Home » First Drive: What the New Mercedes-AMG SL 43 Lacks in Power Delivery, It Makes Up For in Handling

First Drive: What the New Mercedes-AMG SL 43 Lacks in Power Delivery, It Makes Up For in Handling

by multimill
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The SL moniker for Mercedes-Benz is short for Sport-Leicht, or Sport Light in German. Fitting, as the model made a name for itself through weight reduction, launching as a wispy race car in 1952—one that later spawned an aggressively lightweight two-seat road car whose advanced engineering put it miles ahead of the competition. Eventually straying from those thoroughbred roots, the SL entered periods of weight gain which saw the addition of heavy folding hardtops and the availability of hulking V-12 engines that transformed it from a nimble convertible to a plush grand tourer.

The Stuttgart brand returned to sporting form when its high-performance AMG division took command of the roadster in 2021, lending it more focused capabilities in a svelter form. Now that the latest SL generation has seen two iterations of twin-turbocharged V-8 power in the AMG SL 55 and S 63, Mercedes-Benz is diving into its first four-cylinder convertible in 60 years. The ragtops they are a’changing.

The 2023 Mercedes-AMG SL 43.

The new Mercedes-AMG SL 43 is a return to the model’s lightweight roots.

Mercedes-Benz

Starting at $109,900, the new Mercedes-AMG SL 43 inherits engine tech from Formula 1, similar to that found in the C63 S E Performance, notably an electrically driven turbocharger that reduces lag and helps the 2.0-liter, four-cylinder mill produce 375 hp and 354 ft lbs of torque. There’s a surprisingly loud exhaust note upon firing up the four-banger, and a noticeable chassis hum from the vibrating power plant at idle; from the feeling and the sound of it, Mercedes engineers intend the SL 43 to be an attention-grabber of a different sort than its heftier, silkier V-8 counterparts. The z-fold soft-top comes down in 15 seconds and can be operated at speeds up to 37 mph, a welcome alternative to overstaying your welcome at a stoplight after it’s turned green.

The 375 hp, four-cylinder engine inside the 2023 Mercedes-AMG SL 43.

The 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine produces 375 hp and 354 ft lbs of torque.

Mercedes-Benz

There’s quite a bit of digital integration to the human/machine interface in the latest SL, from the portrait-oriented 11.9-inch touchscreen, which can tilt to avoid glare, to the prevalence of haptic controls to the general lack of mechanical buttons and switches. Some of this works, like the multimedia system’s Zero Layer functionality allowing all major settings to be accessible in the system’s default display. Others, like the slider-operated volume controls and lack of physical track-advance buttons, make the simplest tasks require more attention than we’d like.

The interior of the 2023 Mercedes-AMG SL 43.

Digital integration abounds in the cockpit, from the portrait-oriented 11.9-inch touchscreen to the assortment of haptic controls.

Mercedes-Benz

While both V-8 versions, and particularly the top-tier SL 63, deliver effortless, torquey off-the-line acceleration, their four-cylinder sibling feels noticeably less eager to sprint to 60 mph (claimed to be achieved in 4.8 seconds). The SL 43’s nine-speed transmission offers plenty of gear choices, and the multi-clutch design uses a special wet start-off clutch for smoother acceleration from a standstill. However, the smoothness gained off the line is traded for a mixed bag of sometimes-abrupt gearshifts, especially when the drive mode is in more aggressive settings.

Driving the 2023 Mercedes-AMG SL 43.

The SL 43 is claimed to cover zero to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds.

Mercedes-Benz

The mild-hybrid drivetrain also delivers power with sometimes surprising unevenness, which feels unfamiliar in an SL. After all, this is a model whose buttery linearity has become somewhat of a calling card. Especially from the 1990s-era R129 models onward, cruise ship–smooth drivetrains defined SLs as a sort of sporty take on the “luxobarge,” and the more pugilistic SL 43 marks a departure from that formula. Working to the car’s benefit, though, is an outstanding suspension system that evens out the bumps while feeling controlled and responsive. And an available adjustable damping system goes one step further in offering more options.

What I don’t love about the engine’s power delivery and smoothness is made up for by the SL 43’s handling. A full 353 pounds lighter than the SL 63, the smaller-engined model also claims better weight distribution, giving it more balance when cornering. In contrast to its all-wheel drive SL 55 and SL 63 stablemates, the SL 43’s rear-drive setup helps it feel more nimble and ready to rumble. Whether or not the milder, less satisfying power plant is a deal-breaker for SL shoppers will depend on their level of commitment to spirited driving.

The 2023 Mercedes-AMG SL 43.

The soft-top roof can be raised or lowered in 15 seconds and can be operated at speeds up to 37 mph.

Mercedes-Benz

For loafing around town, this entry-level Sport-Leicht from Mercedes offers all the looks of its pricier siblings while delivering a fine drive, though that satisfaction can drop when it’s driven like it was stolen. The smaller engine also requires fewer fill-ups, offering a respectable EPA highway figure of 27 mpg.

While driving enthusiasts will rightfully stand by the age-old cliché that there’s no replacement for displacement, the cruisers among us might find that, sometimes, it’s also perfectly acceptable to simply drop the top, crank the Burmester sound system, and use the lightweighting advantage for more chill than thrill.

Click here for more photos of the Mercedes-AMG SL 43.

Driving the Mercedes-AMG SL 43.

Driving the Mercedes-AMG SL 43.

Mercedes-Benz



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