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What Car? says

3 out of 5 stars

For It's a premium luxury open-top car that cruises well

Against It's expensive to run and a little old-fashioned

Verdict A quick, comfortable well-built Mercedes

Go for… SL320

Avoid… SL280

Mercedes-Benz SL Open
  • 1. Check the automatic gearbox carefully, as they can jump out of gear. If the problem is terminal, it could cost more than £3000 to fix
  • 2. Avoid models that have high mileage and those where the leather is starting to look a little worse for wear
  • 3. Any car that has an unreasonable amount of smoke coming out of the exhaust will cost you dearly later on
  • 4. Check the condition of the soft-top hood carefully
  • 5. Of all the various versions, the SL320 that was introduced in 1998 is the best
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Mercedes-Benz SL Open full review with expert trade views

This is a massively over-engineered vehicle that was designed to give the best possible ride at high speeds. And, with virtually no shudder in the cabin, even with the top down, it feels bullet-proof. However, you do get a lot of wind noise where the windows meet on the 5.0-litre model.

On the road, the SL is smooth, fast and luxurious, with comfortable seats. Performance is stunning and, if you're feeling adventurous and flush for cash, go for the 5.0-litre V8 or even the 6.0-litre V12. Both are devastatingly quick and will take you to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph.

Even the smaller engines, the 2.8 or the 3.2-litre, are enough to give you an entertaining ride. And the only note of caution is that, while the SL is great for European motorways, it's a bit too wide for British villages. The only other complaint is that the controls seem a little understated for the quality of the cabin. Otherwise, it's well built, and you’ll be unlucky if you hear any creaks.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Buyers keener on the V6s when it comes to value and running costs

James Ruppert
Used car guru

The SL open-top came with the choice of an electric roof with auto rollover bar or a steel hard top. So, shop round to get whichever you prefer.

As for other kit, you're better off the newer the car you buy. Climate control was introduced on the 5.0-litre as standard in 1996, for instance, and in 1998 the 6.0-litre got a CD multi-changer as standard.

Likewise, from 1998 the 280 came with an electronic stability programme, leather seat trim, heated front seat, rear child seats and an electrically adjustable steering column. At the same time, Mercedes launched the SL320 and SL500 Anniversary Limited Editions which included a blue soft-top, Evo II 17-inch alloy wheels and a special boot-mounted CD changer.

As far as engines are concerned, the most sensible option is the 320, which will get you to 60mph in around 7sec. That’s plenty fast enough and has the added benefit that you won’t spend your life pulling into petrol stations.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Electrical faults mean reliability is poor overall

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct

The original list price of a 6.0-litre SL was £80,900 so, thanks to the evils of depreciation, a used SL can be something of a bargain. However, in every other respect, it's anything but cheap.

Running costs are prohibitive, for a start. All SL models are in insurance group 20 and the best fuel economy you can expect is 24mpg from the 3.0-litre version.

To cap it all, Merc's traditional reputation for reliability has waned over the past few years – electrical glitches have caused the shine on the three-pointed star to dull somewhat. So, on top of the regular running costs, there's a strong chance you'll need to shell out for repairs.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Buyers keener on the V6s when it comes to value and running costs

James Ruppert
Used car guru

There's a whole host of potential problems, kicking off with automatic gearboxes that can jump out of gear. If the problem is terminal, you’ll be looking at a repair bill in excess of £3000.

Also, look for rust around the base of the hood and check that the air-con systems work, as they can be a little temperamental and costly to fix. Likewise, some models have had problems with the dashboard bulb failure warning light showing when all the bulbs are fine, and the sat-nav system is a little unwieldy even compared with aftermarket units.

Try to avoid models that have high mileage and those where the leather is starting to look a little worse for wear; anything that has an unreasonable amount of smoke coming out of the exhaust is going to cost you dear later on, too.

And, if you're looking at a 1995-96 model, check that the work set out in the 2001 recall (following some instances of airbags deploying unintentionally) has been done.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Electrical faults mean reliability is poor overall

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct
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