The Mercedes-Benz SL R230 buying guide

Mercedes-Benz SL R230

With the new Mercedes-Benz SL R230 being presented in Hamburg during the summer of 2001, Mercedes-Benz’ newest luxury convertible started its carrier. Now it already is a credible modern classic.

Not only was its quad headlight design striking to look at, but a lot had changed in technical terms when compared with its R129 predecessor – a car that had remained in production for 12 years. For example, the Mercedes-Benz SL R230 was the first SL with a fully retractable metal roof instead of the fabric folding top usually found on roadsters. There were also more advanced electronics including advanced ABC (Active Body Control). Just like its predecessors, the R230 SL set a new benchmark in automotive engineering.

It was decided at group headquarters, which was then still located in Stuttgart-Möhringen, that the launch model should make a statement. The first offering was not an entry-level model, but the SL 500 with 306bhp! In the autumn of the same year, customers were able to order an even more potent SL in the form of a supercharged SL 55 AMG with a whopping 476bhp.

Adding appeal to the range, the SL 350 with a V6 engine was added as an entry-level variant. Unthinkable today with times changing, but a V12 SL was also to make its debut. At the beginning of January 2002, the time had come for a 500bhp biturbo SL 600 with the torque of a Leopard II tank.


Classic Mercedes-Benz SL luxury

Nobody really morned the loss of the old manually adjustable fabric seats: leather as standard was perfect for a luxury roadster. Also new were the electronic systems, which were given their own unique names in typical Mercedes fashion. Its premium nature even stretch to the car’s manual, something that was then still bound as a hardcover book. New SL owners could then familiarise themselves with the modern DISTRONIC, TELEAID, and COMMAND systems.

A multifunction steering wheel – which was also electrically adjustable – was part of the standard specification, as was the memory data for the seat adjustment stored in its key. The automatic climate control was also standard on the R230. Daimler thus departed from a long tradition of customers selecting a basic model to then specify equipment and extras to the desired level.


Design of the Mercedes-Benz SL R230

The design was all-new. While the R230’s predecessor was classically designed, Bruno Sacco liked clear timeless lines. This new Mercedes-Benz SL was a child of its time. Curved, slippery lines and those aforementioned headlights. While thoroughly modern, there was a throwback to Mercedes history with a vent located in the front fenders.

2001 Mercedes-Benz SL 500 side

Another technical innovation was introduced in the R230, something that has been the subject of much discussion to date. The Sensotronic Brake Control (SBC) meant there was no mechanical connection between the brake pedal and the master brake cylinder; instead the link was electronic. In conjunction with the fully electronic ESP and Active Body Control – still known to many from the moose test of the first generation A-Class – this roadster advanced driving dynamics and safety in its day. With the new systems fitted to the R230 SL, Mercedes-Benz once again became the pioneer of a new technology that all other manufacturers would gradually adopt.

While Béla Barényi’s safety advancements of the 1950s and 1960s were still imperative, body reinforcements and the introduction of passive safety in the automotive industry was the new frontier. The Mercedes-Benz SL R230 was able to use the TELEAID SOS system if requested, allowing occupants to alert an ambulance should a serious accident occur. Mr Barényi would probably have been very proud of his successors in Daimler development.

Mercedes-Benz SL R230 evolution

The product life cycles were further shortened due to optimised production processes and customer demand for ever newer models. The R230 was given a new look and technical revisions, with its distinctive four headlights disappearing. A new design language was ushered in with integrated single headlights. Its body line remained relatively untouched and was only modernised by changes in detail. One of the most notable innovations was the new 7G-Tronic transmission, which transferred the power to the rear axle like a turbine without any noticeable shifting jerks. It has the additional benefit of delivering lower fuel consumption.

Until that point the SL 600 together with the SL 55 AMG were the crowning achievements in the roadster range, but there was soon to be a new king. In 2006 the SL 65 AMG, equipped with a biturbo V12, produced an incredible 612bhp and 1000Nm torque. The urgent acceleration of this version came very close to NASA’s Apollo mission, but still proved more comfortable than other Italian rivals.


This car’s reliability was of course worthy of a vehicle that is allowed to wear the iconic star on its nose. The R230 series ended in 2011 and was replaced by the stylistically very similar, but completely new, R 231.


Since the Mercedes-Benz SL R230 is no longer available through the Mercedes-Benz Young Star Program, you can safely call it a trustworthy classic partner. Caring for it as a modern classic in a heated garage might be worthwhile as every SL has become a legend in time.

Text Christian Nikolai  Photos Daimler AG, Autosalon Valencia

Author: Classic Trader

Die Classic Trader Redaktion besteht aus Oldtimer-Enthusiasten, die Euch mit spannenden Geschichten versorgen. Kaufberatungen, unsere Traum Klassiker, Händlerportraits und Erfahrungsberichte von Messen, Rallyes und Events. #drivenbydesire

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