Tested: SL 65 is a bad-tempered bull

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Copy of mo SL65

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Latest Mercedes SL65 AMG is lighter and easier to drive than predecessor.

Place a bad-tempered bull in a china shop, kick him in the family jewels, and watch the porcelain-flying fun.

That was more or less the effect of driving the last-generation Mercedes SL65 AMG. When kicked in the metaphorical nether regions (ie. applying the throttle with the stability control switched off), the car turned into a nostril-flaring, tyre-shredding beast as 1 000Nm of torque fed to the rear wheels announced itself in a very sudden and robust way.

Sure, the sensible thing to do was leave the stability control switched on, but the way it muzzled that V12 twin-turbo engine was cause for frustration. It was difficult to launch the car with any 0-100km/h heroics. If you left the anti-skid system on, the car would bog down as you booted the throttle, with long power pauses as the electronic brain scrambled to get a rein on this ballistic bull.

With the stability control switched off, rubber was simply turned into smoke.

Consequently you always had to drive the SL65 as if there was an egg under the power pedal, rather than experiencing the visceral thrill of ramming it to the floorboards and getting a commensurate power rush.

MORE CIVILISED BEAST

In the second-generation SL65, action equals reaction. Benz’s engineers have harnessed the power and trained the beast to be more civilised, which is not to say they’ve gelded it. On the contrary, power in AMG’s force-fed 6-litre engine has increased from 450kW to 463 (though they’ve sensibly decided not to fiddle with the existing 1 000Nm torque figure because, seriously, unless you’re planning to tow the Union Buildings you won’t ever need more grunt than this).

But what’s happened is that the monstrous muscle is now more accessible, and this new SL65 isn’t the snarling, snapping lump of tyre-shredding fury that was its predecessor. Part of the reason is an AMG rear-axle differential which helps ensure the engine output is put down on the road as effectively as possible.

You get the satisfaction of being able to plant the throttle and, instead of the traction nanny having a power-sapping panic attack, or the tyres painting lurid black stripes, the car just gathers pace like an Airbus on takeoff. It spears towards the horizon with rail-like directional stability, which is comforting in a car that gets to a (governed) top speed of 300km/h.

In our Vbox tests at Gauteng altitude the big Benz rocked to 100km/h in just 4.4 secs and dispatched the quarter-mile in only 12.6, making it one of the quickest-accelerating cars we’ve ever tested.

Interestingly, though, it was a touch slower than the the SL63 we tested a few months ago, which is powered by a smaller 5.5-litre turbocharged V8 but is also 105kg lighter. This SL63, equipped with an optional Performance package which raised outputs from 395kW/800Nm to 415kW/900Nm, managed four seconds to 100km/h and 12.1 secs over the quarter-mile.

Besides being lighter, the SL63 also had the advantage of a launch control function which the SL65 doesn’t have.

The SL65 employs an AMG Speedshift Plus 7G-Tronic transmission with economy, sport and manual modes which change their gearshift patterns according to your mood and your need to save fuel.

SHARPER ROUND THE BENDS

Aluminium has replaced steel in the new-generation SL’s bodyshell, resulting in a 170kg weight loss, and you can feel it in the way this big roadster ducks and dives through corners with more sharpness. I got the chance to thrash the SL65 around Kyalami for a few laps and it handled more like a sports car than a bloated grand tourer.

The standard steel brake discs are pizza-sized and very effective at bringing this big roadster to a quick halt, but if you’re planning some track work there are more fade-resistant ceramic versions available as a R120 000 option (yup, that’s not a misprint!).

The weight-saving aluminium body, in conjunction with a new start-stop feature, has made the SL65 a less thirsty beast, and while our test car didn’t achieve Benz’s claimed 11.6 litre per 100km consumption figure, the mid-15s it managed weren’t too bad.

Like its predecessor, the new SL65 AMG is equipped as standard with the ABC active suspension system which can be set to bump-soaking or corner-attacking mode. In the comfort setting this car’s a very easygoing daily drive, quite happy to deal with scarred and bumpy roads that haven’t been e-tolled.

The electric folding roof turns the car from coupé to roadster in less than 20 seconds, and the boot’s an impressively roomy 364 litres even with the roof stashed in it (504 litres with the roof up). A clever party trick is the Magic Sky Control feature where the glass roof can be switched to light or dark at the push of a button.

The central styling feature of the new-generation SL65 is the new “twin blade” radiator grille with louvres whose profile recalls that of an aircraft wing. The AMG spoiler lip and the diffuser-look rear apron are also difficult to miss, as are the 19” mags

The two-seater cabin is the lap of luxury with its nappa leather seats in a special AMG diamond pattern, and there’s carbonfibre detailing to rev up the mood.

VERDICT

Lighter, and tamed of its wheelspinning unruliness, the new SL65 AMG is a raging bull that can run through a china shop without knocking any porcelain off the shelves.

With its V12 engine and 1 000Nm, this car is the pick of the SL range if it’s all about bragging rights, the Johnny Walker Blue Label version of the line up if you will.

Of course, if the R2 684 190 pricetag is a tad outside your budget, the SL63 with Performance pack is a little quicker and saves you 400 grand. -Star Motoring

FACTS

Engine: V12, 6-litre twin-turbopetrol

Power: 463kW @ **

Torque: 1000Nm @ **

0-100km/h (Gauteng) - 4.4 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 300km/h

Consumption (tested): 15.5 litres per 100km

Price: R2 684 190


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