However, I will say that during four days in California, driving through much of San Francisco, then into wine country, and back, I covered about 250 miles in total and still had a little more than a quarter of a tank left. And I drove it as quickly as my frightened wife would allow.
According to the EPA, the SL43 gets 21 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, and 23 mpg combined. That’s 2 combined mpg more than the twin-turbo V6 Maserati GranTurismo, 5 more than the V8-powered LC500, and 1 less than the six-cylinder BMW 840i Convertible. Is it worth having a four-cylinder engine in a six-figure GT car, or is the small mpg-hit worth having a more exotic engine? I’d argue the latter.
Value and Verdict
It’s hard to discuss value for a car that’s completely unnecessary. Six-figure convertible grand tourers without usable backseats and small trunks aren’t exactly things you need to find value in. Customers buy them because they want them and can afford them. There isn’t much logic involved. But I’ll take a stab at it anyway. At $116,300 as-tested, the SL43 is around $16,000 more than the competing BMW and $10,000 more than the comparable Lexus but undercuts the rivaling Maserati by almost $60,000. However, all three of those cars come with far more interesting engines and better performance. If style and interior comfort are what you prioritize in your grand tourer, though, the SL is tough to beat for the money.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the AMG SL43 and it was a fantastic vacation companion. It helped my wife and I make great memories, provided a ton of fun, and let us travel in style. Taking a proper grand tour has always been something I’ve dreamed of, but I never had the means to own a car that could do it the right way. The 2024 Mercedes-AMG SL43 allowed me to live that dream. So despite its small flaws and underwhelming engine, it will always hold a special place in my heart.
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