13 Mar 2013

Driven - Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG Roadster

Matt Hubbard reviews the 5.5 litre V8 Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG and finds it wanting for almost nothing.

I'd spent a day with Mercedes-Benz.  I'd driven the cars I thought I should drive that were new and would fill a hole on Speedmonkey, good consumer advice with a dollop of opinion and do my best to at least try and acknowledge fuel consumption and CO2.  I had one hour left.  Time to take a car out for a spin just for the hell of it.

I'd seen the SL 63 AMG on the list of available cars.  I had eschewed it for a B Class.  I reviewed the SLS 63 AMG roadster last year, one of my first ever reviews.  I'd loved it.  Immense car, and that wasn't just a newbie getting excited about anything fast and new.  I'd driven the Jaguar XKR-S the week before.  The SLS 63 AMG is a proper, manly, hairs on it's chest sports car.

And the SL?  Well it doesn't have that extra S does it.  But, like I said.  I had an hour.  Why not?

Key handed over.  Life signed away on a piece of paper.  Walk to SL 63 AMG.  Love the paint.  Cerussite Grey matt metallic.  Kind of like gunmetal grey.  No depth to it, lots of character.  If paint can have character.

Clamber in.  Low roof line but no harder to get in than the CLS Shooting Brake.  Lovely interior.  Real, proper luxury.  Nothing faux about any of the materials.  Deep red leather.  Real carbon trim.  Leather dash surface.  Alcantara headlinings.  Real metal buttons, paddles, knobs, switches.  The steering wheel swathed in suede and leather.

The seat supportive and just firm enough, the driving position perfect.  Legs stretched out, just how I like it, arms slightly bent.  Hands at ten to two or quarter past three on the wheel depending on how involving the drive is.

Overly complicated Mercedes controls aside this is one of the more perfect cabins I've spent time in.  Electronic key doesn't need to be inserted anywhere.  Press Start.  Engine fires.  V8 rumbles.

There was no sheet of paper on the passenger seat to tell me how much it cost or anything about it.  I hadn't even noticed the bi-turbo badge on the flank.  I thought it was the old 6.2 AMG V8.  It wasn't.  The SL 63 AMG is powered by the new 5.5 litre twin-turbo V8 with 564hp.  I was fooled.

I has almost zero turbo lag.  It emits an AMG growl which turns into to an explosive cacophony when the revs rise.  It occasionally makes a small explosion when asked to drop a gear under hard acceleration.  The SL 63 AMG makes a good noise.  It is a worthy successor to the 6.2 V8.  It's just a pity the sound is muffled so much in the CLS 63 AMG.

On the road and the steering is light but provides adequate feedback.  The drive is involving and the chassis is finely balanced.  The CLS 63 AMG Shooting Brake wasn't as well balanced and I constantly fiddled with the suspension and gearbox settings when driving it.  The SL 63 AMG requires no such inputs.  It drives fine in whatever mode, but is probably best left in Sport+ with ESC still on.  564hp overcomes rear wheels easily and, on the road, ESC is required so as not to end up embedded in a wall.

The only annoyance was the gearbox.  Premium manufacturers love their automatic gearboxes.  I don't.  It's always a second or two behind when I would change gear in a manual.  Even in Sport+ mode I found the gearbox wanting.  It never gets tangled in knots but it's just not fast enough to respond.  As such even the most talented of throttle jockeys would struggle to tame it's inherent oversteer if traction is lost, without ESC enabled, and if it decides it wants to change gear halfway round a corner.  Which, sometimes, it does.

You could cruise in this car for hours and hours.  If I was told to drive to the south of France in it I'd  find my passport and jump in.  You feel great.  People like it.  At a set of traffic lights an adjacent van driver leaned out of his window and gave me the thumbs up.  I rewarded him with a foot flat 0-50 run.  He enjoyed it.  I could see his thumb still waggling out of his window in the rear view mirror.

This isn't an ECO car.  It drinks petrol for your enjoyment.  It's USP is the massive and massively loud response to a sudden and vicious boot of the throttle in a straight line.  It does this so well you want to do it over and over.  You burn petrol just for the sheer bloody hell of doing it.

I enjoyed my hour in the SL 63 AMG Roadster.  It costs a massive £139,715 with all the options in the test car, and £110,760 with no options.  It's no track car.  It is more suited to the road, and on the road it excels in almost everything it does.  If this is on your shopping list, and you have the budget, give it a go.  You might just fall in love.


Car - Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG Roadster
Price - £110,760 OTR (£139,715 as tested)
Engine - 5.5 litre, V8, petrol, twin-turbochargers
Transmission - AMG 7 speed semi-automatic, which drives the rear wheels
Power - 564 hp
Torque - 664 lb ft / 900Nm
Weight - 1845kg
0-62mph - 4.2 seconds
Top speed - 186 mph
Fuel consumption - 28.5mpg combined