First Drive: 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG

 

With the SL 63 AMG version of the new SL, “Snap” wonders, Does the added power and dynamism at the price pay off? Do the owners care? Ever butchered a farm animal?

Mercedes SL roadsters bearing V8 engines are a bit of a dream niche for many. They are generally not my clan of people, but, hell, to each his own. Few of these cars come along that grab the attention like the SL 63 AMG and I’ve just been among the first to pummel the southern French B roads in one.

Honestly speaking, the $105,500 “base” SL 550 with 429-horsepower 4.7-liter turbocharged V8 is the pinnacle of Côte d’Azur or Santa Barbara or Miami South Beach cruising style and spirit, though it is not ever to be confused for a sports car. Actually, I have been pretty hard on this starter SL since while sitting in it and driving I had never felt so far away from the road in all my life. The emphasis on dynamics here is effectively “0” on a scale of 1 to 10 when keeping in mind the class of car we’re talking about. It made me bleeding angry.

So, I was eager to jump in the new SL 63 AMG – estimated base cost $147,000 – and feel how successfully (or not) the without-direct-rival big two-seater transforms itself into a carver of corners, be they French, Swahili, or American.

I first tried the SL 63 with optional Performance Package, taking power from 530 hp up to 557, torque from 590 pound-feet to 664, and the price from $147k closer to $157k. Add the carbon ceramic brake discs, exterior carbon fibre details and all else, and the price arrives at nearly $175,000. That starts to border on idiot money for an albeit more sophisticated German Corvette ZO6.

For those with the coin, however, it will be worth the investment so far as I can tell from the storming drive. The steering is thankfully not of the new electrical type as seen on the SL 550, so executing the many curves was a dramatically more pleasurable deal. No, still not Porsche 911 Turbo-like and a light-year or two away from the Ferrari California, but it is not meant to be these cars.

As on the base SLs, the entire body of the new-generation SL 63 AMG is formed in aluminum, a move that peels off 275 pounds when compared to the previous SL 63. The aluminum also adds a large measure of rigidity as well, so the behavior at full chat is much more steady now than previously. The SL 550 acted as though the fancy new body and the chassis were developed on two separate planets that rarely communicated with each other. Then the bastard-child steering numbness helped nothing. The SL 63 fixes most of this.

Aerodynamically, the SL 63 at a Cd of 0.27 slips through the air unlike any other in this high end drop-top world and with roof shut the wind noise is truly contained even while cruising quickly on three-lanes. While I was coddled nicely in full-on Designo optional leather treatments, even the non-optioned interior is a place of fine finish and surprisingly spacious comfort.

While the SL 550 jets to 62 mph in just 4.5 seconds, the SL 63 AMG with its “M157” 5.5-liter bi-turbo V8 can do the same in 4.1 seconds flat when set up with the Performance Pack, 4.2 seconds when stock. AMG bosses tell me, however, that the fully opted SL can do this acceleration in 3.9 seconds in reality. To me on this day, it really felt the business, too. Most satisfying of all is that even with the added performance, the SL 63 improves its average fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by roughly 30 percent over the previous car.

Besides the much better steering, the AMG-upgraded Active Body Control adaptive suspension in optional Sport spec is much more sophisticated and precise than anything I felt in the SL 550. (Where I apparently felt little or nothing.) Wheel and tire sets are 19-inch in front and 20-inch in back, the big compound brakes with gold calipers or optional $12,625 ceramic brake discs with red calipers stopping the action with authority all day long. That brakeset price makes me laugh sardonically, by the way. Nuts. The two ABC settings – Comfort and Sport – are nicely different and can be calibrated independent of how you have the seven-speed gearbox set up.

That 7G-tronic snapping automatic transmission is in its very latest version on this SL 63 and playing within the gears was a clearly more satisfying experience than what I normally have in some other AMG treatments. The downshifts into corners are rollicking and well-timed, upshifts fairly brisk, and it is all proudly announced through the four-tip chromed exhaust system by Boysen. While on fuller throttle in tunnels, few other cars can yell as well and it’s a really nicely spirited voice compared to previous exhaust systems used by AMG.

Mercedes-AMG board member Tobias Moers – one of the goodest guys in power like that – confesses that Job One at this point at Affalterbach HQ is to develop a damned transmission that isn’t just mostly up to the task, but that is finally as sensational as the performance traits of the engines they create. This must happen as soon as possible.

The great United States of America starts getting its SL 63s as of late July. Thinking of the two trims available – with or without Performance Pack – I ended up preferring the standard car without ceramic brake discs to the hotted-up model; the value (if we can talk that here) is better and the SL 63 AMG in original setup simply feels more “of a piece” compared to the up-tuned car.

And ain’t nobody do it like I do, girl.

TESTED

Mercedes SL 63 AMG

Price: $146,695 ($157,000 w/Performance Pack)

Engine: 5.5-liter twin turbocharged V8

Power: 530 hp (557 hp)

Transmission: Seven-speed 7G Speedshift automatic; rear-wheel drive

0-60/top speed: 4,1 seconds (4,0)/155 mph (186 mph w/Driver’s Package)

Economy/CO2: 22.8 mpg/372g/mile

Equipment: Active suspension and body control, sport-tuned dampers, performance exhaust, carbon-fiber exterior detailing and trunk lid, optional carbon ceramic brake discs

On sale July 2012

GOOD

Despite its still not inconsiderable mass of 4,068 pounds, the new SL 63 AMG with V8 heart really delivers on thrills in this genre of sporting GT. The truer steering and AMG chassis upgrades make this muscle car the SL to get if you’ve got the means. That exhaust roar is quite convincing.

NOT SO GOOD

For the total sporting aspects, if compared to a Porsche 911 Turbo or Ferrari California, the SL 63 seems to have given up trying to compete. On the other hand, the Merc has nailed down the comfort and cabin fitment portions of this niche roadster segment. And, c’mon, it ain’t too shabby.

[“Snap” words & pics, some pics by Andreas Lindlahr]

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