Road tests

New Mercedes-AMG SL 43 2023 review

The four-cylinder SL 43 offers more usability than its V8-powered siblings, but it lacks true AMG excitement

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

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The SL 43 has all the kerbside appeal of its more expensive siblings and some extra usability, but with AMG taking the reins for this generation of SL we’d hoped for a little more excitement from behind the wheel.

The SL has been around for almost 70 years, which makes it the oldest nameplate still offered within the Mercedes model line-up, but the latest Mercedes SL is an AMG creation. The decision to take the grand touring SL and inject it with AMG performance from the get-go is quite a substantial one and something Mercedes needs to get right. 

When we drove the new SL in ‘55’ guise earlier this year it fell slightly short of the BMW M850i Cabriolet in a premium, sporty convertible twin test. Now it’s the turn of the SL 43, which ditches V8 power for a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder with hybrid assistance - the first for an SL. 

The SL 43 obviously doesn’t have the grunt of the 55 nor the 63 model but it’s not puny. A power rating of 376bhp and 480Nm of torque help to provide a respectable 4.9-second 0-62mph time and it’ll go on to a 171mph top speed. 

So does this mean the entry-level 43 makes the rest of the range redundant? Well, not really. Even though the SL has been billed as a luxurious grand touring cabriolet since its inception, for the majority of its life we’ve enjoyed a V8 soundtrack and the four-cylinder just can’t compete in this regard. There’s some turbocharged wooshes and rather contrived pops from the exhaust to listen to but the powertrain lacks the theatre we’d expect of a fully fledged AMG car. 

The SL 43 doesn’t feel as quick as the figures above suggest, either. Even with a kerbweight of 1,810kg, the in-gear acceleration is great, thanks to the hybrid system which minimises lag by spinning the turbocharger using the electric motor to improve response. Around town and in low-torque environments, the 48-volt electrical system feeds a belt-driven starter generator for a 14bhp boost for short periods. The new system feels perfectly matched to the nine-speed automatic gearbox, itself delivering quick yet seamless changes. 

Despite the heft, the 43 initially seems like the driver’s choice within the SL range. It’s 140kg lighter than the SL 55, thanks to the smaller engine but also due to a rear-wheel-drive set-up, opposed to the four-wheel-drive 55 and SL 63. 

Chuck the SL 43 into a bend you’ll notice the front end bite, although this isn’t always communicated through the steering wheel; squeeze the throttle mid-corner and there’s a satisfying shimmy from the rear. That’s about as far as the SL 43’s driving dynamics go, it doesn’t possess the thunderous performance of its V8-powered siblings but it doesn’t feel like a sharpened, driver-focused handling tool, either. The brakes are worth a mention though, they’re the same as you get in the 63 which might sound like overkill but they really are fabulous. 

The SL 43 feels like a big car and this notion never really goes away, especially when you’re slinging it around country roads. You can specify active rear-wheel steering and there are optional adaptive dampers to improve its cornering ability, plus the AMG Dynamic Plus Package, which includes active engine mounts, an electronically controlled limited-slip differential and a 10mm ride height reduction. 

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The usual selection of driving modes appears on the rotary knob on the steering wheel (with its own screen depicting various symbols), ranging from Comfort to Race. The latter gets a more aggressive setting should you opt for the AMG Dynamic Plus Package. 

The SL 43 is happiest on a cruise. As standard, the SL 43 comes with 20-inch wheels and the ride is excellent with the adaptive dampers of our Premium Plus version. Perhaps it’s the extra tyre sidewall height or reduction in weight, but the 43 was certainly more comfortable than the 55 we tested. Mercedes quotes over 30mpg economy for the four-cylinder engine compared to just over 20mpg for the V8, which is a decent chunk but not something we expect most SL buyers will fuss over. 

You also sit quite low in the SL, which means with the roof down there’s not too much wind buffeting. You could quite happily leave the roof down all day and your only worry would be getting sunburnt rather than having messy hair. 

It might be the base model, but the SL 43 gets a 360-degree camera, a heated steering wheel, heated seats, Mercedes’ ‘Airscarf’ neck warmers, wireless smartphone charging and a suite of safety systems – you’re well-catered for in the 43. 

In our Premium Plus version we also had the augmented reality assistance which displayed the road ahead on the 11.9-inch touchscreen with arrows and directions. It’s a distracting piece of technology which we’re yet to get to grips with. The slide function on the central screen to lower and raise the soft-top is also infuriating and we’re not sure if the screen’s automatic tilt feature is all that useful. 

The SL is also billed as a four-seater, but it’s best to think of the rear seats as extra luggage room because no one will be comfortable back there. That extra space for luggage will definitely come in handy because the boot capacity stands at measly 213 litres, and the high loading lip for it isn’t great either. 

A starting price of £108,165 gets you into the SL 43 Touring, rising to £117,165 for the Premium Plus. That sounds like a lot before you remember the cheapest Porsche 911 Cabriolet is roughly a grand cheaper. We’re not sure if the boon of having AMG develop the cheaper model makes much sense here because the powertrain seems like it’s better suited to a comfortable cruiser. 

If the Mercedes SLK (or SLC is it became known later in life) was still around, would the 2.0-litre SL 43 exist? Maybe not, but what is certain is the 43 offers something different to the V8 models and at almost £40k cheaper with the same eye-catching looks, the 43 isn’t without appeal.

Model: Mercedes-AMG SL 43
Price: £117,165
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Power/torque: 376bhp/480Nm
0-62mph: 4.9 seconds
Top speed: 171mph
Economy/efficiency: 30.4mpg
On sale: Now
Senior news reporter

A keen petrol-head, Alastair Crooks has a degree in journalism and worked as a car salesman for a variety of manufacturers before joining Auto Express in Spring 2019 as a Content Editor. Now, as our senior news reporter, his daily duties involve tracking down the latest news and writing reviews.

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