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Here Are All the Mercedes-Benz SL Models Ranked From Best to Worst

Later today, I have a review going live with the most powerful Mercedes-Benz SL of all time — but before we get to that, I wanted to take a trip down Mercedes-Benz SL memory lane. The SL came out in the 1950s, and it’s been going strong ever since, having entered its sixth generation for the 2013 model year. Today, I’ve decided to tell you what I think about all the SL models in the past, giving a comprehensive ranking of "best" to "worst" over the last 60 years.

1. 1954-1963 Mercedes-Benz 300SL "Gullwing" (W198)

The original 300SL is not just the finest Mercedes-Benz SL model ever made, but one of the all-time most beautiful vehicles in history. In fact, many people consider it to be the single most beautiful vehicle in history. Sold in Roadster or gullwing-doored coupe body styles, the 300SL is an automotive icon — and it’s one of the coolest cars ever made. Find a Mercedes-Benz 300SL for sale

2. 1963-1971 Mercedes-Benz "Pagoda" SL (W113)

For my entire life, I’ve loved the "Pagoda" SL, so named because the available hardtop looks a bit like a Pagoda when it’s installed in place. The Pagoda SL didn’t have the all-out presence of its predecessor, the 300SL, but instead continued the line of the "baby" SL started by the smaller 190SL. Still, it did it beautifully and gracefully, and its beautiful, simple understated looks were a nice contrast to a lot of other 1960s cars. I’ve wanted one of these my entire life. Find a Mercedes-Benz "Pagoda"SL for sale 

3. 1989-2002 Mercedes-Benz SL (R129)

The "R129" SL was an automotive icon, and it rejuvenated the SL range after the awful, ugly 1980s "R107" model with its bland styling and mediocre engines. This SL looked the part, and it felt the part, too, with impressively solid construction and quality. It was also the first SL to offer in-house AMG models, and most car enthusiasts now know about the amazing SL73 AMG — an SL with an insane 7.3-liter V12, which was later used in the Pagani Zonda. Find a Mercedes-Benz SL-Class for sale

4. 1955-1963 Mercedes-Benz 190SL (W121)

Even though the 1950s Mercedes-Benz 190SL is a beautiful car, it’s always stood in the shadow of its "greater" sibling, the 300SL. The 190SL was built at the very same time as the 300SL, and offered a budget-priced entry into the SL world. Its "baby" SL styling always ensured it never really got the same recognition as the 300SL. But now that the 300SL has become a $1 million car on the collector market, it’s out of reach for most people — so the 190SL is enjoying its day in the sun, with collectors appreciating its beautiful, classic 1950s design. Find a Mercedes-Benz 190SL for sale

5. 2002-2012 Mercedes-Benz SL (R230)

Time hasn’t yet been kind to the R230 SL, which was made throughout the 2000s, as many of these are now just simple used cars — often with a lot of reliability issues, undesirable modifications and low prices. Still, this was a special SL, and history will remember it reasonably well: It was the first SL with a retractable hardtop, it vastly modernized the SL lineup and it offered the unforgettable SL65 AMG, with its massive 604 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque, along with the even crazier SL65 Black Series. Find a Mercedes-Benz SL-Class for sale

6. 2013-Present Mercedes-Benz SL (R231)

The current generation of the Mercedes-Benz SL is fine, to be sure, but little more than that; it features reasonable styling, lots of technology, nice luxury equipment and a smooth driving experience. But the SL has largely fallen out of favor as buyers have started to vastly prefer SUVs, and the new SL just doesn’t have the cachet of most prior models. Find a Mercedes-Benz SL-Class for sale

7. 1972-1989 Mercedes-Benz SL (R107)

The "R107" SL from the 1970s and 1980s is by far the low point of the SL world. Not only was performance absolutely laughable — the top-range 560SL boasted a meager 227 hp and a 0-to-60 time that would now be beaten by a minivan — but North American models featured ugly bumpers tacked onto an already ugly body. Then they came out with a long-wheelbase "SLC" coupe version, bringing things from bad to worse. Unbelievably, prices of these are starting to rise as other collector vehicle prices have recently gone up, proving that a rising tide lifts all boats — even a rusty one with a mangled hull and a motor that won’t start. Find a Mercedes-Benz SL-Class for sale

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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27 COMMENTS

  1. I first saw the R230 in 2011 in Berlin in a small store Under Den Linden (the only full size car that fitted in the store), and fell in love with it. I purchased a R230 model car in the same store and took the model back to Canada with me. I left the model with my MB Salesman and friend … told him “Bill, if you ever get a low mileage trade in of this model, call me I like to purchase it” well it took 6 years and I got the call from Bill in May 2018, he said “Dieter your car is here”. She looked exactly like the one I saw in Berlin, except it was a SL63 AMG. A lady traded her for an SUV with only 37K KM on the odometer. Needless to say I purchased this fine car. In 2013 I found my 280SL Pagoda a 1969. I am considering myself very fortunate to own 2 of those fine cars. Certainly 2 items off my Bucket List 🙂 Happy Motoring … to one and all.

  2. I’ve seen several episodes of Doug now, mostly because he reviews really rare cars, which is sometimes interesting. But, I’ve also driven a couple of cars (my favourite was a caterham – probably the opposite of any american car), but I’m also a very satisfied owner of a ’76 280 SLC, which has a great, high revving engine and a great sound. It brought me easily to Le Mans & the Mille Miglia. Doug, you’re wrong.

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Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a multitude of magazine publications and websites, including here at Autotrader — where he launched the Oversteer enthusiast blog — along with Jalopnik, GQ, and The Week. His YouTube channel has hundreds of published videos and has racked up hundreds of millions of views. Today, Doug lives in San Diego, California, with his 1997 Land Rover Defender 90 NAS, 2005 Ford GT, and 2012 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG Wagon.

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