Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - SL-class - SL63 AMG convertible
Fantastic engine, brilliant exhaust note, quick shifting automatic
Room for improvement
Sky-high price, still feels like a two-tonne car, starting to look a bit dated
15 Apr 2009
WITH an astounding 386kW of power and 630Nm of torque, there is no better place to test the SL63 AMG than the race track.
It is simply not possible to stretch the legs of this remarkable machine on public roads without breaking the speed limit or a range of other laws.
Luckily, we were able to explore its ability on a race track when Mercedes-Benz took over the Albert Park track for a day before this year’s Australian Formula One Grand Prix.
We were only able to do a few laps, but that was more than enough to get an idea of the potential of this potent convertible. We weren’t able to test it on the road, so forgive us for not being able to assess how the car behaves on country roads or rutted city streets.
This generation Mercedes-Benz SL is starting to get on a bit, despite a mid-life exterior redesign, but it is still one of the most elegant convertible sportscars on the market.
It is not as sharp as a Porsche or a Ferrari, but it is not meant to be. To me, this is more of an elegant cruiser with cracking pace when required.
The SL350 V6 version now has a bit more spice, thanks to an upgraded engine, but still is not that quick. Somehow, at $232,813, it is very much the entry-level model.
Most people would aim for the SL500 to hear a nice V8 exhaust note, even if it isn’t all that much faster and costs $320,731.
Then there is the car that we are testing today, the SL63, at $401,235.
Believe it or not, this is not the most expensive vehicle in the range. There is also the V12 SL600 with 380kW and 830Nm at $404,413 and the completely-over-the-top SL65 AMG twin turbo V12 with 450kW and 1000Nm, which would be a lot of fun if you happened to have a spare $492,331 lying around.
All of these prices are breath-taking.
So, is the SL63 really worth $401,235?
Well, that depends. To most of us, no, it isn’t, but if you won Tattslotto or inherited a huge amount of money then perhaps it might be.
It is an awesome car, accelerates like a ballistic missile and sounds so good that if you had a bottomless bank account then we could see the appeal.
The best part of driving the SL63 on the Albert Park track is the sound.
As anyone who has watched the Formula One cars at the circuit can attest, the concrete barriers of the street circuit magnify engine noises.
The SL63 is so loud with the roof down that it doesn’t really need amplification, but boy does it sound good when its exhaust note bounces of these concrete walls.
Even with a helmet on, the sound of this menacing V8 is stirring.
The guttural thumping note instantly indicates that this is a large and very powerful V8 engine.
It sounds wonderful at any speed, but it is the angriest approaching 7000rpm at the cutout.
Down the straight, with concrete barriers on both sides, it feels incredibly quick.
I’m not sure what top speed we reached as I was too busy concentrating on the braking marker, but another journalist said it would have been well past 200km/h.
Mercedes sensibly insisted we keep the traction control on, fearing the red mist might descend as soon as we drove out on to the track which was slightly moist after some early morning rain.
You need to be careful accelerating out of the corners with a car this powerful anyway.
That said, the electronic nanny does allow you a little slip before it intervenes.
For the record, the SL63 actually has less power and torque than the monstrous supercharged 5.4-litre V8 of the previous SL55, but that matters little because it has so much shove that you hardly notice that it comes up a bit short on paper.
While the heavier CLS coupe started to overheat and limit the engine revs to cool everything down, the SL63 had no such problem.
The SL63 has a revised seven-speed automatic transmission which now has a wet clutch instead of a torque converter. It can now shift faster than before.
Of course, you can leave the transmission in regular automatic mode or choose the manual mode and even a sport setting.
This is the mode you want for a track and it not only shifts super-fast, but also adds a fantastic throttle blip each time you change down.
The SL63 might be a two-door roadster, but it is not a light car and weighs in at close to two tonnes.
You are aware of its bulk at all times and especially through the tighter corners.
The brakes in the test car were very touchy and took a while to get used to. This may be because the car had been pounded around the track since dawn.
I was surprised by the SL63’s adaptive seat bolsters the first time I turned into a corner.
The side bolsters are inflated when turning for increased lateral support.
It feels strange when the bolters fill with air and then deflate as you come out of the corner. You might get used to them after a while, but for me they remain a distraction.
The SL63 is loaded with lots of other luxury gear that you expect of a car that costs about as much as many houses these days.
Its interior has all the soft Nappa leather and carbon-fibre trim that is expected, but it is starting to look a little bit dated.
As for the exterior, views on styling are ultimately subjective, but the reworked nose of the SL doesn’t do it for me.
The previous generation, with the twin headlights, had a genuine aggressive presence and a sleek, complete design.
This one looks a bit awkward, and the new headlights appear to be an afterthought.
The SL is still imposing because it is a big expensive-looking convertible, but you would be hard pressed to say that it looks beautiful.
It is unlikely to make it on to the bedroom walls of young car nuts.
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