Used car buying guide: Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
3 August 2020 - autocar
Values for the first bespoke model produced by Mercedes’ performance division are holding strong, and for good reason
We know what Mercedes’ performance division is capable of when given free rein by the high-ups in Stuttgart. AMG’s new GT Black Series packs more power than the McLaren 720S, the A45’s engine is the most powerful four-cylinder unit in series-production and the forthcoming One hypercar is, to all intents and purposes, 2016’s title-winning F1 car with numberplates.
However, when the SLS burst onto the scene in 2010, it was something of an unknown quantity. AMG had made a name for itself producing unhinged, V8-packing versions of Mercedes’ premium saloons, but here was a purpose-built supercar that had to at once launch AMG as a stand-alone brand, carry the flame of its McLaren-developed SLR predecessor and do justice to the legacy of 1954’s inimitable 300 SL ‘Gullwing’. No small to-do list, but don’t let the long nose fool you: this car is no Pinocchio. As a debut bespoke model, the SLS did for AMG what Please Please Me did for The Beatles – although with much less twisting and a lot more shouting.
Some saw Affalterbach as making a rod for its own back with the SLS’s overt stylistic and promotional nods to what was once the world’s fastest road car. But these doubts were soon quelled by the ferocity of its 563bhp 6.2-litre V8 – so wildly reworked from that used in the C63 that AMG gave it a unique engine code: M159.
With a 0-62mph time of just 3.9sec and a top speed of 196mph, the SLS was well-placed to take on the Ferrari 458, Lamborghini Gallardo and McLaren MP4-12C, and it still raises heart rates today.
The SLS’s accurate handling, super-quick steering and detectable rigidity also impressed our testers, even if the low-speed ride was really just too firm for boulevard cruising.
More potent still was the GT version, which arrived in 2012 with a 20bhp boost, slicker gearchanges, uprated suspension, new wheel designs and bespoke interior options, including the coveted quilted leather that commands big money today.
The ultra-rare and even more brutal Black Series, launched in 2013, headed up the range with 622bhp and a characteristically imposing bodykit. However, most people can remove this from their watch list because, even when an example does pop up for sale, the asking price is going to be well north of £600,000.
In fact, all variants are holding their value extremely well, to the point that you would have to seriously weigh up the SLS’s investment potential versus its performance capability in light of more modern competition (Lamborghini Huracán Evo RWD for £164,000, anyone?).
The lower end of the market is dominated by early coupés and convertibles, which are harder to sell, due to their lack of gullwing doors. But given prices were topping out at about £100,000 just six years ago, it stands to reason they won’t come back down any time soon. If you have the urge and the means, act now.
How to get one in your garage
An expert's view
Tom Jaconelli, Romans International: “The SLS is approaching modern classic territory. It came down to about £100,000 in 2014, bottomed out and has since come back up. There’s a big price difference between top-spec, low-mileage examples – some people want £180,000-£200,000 – compared with those with 30,000 miles, which you could get for £115,000-£120,000. That’s because collectors are looking for ‘the ultimate one’. A Black Series will be more than double that, and the Final Edition, which barely ever comes to market, is £300,000-£400,000.”
Engine: The bespoke V8 is highly strung but robust and dependable. Just be ready to average only 15mpg in daily driving. Expect to pay around £500 for an A service and up to £1000 for a more comprehensive B service. Change the oil and oil filter every 10,000 miles.
Gearbox: The Getrag dual-clutch seven-speed automatic gearbox was lambasted for slow shifting in pre-2012 cars, so Mercedes offered a free software update in 2013; check this has been carried out. It’s also worth noting that most specialists view the gearbox as a sealed unit, so any faults generally result in total replacement, with a long wait while a new unit is built to order.
Bodywork: High purchase and maintenance costs mean the SLS is customarily driven and stored carefully, but it’s still worth poking around underneath for scrapes and signs of accidents. The gullwings open wide so are easily damaged on adjacent cars and walls, so check the bottom edges for scratches. Make sure the convertible’s roof opens and shuts smoothly and firmly in 11 seconds.
Tyres: Rubber doesn’t usually live for long on the SLS, given its propensity for powerslides and 1620kg kerb weight. New tyres are easy to find, but budget around £250 per corner for Michelin Pilot Sport or Pirelli P Zero items and rotate them every 5000 miles.
Brakes: Carbon-ceramic brakes are highly sought after and were often specified despite being one of the priciest options. They substantially strengthen stopping power and weigh 40% less than the standard brakes, but some find them too hardcore for regular use, and a replacement set of calipers and discs will set you back at least £8000.
Also worth knowing
The SLS is one of the most spec-sensitive supercars of its era, with wild variations in valuation between seemingly identical cars. Buyers are prepared to pay the extra for the Bang & Olufsen sound system, carbonfibre interior trim package, reversing camera and carbon-ceramic brakes.
How much to spend
£100,000-£114,999: Roadsters with around 25,000 miles on the clock.
£115,000-£139,999: Low-mileage convertibles and well-kept coupés with full service history.
£140,000-£179,999: Immaculate garage-stored examples with carbon-ceramic brakes, the Bang & Olufsen stereo and carbonfibre trim.
£180,000 and above: Final Editions and one of the 15 RHD Black Series cars built for £749,990.
Mercedes SLS AMG, 2012/61-reg, 27k miles, £134,950: With nearly 30,000 miles on the clock, this 2012 SLS may be considered leggy, but it has a full dealer service history, three previous owners and desirable items including the quicker-shifting gearbox. Also steel brakes, but that’s better if you’re not a fan of track days.