For those of you familiar with the glacial pace of Mercedes-Benz SL development, prepare to be alarmed. Just four years after it was launched, here’s the facelift. It’s okay, calm yourself. Mercedes clearly did. This is one of those mild tweaks, as befits a car that Mercedes, presumably, will be disinclined to throw vast sums of development money at because of the small numbers it sells.
Britain is its second-largest market, where fewer than 1000 of them a year find owners. So mild facelift it is. Most notably, the front – the face, if you will – has been, er, lifted. It’s now a bit more reminiscent of both the rest of the current range and the first SL, the racing one that the modern SL doesn’t otherwise particularly resemble. AMG’s GT is Benz’s racy car these days. The SL is a luxurious two-seat roadster, even when equipped with a 5.5-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 that puts out 577bhp, which we’ll major on here.
The other options are the SL400 (a 3.0-litre V6), the SL500 (a 4.6 V8) and the AMG SL65 (6.0 V12). All of those have two turbos apiece because, let’s face it, a 6.0-litre V12 wouldn’t be sufficient without two turbos. The 63, though. At £114,100, do you need it over a £73,805 SL400 or the £82,850 SL500? Unlikely, but somehow a car like the SL feels like it wants a V8. And if you’re going to have a V8, I’m inclined to think it’s worth having one that somebody has made as rowdy as the AMG engine. The 63’s motor makes 577bhp, which, when driving a 1845kg car, means performance is fast-sports rather than supercar quick.
It can reach 62mph from rest in 4.1sec and is limited to 155mph. All versions want four-point-something, mind you, so none of ’em is slow. But only one makes this sort of noise. So it sounds like a sports car. Does it drive like one? It’ll do a passable impression of one, yes. Don’t think that it ever rides anything other than well, although truly agile it is not. But it is willing, and bear in mind what this car is asked to do: it weighs nearly two tonnes because there’s a roof in place, making it as near as damn it as quiet as any coupé around, which can be lowered into the boot in 18sec.
And although, yes, it has only two seats, they are impeccably comfortable and electrically adjusted. Interior fit and finish are superb, too, and there’s lots of kit to fit and finish in here. This is, for all intents and purposes, a luxury car. It’s the kind of car you’d look forward to sitting in every day of the year. If it did even a passable impression of a sports car, then, that would be no unremarkable achievement. It does rather better than passable. Engine response, despite two turbos, is good, although the automatic gearbox presumably masks some of it.
The AMGs get seven-speeders (the 63’s has a wet clutch and the 65’s is a torque-converter) rather than the nine-speed torque-converters the 400 and 500 have just adopted. The 63’s shifts well enough left to its own devices but is less crisp than the eight-speeder of, say, a Jaguar F-Type. Ditto throttle response. Pull shifts yourself, though, and, occasional obstinate downshift aside, it’s on your side. If anyone tells you an SL63 isn’t fast enough, they’ll probably be telling you porkies. A 65 has more low-down urgency to go with its V12 smoothness but £59,195 is a lot of extra money to spend to shave 0.1sec from your 0-62mph time.
Given that you get heavier handling at the same time, it still feels like the 65 exists solely so its owners can show other people how much they’re willing to spend. This SL63 is where it’s at. At any speed, an SL63 is engaging. It steers accurately and with pleasing weight and response. Handling is faithful, predictable and secure. It changes direction more happily than a Bentley Continental. The nose will push on in a corner if you let it, but it responds as you’d hope if you don’t want it to, and there’s sufficient power to overwhelm the rears if you want that.
And if you don’t, there’s minimal breeze with the roof down, a fine noise all the time, and a relaxing, easy-going driving rhythm to get into. Everything that made the SL so appealing four years ago is still right here and still blending a number of characteristics more capably than anything else around.
Engine: V8, 5461cc, twin-turbo, petrol
Power: 577bhp at 5500rpm
Torque: 663lb ft at 2250-3750rpm
Gearbox: 9-spd auto
Kerb weight: 1845kg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
CO2/tax band : 234/km, 37%