Skip advert
Advertisement

Mercedes-AMG SL43 2023 review

Does an electrified four-cylinder powertrain bring enough glamour to the entry-level SL?

Evo rating
Price
from £108,165
  • A defter, less complex chassis than its V8 siblings
  • But at the cost of character. Hardly cheap, either

How much is too much for a four-cylinder car? It’s a question posed on an increasingly regular basis, it seems, as Alpine concocts ever more indulgent A110 specials and Lotus launches its Emira i4. Count this new SL43 as part of the conundrum too. It uses a 376bhp tune of the M139 2-litre engine now shared with Lotus but wearing a much stockier £108,165 price tag than any Emira.

Advertisement - Article continues below

It’s lightly electrified here, in fact, an F1-inspired solution seeing a 48v mild hybrid system countenance turbo lag at low revs. Nevertheless, its peak outputs do seem modest given the hot rod heritage of AMG-badged roadsters and its 4.9sec 0-62mph time looks good on paper but doesn’t translate very dramatically to reality.

> 2024 Mercedes-AMG GT previewed at Goodwood Festival of Speed

Which might be exactly what you’re looking for if you’re sold on the SL image but don’t want to rumble uncouthly around on the coattails of a V8 engine. Claiming 31mpg – but offering something closer to 20mpg when driven harder – the SL43 doesn’t play a convincing efficiency card like a fully hybrid solution might. While it’ll save you at least £40,000 over any other R232-gen SL, a six-figure sum ensures it’s still no bargain. So what is its USP?

Skip advert
Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

Well, much of the complexity that beleaguered the SL55’s eCoty 2022 appearance is absent. Compared to the four-wheel steered, four-wheel driven V8s, this SL43 sticks with tradition and keeps steering at the front and power delivery at the back. The suspension is a passive coil spring setup and all told, you’re carrying around over 230kg less than the halo SL63, a good portion of that nipped from the front end. You feel it right away, with sharper, cleaner responses that show 4WS to be superfluous when a car’s physical mass has been kept under control.

Not that I’m claiming a 1.8-ton roadster is a lissom track special, of course, it’s just hopping from 63 to 43 is a more flattering move for the car with half the cylinders. The SL43’s ride is less heavy-handed too, though it’s no softie and still makes a little too much fuss over the sort of pockmarked tarmac us Brits suffer more of than ever right now. Older SLs – those not developed under AMG’s wing – might have glided over these surfaces with a little more grace. But luckily the SL never loses its composure, more obviously transmitting bumps and ruts through the squeaks and rattles its interior seems to have already developed. 

Advertisement - Article continues below
Skip advert
Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

An interior that’s a mixed bag in terms of quality – some of the materials are sublime, others are tangibly cheaper – as well as ergonomics. The digital instruments are usefully configurable and always legible, leaning into technology in just the right way, while the large central touchscreen never seems to sit at quite the right angle not to distract, despite being electronically adjustable. And the less said about trying to whirr the SL’s newly fabric roof open and shut with the screen’s sliding scale, the better.

I’d better tell you about the engine. Being brutally honest, it’s not inspirational enough to sit naturally at this price point and should be considered a mere component of the car rather than its central installation. It sounds reedy low down, the excitement and tension only building with revs, and I reckon you’ll quickly develop a habit of keeping its sports exhaust switched on. Luddites better divert their gaze, as I’m about to espouse the virtues of augmented sound. The bassline provided here has just the right timbre to distract you from the engine’s mechanical noise and leads to an agreeable backdrop whether you’re driving roof up or down. 

It’s a punchy powertrain, too, and seems to work more constructively with the nine speeds of this automatic gearbox than the V8-powered SLs do. It never, ever replicates their character, of course. But it’s here to replace the six-cylinder engines which previously kicked off Merc’s roadster range, and under that spotlight, downsizing isn’t such a crime, especially given how refined this powertrain proves at a sensible cruise, ambling along effortlessly at very low revs. As for its hybrid element? You’ll have to be looking and listening hard to notice any of its involvement. Mild really is the word.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Skip advert
Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

All told, this is a neat and mostly convincing iteration of SL. While its sharper dynamics and more rear-led balance seriously impress alongside the much pricier SL63, the drop in character from eight to four cylinders is stark. Certainly stark enough to deny the SL43 the status of bona fide driver’s car, I’d say. But for those who’re simply smitten with the svelte styling of the latest SL, the entry car answers most questions they could reasonably ask of it.

Price and rivals

Priced from £108,165 – or around £120,000 with a few options – the SL pits itself against some very talented rivals. A Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet starts at £107,000 and narrowly pips the SL43’s performance figures, offering 380bhp and a 4.4sec sprint to 62mph as well as some welcome flat-six atmosphere. 

If it’s the SL’s edgy looks you’re sold on, but you crave aural theatre to back them up, then the still-fresh Lexus LC Convertible comes solely with a nat-asp 5-litre V8 and costs £106,385. Healthily undercutting them all is the BMW M4 Convertible, possessing more brutish dynamics yet more useable rear seats.

Mercedes-AMG SL43 specs

EngineIn-line 4cyl, 1991cc, turbocharged
Power376bhp @ 6750rpm
Torque354lb ft @ 3000-5000rpm
Weight1810kg
Power-to-weight211bhp/ton
0-62mph4.9sec
Top speed171mph
Basic price£108,165
Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement

Most Popular

Ford Mustang GT 2024 review – old school in all the right ways
Ford Mustang GT – front
Reviews

Ford Mustang GT 2024 review – old school in all the right ways

We loved the new Ford Mustang in track-focused Dark Horse form – how does the standard GT fare?
23 May 2024
BMW M135i 2024 review – a match for the Volkswagen Golf R?
BMW M135i review
Reviews

BMW M135i 2024 review – a match for the Volkswagen Golf R?

BMW’s hot hatch is a good car, but no longer a unique one, and misses the mark for pure fun
22 May 2024
BMW M340i xDrive Touring Fast Fleet test – 6000 miles in the six-cylinder estate
evo Fast Fleet BMW M340i xDrive Touring
Long term tests

BMW M340i xDrive Touring Fast Fleet test – 6000 miles in the six-cylinder estate

The six-cylinder M Performance estate departs the evo Fast Fleet, confirming a renaissance for the everyday BMW
20 May 2024