For over 50 years a Mercedes-Benz SL has sat as the pinnacle of the company’s performance and desirability, although some years were certainly better than others. Remember the original Gullwing of 1957? Beautiful, powerful and the subject of millions of teenage room models. Compared to a 1977 SL 450 with a smog-choked V8, it’s hard to imagine that both could be SLs.
|1. Despite the “6.3” badge and 63 in the name, the SL63 uses a 6.2-liter V8 engine that generates 518hp and 465 ft-lbs of torque.
2. An optional $12,500 AMG Performance Package includes 19-inch wheels, a limited-slip differential, a more aggressive brake compound, a new steering wheel, a stiffer suspension and a top speed of 186 mph.
3. The SL63’s AMG SpeedShift MCT seven-speed automatic transmission lets you shift gears in as little as 100 milliseconds in “Sport Plus” mode and also does throttle-blips on the downshift.
Still, after more than five decades, you’d figure the company has gotten it right by now. And for 2009, the entire line gets a fifth-generation facelift after five years on the market.
518 HORSEPOWER FROM THE AMG 6.2-LITER V8
Mercedes-Benz’ latest overhaul of the SL line includes the AMG performance models too. And while the turbocharged SL600 and SL65 AMG offer twin-turbocharged V12s and dump-truck loads of torque, it’s the relatively simple SL63 AMG that’s aimed straight at the enthusiasts.
If you hadn’t guessed yet, the ‘63’ represents a couple neat things for AMG. The first is that it’s a throwback to the original Munich missile, the 1963 300 SEL 6.3, which was Mercedes-Benz’ interpretation of a muscle car, throwing the 300-hp 6.3-liter V8 from the 600 Pullman limousine into a more reasonably sized package.
The second is that it refers to AMG’s newest high-performance V8 – in this case 6.2 liters, but who’s counting – that’s now stuffed in virtually every Mercedes-Benz model from the C-Class to the S-Class. In SL trim, it puts out 518hp and 465 ft-lbs of torque, which is enough to propel this $135,000 super coupe from 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds. Top speed is limited to 155 mph, unless you specify the $12,500 AMG Performance Package, which pulls the limiter and tops out at 186 mph.
7-SPEED AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION
One of the most impressive pieces of AMG pie is the seven-speed transmission. AMG, not happy with everyone else like Audi, BMW and Ferrari moving to dual-clutch computerized transmissions, tried desperately to engineer its own solution. The result is the AMG SpeedShift MCT, which uses a series of wet clutches to preselect different gears. There are four shift settings – Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Manual – the quickest of which will bang home the next gear in 100 milliseconds, about as fast as a Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano. And it does a perfect “double-clutch” on the downshifts too, blipping the throttle appropriately so you sound like Juan Fangio at his best.
There’s also a launch control system that allows you to show off the SL 63’s prodigious acceleration to your friends at will. Best to hold on tight, then.
Thanks to the seventh-gear, the SL isn’t too bad on the highway with a rating of 19 mpg but in the city it gets just 12 mpg.
The rest of that Performance Package contains the revolutionary items that transform the SL from boulevard cruiser to a true performance icon. They include 19-inch AMG-styled five-spoke wheels, an AMG-spec limited-slip differential, a more aggressive brake compound for the six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers, a new steering wheel and a track-oriented tune for the Active Body Control suspension.
This is one very special machine that doesn’t just feel like a hotted-up SL. No, the way the suspension keeps the body in check, the way the gears bang home one after another, the way that 6.2-liter V8 just howls and spits and roars; it’s truly impressive. It’s also the first one in recent memory to have truly switchable driver aids, meaning off really is off.
While the 63 AMG pushes all the right buttons with its steering and manners, the problem is that being an SL, there are so many luxury toys and niceties that this two-seater weighs in at over 4,274 lbs. Unlike the plain-insane SL65 Black Series, the 63 AMG retains its two-piece folding hardtop and all the gear to make that work smoothly and efficiently.
STUNNING LUXURY INTERIOR
The interior follows the same changes to the SL line, meaning not a lot differentiates it from the older models. But the materials used are first rate, including the perforated leather AMG sport seats, the carbon fiber trim on the doors, dash and gearshift surround and the hand-stitched touches throughout.
The $3,050 Premium Package really only makes sense in cooler climes, seeing as it features heated and active ventilated seats and the Airscarf vents that direct warm air at the occupants’ necks. Keyless ignition and an electronic trunk closer might not be enough otherwise.
In what seems like the ultimate in excess, a panorama sunroof can be optioned for $1,950. Other aids like the $1,140 Parktronic and $2,230 Distronic help ensure you don’t ding anyone else in your personalized, six-figured baby, which is a good thing considering how nice the SL 63 AMG looks on the road.
The front end receives the three-pointed star mounted in against a large, blacked out grille, similar to the latest C-Class, and the angled-off boomerang headlights add some much-needed aggression. Like all AMGs, there’s the usual body addenda of spoilers, ground effects and menacing fascias, but you can immediately spot the original lines that date back to 2003.
The rear sports a quad-exhaust poking out of a blacked-out diffuser. Other ‘subtle’ AMG touches abound, like the chrome-plated 6.3 badge on the front fenders.
Believe it or not, there is a huge amount of competition around this $135,000 price range, including the identically priced Maserati GranTurismo S and the $130,000 Porsche 911 Turbo. Even the excellent Audi R8 comes in nearby at $123,300. Factor in the SL’s drop top, and the competition’s equivalent performance models are either more expensive – minimum $141K for the Porker Turbo soft-top – or nonexistent. Choice at this level will probably come down more to personal brand preference and aesthetic taste rather than out-and-out performance. It’s one area, at least, where the SL beats the Porsche.
So the SL 63 AMG sits in a rather unique place, seeing as it’s both a true wind-in-your-face roadster and a performance-oriented hardtop sports car. Those lucky enough to afford one will certainly enjoy the latest distillation of Mercedes-Benz’ newfound ambition and quality.
Engine noise, performance High-tech automatic transmission Grip, baby, grip!
Just a facelift Poor fuel consumption Excessive option cost