PH buying guide: Mercedes SL55 AMG

Off the back of Chris Harris's multi-generational SL drive there's a lot of love in the PH office for the venerable Mercedes roadster. One of the best of the breed is the one you see here and, with the weather taking a turn for the sunny, perhaps the time to consider taking the plunge.

The SL55 AMG was the most powerful road car ever built by Mercedes when it was launched in 2002 and, clearly, one of the most PH-worthy SLs ever. It arrived in the UK in the summer of that year, following on from the R230 SL500 on which it was based, with 476hp from its 5.4-litre supercharged V8. The £89,040 SL55 covered 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds and had an electronically capped top speed of 155mph.

There was immediate speculation about the SL55's true top speed from the moment it was launched. To prove the car's potential, one German car magazine removed the electronic limiter and drove an otherwise standard SL55 to 202mph. However, all UK-spec SL55s come with a speedo reading up to 180mph.

The SL55 AMG proved an immediate hit with UK buyers and the AMG accounted for as many as one in four SL sales between 2002 and the less-than-fortunate facelift of 2008. Power was soon upped to 500hp to prevent the similarly engined E55 outgunning the flagship SL, a further round of revisions in 2006 increasing power further to 517hp thanks to a new higher speed pulley for the supercharger and larger throttle valve.

When Merc brought in its revised styling for the SL in 2008, it took the chance to drop the M113 5.4-litre V8 and replace it with the M156 6.2-litre V8 to create the SL63. For this guide, we'll stick with the M113-powered SL55 that is far more plentiful and popular. Even with this popularity, however, early SL55 AMGs are now into the affordable bracket from around £16,000, which makes them a fine performance bargain.

Owner's view:
"After many years of driving different cars, I eventually realised for me, and possibly others, the compromises Porsche and Ferrari make to obtain outstanding lap times at the track do not translate into good cars for the roads we have. So I thought back to the 55 AMG and realised it did everything you would need in a road car."
Richard Harvey

Buying guide contents:

Rolling chassis
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Comments (50) Join the discussion on the forum

  • slippery 03 Apr 2013

    "I stopped on a mountain road in France last year just to let the caravans go past so I could have another go!"


  • SMS555 03 Apr 2013

    Haven't posted before, felt compelled as there seem to be a touch of anorak negativity in the comments!

    I'm on my second SL55, one of the last ones from 2007 with the 517 bhp engine and other bits which I imagine were part of the SL63 homologation work - the brakes are unlike other SL's, the ABC works faster, stuff like that.

    Before that I had another 2005 my one, and before that a 2003 CL55K. There was also an E55K estate in there somewhere!

    The car is one thing, but that motor is quite another. It is, in my experience, one of the great modern engines - when you depress your foot it moves the car forward seamlessly as fast as your nerves will allow, and the overtaking times are breathtakingly short. I stopped on a mountain road in France last year just to let the caravans go past so I could have another go! I often get up early and go for a 30 mile spin for no real reason - how many cars can you say that about?

    Also - touch wood - none of them have ever had anything serious go wrong with them - and I don't think the MB Tier 1 warranty I got with the current one has ever been needed. So there you are, one happy owner who's done 100k + miles in four 55's without problems. I can't believe I'm the only one!

  • fozzymandeus 25 May 2012

    SLacKer said:
    fozzymandeus said:
    SLacKer said:
    ... as specialist will not touch the SBS system...
    Any excuse for a picture

    No need for me to quote the picture but I am anyway cos it looks lovely.

    Surprised a specialist with STAR won't change the brake fluid - I think that you can switch it into a mode where someone can pump the brake pedal and have the usual effect when the bleed nipples are open, so I don't see the difficulty.

    Discs and pads are a DIY job, somewhat tangentially. You just need to know how to "sleep" the system.

    SBC is a good braking system, however, one additional point to note is that the hydraulic unit (and controller) has a service lifetime. Mercedes are replacing them for free at the moment (and my dealership informs me this will continue to be the case) but it's something to check has been done.
    I was surprised as well but he said something about the pump unit costing a fortune and he doesn't touch them. I fitted new front discs and pads myself and used a hose clamp and left the car closed with the ignition key out.

    Do you have any further information on the service life of the unit. My car is still under MB Warranty and if I can get it done before that runs out then that would be good. Was it a fault in original design?
    Ack! I didn't see this until today.

    I think the SBC controller has a variable service lifetime depending on actuations, so you could, in theory do a hell of a mileage before crossing the threshold, if it's all constant speed cruises where you don't require braking.

    Mine was replaced at 8 years and 45k miles.

    The good news, though is that Mercedes replace it as a specific warranty issue and underwrite the cost irrespective of service history/age. It remains to be seen if they will continue to do this as the age of the cars and the mileages increase. The Bosch brake by wire system was developed at enormous cost by Mercedes and Bosch and Bosch were unable to find any further customers for it. The system has become defunct with the retirement of the R230 chassis and so will remain as an automotive engineering cul-de-sac.

    Edit: it's not actually a failure of the unit, it's Mercedes worrying about the potential failure of a unit and the unit exceeding the tested lifespan, so Mercedes swapping it out as a result of fear of the unknown. There isn't, as far as I am aware, a flaw in the design, apart from overall cost.

  • Vetteran 25 May 2012

    Gouki said:
    In the view of balance to all the mottos and proverbs.....

    The SL55 is an excellent car and I would recommend to any PHer. I have run mine over 47,000 miles (on 70k now) and 3 years with very few problems for a nearly 10 year old car. It is built very well as friends and colleagues would attest to. Please check out my profile for approximate running costs.


    • Leaking boot usually means that drain holes need to be cleaned rather than replacing all boot rubbers.
    • ABC suspension can be purchased from for £385 each with a lifetime warranty
    • Ball joints are £65 to repair not £1200 for new struts.
    The list goes on, but I feel the article does touch on a few these foibles. My SL55 will likely be replaced in 2 years, but it will be difficult to find a car that can cover all bases so well.....

    SL65 perhaps?
    Buy an SL65 AMG you will not be disappointed. Having owned an SL55 pacecar version some years ago with which I was very happy I started to think a 2004/5 SL65 looked an interesting prospect considering rarity, 604bhp and price. It is a different car but when you drive one you will understand why they were more expensive than the 55. The best way I can describe it is like a better looking (imo) more compact Bentley GTC and on the motorway the performance is at a different level certainly the equal of my previous car a 530bhp 997 Turbo.

  • vpr 23 Apr 2012

    I drove these when new back in 2002-04 and bought another just 6 months ago

    I had forgotten what a sensational car they are. Brutally fast and the noise is incredible.

    I bought an 04 with 29k fitted with the F1 pace car pack......When parked out on the drive I would choose to drive it over most of my other stuff.

    Very entertaining and great value

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