Mercedes SL63 AMG is roadster heavenComment on this story
In the words of cult musician Rodriguez, I wonder.
I wonder how Mercedes-Benz and AMG manage to balance the tightrope of luxury versus speed.
I wonder how much power is too much power.
And I wonder just how fast the new SL63 AMG would be if it had stayed more true to its Sport Lightweight designation.
Not that Mercedes hasn’t put concerted effort into the all-new SL’s diet plan. At 1845kg this specific model is about 125kg lighter than the SL63 it replaces, and we can thank wads of aluminium for that.
The new SL’s body shell is almost entirely made from the stuff (barring a bit of steel in the windscreen surround), and so is much of the suspension.
The carbonfibre bootlid structure will also get boy racers all giddy, and I love the way Merc has left the bottom side unpainted so its inconspicuous weave is revealed only when up.
But why, pray tell, would Mercedes go to all the trouble of making a lightweight bootlid and then go and fit a motorised self open and close mechanism that only negates what was done in the first place?
Why construct the firewall bulkhead from aluminium if you’re going to mount two heavy Bang & Olufsen subwoofers there?
Why shed so much mass only to put it back on with a Magic Sky Control roof panel (which is spectacular by the way), electronically adjustable, heated and cooled and Airscarf-equipped seats, and a six-disc DVD changer?
The contradictions epitomise Mercedes and AMG, and while all these cushy extras might make more sense in the lesser SL500 derivative, I’d prefer my Sport Lightweight AMG model even more sporty and lightweight.
But then again, I’m not sure the SL63’s power-to-weight ratio could get any more lopsided. As it is there’s enough gusto to spin the back wheels on a whim and, when fitted with a R100 000 optional Performance Pack that ups power from 395kW asnd 800Nm to 415 and 900 respectively - as was our test unit - this rear-wheel driven convertible is borderline cuckoo.
I’ve never seen a traction-control system light have conniption fits as early and often as it does here, and if you have the onions to switch it off completely, the 285/30 R19 rear tyres will simply refuse harmonious relationships with the road.
The Race Start function will however, when activated, perform electronic counselling sessions so that rubber can most effectively make peace with tar - but be warned, such sessions can be stormy.
We managed to launch the SL63 from 0-100km/h in four seconds flat (that’s two tenths quicker than what Mercedes claim) and covered the quarter mile in a bonkers 12.1 seconds. Not only is this the fastest Mercedes we’ve yet tested, but it’s the fifth quickest car full stop, behind a McLaren, two Porsches and a Nissan GT-R - all of which were all-wheel drive.
So again, I wonder how quick it would be if it were even lighter.
As you probably already know, AMG’s 6.2 V8 has been tossed aside to make way for the new 5.5-litre biturbo unit that’s now replaced its bigger-capacity brother in every Mercedes body except the C-Class and SLS. The altitude compensators bolted to each side thankfully do no harm in sound suppression (turbos usually do) and are tuned with a very naturally aspirated feel.
There’s almost no whoosh sensation as per most turbo cars, and there’s certainly no lag. That flickering ESP light proves it on every pull off.
As crazy as it sounds, we’re as impressed with average fuel consumption as we are with grunt, with our test unit showing around 15 litres per 100km. It’s nowhere near Mercedes’ insane claimed figure of 9.9, but it’s also nowhere near as bad as we’ve seen in other cars with this level of shunt.
RIDE ADJUSTS FROM FIRM TO VERY FIRM
An auto start/stop function can take part credit, but in truth I preferred driving with it off. The split second on start-up between brake pedal release and gas pedal application, often resulted in heavy, uncomfortable clunks through the drivetrain.
The ride adjusts from firm to very firm via a control knob in the console, but I still think it’s an acceptably sprung daily driver. I’m also pleased with the ride height, as my driveway, which normally loves to chew up front spoilers, never had a go at this SL’s. It is a very wide car however, so choose your parking spots wisely.
MECHANISED WORK OF ART
As in most convertibles today, the retractable hardtop is a mechanised work of art. What it takes away in luggage space when open, it makes up for with cabin insulation when closed. When all sealed up, this could really be a grand touring coupé. Some scuttle shake is evident, but most will hardly notice.
The Magic Sky Control function mentioned earlier is a standard feature in the 63, and as its name implies “magically” changes from transparent to tinted glass at the push of a button. The new SL63 AMG is priced at R2.12-million before options, or as tested here with Performance Pack and other extras, R2.34-million.
Expensive, yes. But it’s less expensive than three AMG models behind it in our Quarter Mile Kings list. Bargain.
How does Mercedes and AMG balance luxury and performance? The answer is perfectly. How much power is too much? I’m not sure yet, but as far as rear-wheel drive chassis go we’re getting close. The even more powerful SL65 with its biturbo V12 is certainly pushing power and traction boundaries because the 63’s scary enough. How much faster would this SL be if it were even lighter?
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