The Mercedes-Benz SL is a luxury sports car that gets huge respect thanks to that famous badge and a serious slice of style. In standard form, it's plenty quick enough, but if you want 27 extra horsepower, 100Nm more torque and entry into a slightly more exclusive club, the AMG version is the only way to go.
This new model, the sportiest in the SL range, boasts a host of improvements over the previous car, most notably a lighter, more talented aluminium chassis that delivers better handling and improved efficiency.
Adding the AMG spec to a Mercedes model gets you huge wheels, a mean but modest bodykit and an all-round beefier aesthetic. This transformation isn't always a complete success on the SL. Some colours, particularly solid reds, can make the car look fussy and over-styled. Surprisingly for a car of this size it looks good in white, and the matte silver option helps to suck some of the bulk out of the shape. Get it right and the SL AMG looks mean and purposeful rather than glitzy.
The SL prioritises comfort even in AMG spec, so you'll be well-looked after once you climb aboard. The seats are extremely comfortable, with some models getting enormously-complex massage functionality with heating and cooling. There’s stacks of space up front -- hardly a surprise given that it doesn’t offer rear seats -- and the length of the car means even the boot is generous. If you want to fold the roof then you need to pull down the boot divider which restricts the amount of space you can us, but helpfully you can punch a button and the folded roof tilts up a few degrees to allow you to extract your luggage.
Performance & handling
Mercedes-Benz bangs on about the numerous weight-saving aids applied to this new model, but it's still fairly hefty. That hardly matters, though, because the car is fitted with the twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8 seen in bigger AMG models, and this unit delivers mighty amounts of power and torque.
The SL 63 AMG punches past slower vehicles like they're going backwards. Its gearbox isn’t always on your side, though. The fastest mode, Sport+, mode gives you the snappiest automatic shifts but it doesn’t always give you the right gear. It has a manual mode, but you need to shift earlier than you think in order to avoid butting against the rev limiter.
Begin to push the SL AMG through the bends and it’s arguably even more impressive. Its bulk seems to fade away, and you can pitch it hard into a tight bend like it's a much smaller car. The steering is nice and sharp with good weighting. There’s faint understeer when it's pushed hard, but this can be turned into fancy power-sliding oversteer if you bury the throttle momentarily. The brakes are strong and stand up well to sustained, high-speed driving along challenging roads.
Economy & environment
The SL 63 AMG is big, heavy, packs a 500 horsepower engine and has a weighty metal and glass folding roof to lug around, so it's no Prius. That said, Mercedes-Benz has worked very hard to shave weight and improve the efficiency of its engines.
It has the full suite of fuel-saving tech like thermal management and a stop-start system, which seems a little incongruous in a car of this performance, but if it nets you a few extra miles between fill-ups then it has to be worth it. The car delivers just shy of 30mpg, which isn't bad.
Equipment and value
An SL 63 AMG costs a heap of money by anyone’s standards, but at least it comes packed to the hilt with kit. Try this for your standard equipment list: DVD changer, Nappa leather, heated electric seats, carbon fibre trim, illuminated sill plates and an IWC Swiss clock to name just a few. A standard car will want for very little, but on the other hand if you’re spending this kind of money then you probably want the earth -- and Mercedes-Benz will oblige.
You can add the neck-level heating (called Airscarf), massaging and ventilated seats and a selection of audio upgrades by Harman Kardon or B&O. Essentially if you want it, you can have it -- for a price.
Mercedes-Benz has always paid close attention to safety, and has often used the SL as a technical showcase for new ideas in this area. Aside from the expected ESP and airbag kit, this car features Mercedes’ clever Pre-Safe system, which prepares the car for an accident by tightening the seatbelt and priming the brakes if it thinks the worst is about to happen. If you’re going crash in any two-seater drop-top, this is the one to choose.
You need to be very good at something, or incredibly lucky to be able to afford an SL 63 AMG, but there’s no better way of showing off your success than being behind the wheel of this iconic sports car.
Avoid certain colour combinations and you can have a visually-appealing machine with towering performance, remarkable comfort and tons of the all-important feel good factor. It manages to judge the fine balance between sporty and comfortable, so it's lots of fun when you want to play, but relaxed when you want to cruise.
BMW’s M6 Cabriolet will run it very close and arguably will be a shade sharper to drive, while Jaguar’s XKR-S Convertible is fun but a little flawed in comparison. For many the SL will be the default choice.
Model tested: Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG
Engine: 5.5-litre petrol
Acceleration: 0-62 in 4.2 seconds
Top speed: 186mph
Emissions: 231g/km CO2