First Drive: Mercedes-AMG SL 43 – Agility Over Power

Mercedes-AMG SL 43

Mercedes-Benz’s SL, short for Sport-Leicht or Sport Light in German, has a storied history rooted in weight reduction. It emerged in 1952 as a lightweight race car, eventually evolving into a nimble two-seat roadster known for its advanced engineering. However, over time, the SL gained weight with the addition of heavy folding hardtops and massive V-12 engines, transforming it into a plush grand tourer.

In 2021, Mercedes-Benz returned to its sporting roots when the AMG division took charge of the roadster, making it more focused and svelte. Now, the latest SL generation introduces its first four-cylinder convertible in 60 years, the Mercedes-AMG SL 43.

Priced at $109,900, the SL 43 features engine technology borrowed from Formula 1, including an electrically driven turbocharger that minimizes lag, allowing the 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine to produce 375 hp and 354 ft-lbs of torque. Upon starting the engine, you’ll notice a surprisingly loud exhaust note and a noticeable chassis hum, making it clear that Mercedes engineers intend the SL 43 to be an attention-grabber.

The convertible top can be lowered in just 15 seconds and operated at speeds up to 37 mph, adding convenience to the driving experience. The latest SL incorporates significant digital integration, featuring an 11.9-inch touchscreen and haptic controls. While some aspects of this technology work well, others, like the slider-operated volume controls, can be a bit cumbersome.

Compared to its V-8 counterparts, the SL 43 offers less enthusiastic acceleration, taking 4.8 seconds to reach 60 mph. The nine-speed transmission provides ample gear choices, but the gearshifts can be somewhat abrupt in more aggressive driving modes. The mild-hybrid drivetrain occasionally delivers power unevenly, deviating from the SL’s usual smoothness.

However, the SL 43 excels in handling, being 353 pounds lighter than the SL 63. It boasts better weight distribution, offering improved balance during cornering. The rear-wheel drive setup contributes to its nimbleness. Whether the less powerful engine is a drawback depends on your commitment to spirited driving.

For casual city driving, the Mercedes-AMG SL 43 combines the aesthetics of its more expensive siblings with a pleasant driving experience. Its smaller engine also translates to better fuel efficiency, with an EPA highway rating of 27 mpg.

While driving enthusiasts may insist that there’s no substitute for engine displacement, those seeking a more relaxed experience can simply drop the top, enjoy the Burmester sound system, and appreciate the advantages of lightweighting for a smoother ride over pure excitement.