Upmarket, sporting roadster loses half of its cylinders. What about its character?

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Yes, it’s a Mercedes-AMG SL with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. But it’s a lot better than that sounds, and Mercedes has form with this sort of stuff, so stick with us on this.

The precedent is the 190 SL of 1954. Because the legendary 300 SL Gullwing and its roadster successor had a bespoke spaceframe chassis and a then-cutting-edge fuel-injected engine, they were furiously expensive. So to spread the roadster love, the 190 SL was derived from the Ponton saloon, had a slightly less pretty body and was powered by a 1.9-litre four. Despite its leisurely 105bhp, it was a hit.

Today’s four-cylinder SL buyer has to accept far fewer compromises. Save for the round (rather than trapezoidal) exhaust pipes and the marginally less aggressive bumpers, it looks the same as the V8 versions. Which, with its long bonnet, clean lines and big wheels, is pretty good indeed – to my eyes at least.

If you’re buying an SL, please get it in Sun Yellow. It really pops, and the world needs fewer primer-grey cars.

06 Mercedes amg sl 43 fd 2023 round exhausts

The SL 43 is also not short on power. Its M139 engine is a development of the one in the A45. At 375bhp, it has slightly less peak power, but is boosted in two ways by a 48V mild-hybrid system. There’s an integrated starter/generator that can contribute 13bhp but, more interestingly, an electric motor in the turbocharger can spin it up even when the flow of exhaust gas is still weak, thus improving throttle response.

Where the SL 43 might just have one over the V8s is that it’s the only SL that comes without front driveshafts. Add in a lighter front end and alloy wheels that are an inch smaller, and it might just be the keen driver’s choice.

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Driving the SL 43 back to back with SL 55, I found I preferred the 43 in many ways. Straight out of the car park, the steering feels slightly slower (still only about two turns lock to lock) and slightly lighter, but that just serves to make it feel more natural, and once you get some speed up, it communicates really quite nicely.

The whole car feels lighter and more on its toes, diving in to bends more keenly and belying its 1735kg weight, even without four-wheel steering. Get on the power hard out of a tight corner and it’ll even rotate a bit. Those 295-section Michelin Pilot Sport 4Ss take quite a bit of unsticking, so it’s no Toyota GR86, but it helps to make the 43 more engaging than the 55. The taller sidewalls take a bit more edge off the ride too.

08 Mercedes amg sl 43 fd 2023 dashboard

But the V8, oh, the V8. The 4.0-litre ‘M177’ is nothing short of sensational. It's thundering and torquey, so you get to enjoy it even when you’re just burbling through town or accelerating on a motorway on-ramp, whereas you really need to be pushing the SL 43 on a good road to feel the benefits of its lighter front end.

The four-cylinder engine is a marvel of engineering, considering how powerful yet responsive it is. Don’t expect it to etch itself into your memory, though. It smoothly purrs rather than roars, and the gearbox is clunky at low speeds, too economy-focused in Comfort mode, too keen to hold onto revs in Sport mode and a little slow on the paddles. It does the job. A return of 28mpg when driven gently and 18 when pushed is pretty ‘meh’ as well.

And the SL 43 is hardly the bargain SL. It costs £108,165. While it’s very complete and doesn’t necessarily need the addition of options, the same money will buy you a Jaguar F-Type or Lexus LC 500 with – you’ve guessed it – a V8.

In the end, the SL 43 can’t help but feel like a consolation prize meant for those countries that extortionately tax cars with big engines. It’s a good consolation prize, but if you’re in the UK and in the market for an indulgent roadster, you’re just going to seek out something with a V8 or flat six, aren’t you?

04 Mercedes amg sl 43 fd 2023 rear driving

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Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester
As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.