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Last of a Masterclass: We Test the 2020 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Grand Edition

A final hurrah for the current-generation roadster gets us amped to see what’s next.

Billy RehbockWriter, Photographer

Buttery. Velvety. Sumptuous. My fiancée and I kept describing the 2020 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Grand Edition's pillowy yet composed ride quality with the same words we'd use to talk about fine dining. As we talked, we sailed through the night, top down, past Downtown Los Angeles, soundtracked by the purr of the 4.7-liter twin-turbo V-8 engine and the rush of the air. Despite being on sale for more than a decade, the current R231-generation SL-Class still has the elegance one expects from a car wearing the Three-Pointed Star. However, this iteration of Mercedes' two-seater is on its way out, so we decided to take one final look at the sixth incarnation of an iconic lineage.

The SL550 Is Grand Indeed

In its current form, the Mercedes-Benz SL550 has been in production since 2012. It received a facelift for 2017 when it was given a new front fascia among other upgrades including new options, lighting, and a new steering wheel. It also received the new nine-speed automatic transmission, paired with the M278 engine. The slick-shifting gearbox is a great fit for this car, offering smooth gear changes and keeping the 449 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque flowing to the rear tires.

Our test car came equipped with summer tires wrapping the 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels. I had no problem putting the power down. There's so much torque on tap that it's easy to whisk away from a stop light with plenty in reserve. Stomping on the gas provides swift acceleration; Mercedes-Benz claims a 4.3-second 0-60 mph time.

I dropped the hammer in a tunnel a couple times to listen for the exhaust note—compared to its AMG stablemates the SL-Class doesn't have tailpipes that scream for attention. The V-8 growl sounds good, but it's very subdued by the turbochargers. This is fine, because the SL trades in elegance, not shouty performance. It's a refreshing departure from most of the sporty cars on the market today, which try too hard to be sporty by piping in sound and cranking up the suspension stiffness. Instead, the Mercedes-Benz SL550 focuses on elegance, comfort, and refinement.

Mercedes-Benz touts four-corner semi-adaptive suspension on the SL550. Although the facelifted version of this roadster added bodywork to allow for the more complex Active Body Control chassis-management system, our test car didn't have that option equipped. Even so, it rode over the worst patches of LA's notorious I-405 freeway with remarkable poise. My fiancée always pays attention to a certain part of the road around the Wilshire exit when she's riding in a press car to see how well it handles the particularly egregious undulations there, and remarked that this car ironed out those bumps better than any other. That's high praise coming from my astute better half and I'm inclined to agree with her assessment—this is one seriously composed convertible.

Dynamic Evaluation

Fully satisfied with its highway cruising capabilities, I decided to test the SL's mettle on the sweeping turns of Angeles Crest Highway. Top up or top down, Mercedes' roadster coped with the bends with immaculate composure. Within my skill threshold, the Grand Edition convertible offered nothing but thrills, especially with the hardtop roof stowed away. In the throes of a fiery Southern California summer, breathing the fresh air at speed is unbeatable.

After a thorough test drive, I was impressed with the SL550's steering feel, throttle response, and brake pedal feedback. As luxurious as this roadster is, it's remarkably athletic. This being said, the paddle shift mode leaves something to be desired. The transmission programming seems to fight human inputs, so I just let it choose its own gears in the Sport or Sport+ drive mode settings. In these profiles, the transmission downshifts comfortably when called upon and doesn't hang onto gears any more or less than it should, depending on how aggressively I wanted to drive.

In my realm of comfort, the SL-Class operated in lock step. It turned into corners beautifully and blasted into the straights with ferocious acceleration. The standard Active Multicontour seats flex and adjust with every corner, maintaining relaxed bolstering in normal driving while leaping in to snug up against the occupants when the driving gets more enthusiastic. Initially, I thought this might be an irritating feature, but I actually came to rely on the support of the active bolstering by the end of my week in the 2020 Mercedes-Benz SL550's driver's seat.

Special Appointments

The Grand Edition specification adds a prodigious list of optional cosmetic touches plus soft-close doors (honestly this is such a luxurious experience that once you experience them, you'll always check to see if a car has them equipped). The interior of my Grand Edition test car was swaddled in sumptuous Tundra Brown Pearl leather with abounding Golden Olive Pearl accents. The wheels are offset in size, as mentioned before, but also set apart by their Laurel Wreath-adorned hubcaps. Grand Edition badging on the outside and embroidery on the inside completes the visual theme. In today's Instagram-focused hype/specification culture, this car doesn't necessarily stand out with its subdued styling cues. As a driver, I couldn't have cared less. The bodywork is crisp and attractive, even if it's been nearly half a decade since the facelift. The cabin is still a comfortable and serene environment.

The interior, on the other hand, has grown stale in its time on the market. It features all of the old Mercedes-Benz switchgear, including a phone keyboard that looks downright antiquated. The componentry for the hardtop roof is also visible from the inside, and even though it all gets tucked away when the top is down, I expect this is an area on which Mercedes-Benz will improve with the next-generation car.

Despite using an old version of the brand's Comand infotainment system, the Mercedes-Benz SL550 still came equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, although there isn't a super convenient place to stow a mobile device. I tended to just stash it in the center console, which had plenty of space for my Google Pixel 2 XL.

Our test car also touted an array of safety features in the form of the Driver Assistance Package. When driving such an expensive car through unpredictable Los Angeles traffic, it's great to have the halo of aides such as Active Blind Spot Assist among and above other electronic nannies. Given the age of the R231, I found it preferable to shut off most of these systems and enjoy this roadster for what it is—a happy medium between a more pure, elegant age of motoring and the current connected era.

Bye Bye Benzy

The 2020 SL550 Grand Edition is on sale now, but Mercedes-Benz hasn't said how many will be made. Our test car's final price came out to $123,345, just a bit less than $9,000 more than the SL550's $114,700 non-Grand Edition starting price. If you're the type of person who relishes the finer details and wants to own a fitting sendoff to the R231-generation SL-Class, this is the car for you. It's a luxury-forward roadster that stands out in a world of cars that try too hard to feel sporty. One can only hope that the next iteration of this convertible will continue to focus on delivering a smooth ride while still delighting with great handling and fantastic materials.

2020 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Grand Edition Highlights

  • Stout V-8 engine churning out 449 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque
  • 3-second 0-60-mph time
  • Semi-active suspension, great ride quality
  • Quick roof retraction/application
  • Crisp, well-aged styling
  • Refined driving experience

2020 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Grand Edition Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $121,095/$123,345 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 4.7L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/449 hp @ 5,500-6,000 rpm, 516 lb-ft @ 1,800-3,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD roadster
EPA MILEAGE 17/25 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 182.3 x 82.6 x 51.2 in
WHEELBASE 101.8 in
WEIGHT 4,012 lb
0-60 MPH 4.3 sec
TOP SPEED 155 mph