It’s not often we, as motoring journalists, roadtest something which makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention through the combination of exclusiveness, excitement, sheer unadulterated power, supreme technology and stylishness. But when Mercedes comes knocking on your door and offers you the opportunity to drive the new SL63 AMG, you know you’re in for something special.
Something special? Well consider this. Since the SL was introduced — the first was the gullwing 300SL which began life as an out and out race car winning the Le Mans 24-hours in 1952 before the road-going version was developed in 1954 — there have only been five generations.
Following the ‘54 model four years later came the 300SL roadster; the cheaper 190SL was sold alongside these until they were replaced by the 230 in 1963. Further generations arrived in ’71, ’89 and 2001.
This latest model, the SL63 AMG is a facelift of the fifth generation of 2001. Sure it’s not an all-new model, but in SL63 AMG guise it is the most altered model in the latest SL range.
The principal change? Well out has gone the bruising old 5.4-litre supercharged V8 from the SL55 to be replaced by the much-liked 6.2-litre, normally aspirated V8 that AMG has been rolling out across many of its models since 2005. With much more power, allied to a revised chassis and new gearbox, the SL63 AMG promises to deliver an exhilarating experience.
There’s something of an ageless beauty to the SL’s styling; something which is obviously required when a model changes as infrequently as the SL. Longevity in its styling cues is the prerequisite.
Worth noting then that the SL63 — which boasts the new aggressive Mercedes’ nose job — also has AMG-specific details which mirror the Safety Car which paces the race cars during a break in this year’s Formula One World Championship. There’s carbonfibre wing mirrors and rear spoiler, plus a standard rear diffuser. And all this on what is essentially a two-tonne luxury coupé/roadster.
The 6208cc V8 engine produces its 518bhp at 6800rpm and its 465lb ft of torque at 5200. And just for good measure, it revs to 7200rpm. The SL63 AMG also gets a new seven-speed AMG Speedshift MCT gearbox. It’s largely a conventional automatic unit, but for improved response it uses a wet clutch rather than a torque converter. And here’s the fun bit; in the cabin there’s a knob for choosing between four different drive modes – from Comfort, through Sport and Sport+ to Manual, with increasingly faster shifts each time.
Technologically the SL63 is brilliant. It’s fitted with Mercedes’ revised Active Body Control (ABC). This hydraulically-controlled damping system adjusts the pressure of fluid around a spring unit to minimise body movements. If you add the £8230 Performance Package, which also brings a limited-slip diff, larger front brake discs and a different steering wheel, its settings are uprated even further.
And just for good measure, the test car was also fitted with a £2230 Driver’s Package, which includes a driver training course and raises the speed limiter from 155mph to 186mph (yes, where legal, of course!). In essence, the SL63 AMG is as close to a road-going sportscar as you’re ever likely to get.
So, with that in mind, is it any good on the road?
There’s no getting away from the fact the ride is firm — very, very firm — around town. Certainly the damping does its best to contain the movement, reducing bounce to almost nothing. The problem is because the springs are so firm you feel every road imperfection thud up through your spine.
However, as soon as you get the car above 40mph the SL63 feels like a totally different car. Yes you can still sense surface changes in the cabin, but the intrusion isn’t enough to disturb the driver and passenger and the quicker you travel — and boy, the SL63 can travel fast — the better the ride becomes. Even on the toughest section of the roadtest where I pushed the car so hard I averaged only 11.3mpg (correct, 11.3mpg) the car’s sweetly balanced suspension system soaked up the bumps Oh; and did I mention the car was fast? I didn’t? Well consider this. Locked in fourth gear (possible only with the gearbox in Manual mode), 30-50mph takes 3.9sec, 60-80mph 3.5sec and 100-120mph 4.1sec. Standstill to 30mph takes 2.0sec; to 60mph 4.6secs; to 100mph 10.4sec and to 150mph 24.5secs. I think those figures are sufficient for most of us.
Inside the cabin it’s typically Mercedes with everything ergonomically precise. No matter what button or control you touch, press or twist you are rewarded with the feeling of precision engineering and quality. Nowhere is this technology illustrated more than in the brilliance of the folding roof mechanism. Its silky smooth operation is a joy to behold.
So; the new SL63 AMG. Yes it’s not cheap. basic price is £102,075 and by the time you’ve added carbonfibre add-ons and other bits and pieces, don’t expect much change out of £125k.
But boy, if you can afford to buy and run it, the SL63 AMG is sheer brilliance.