By on March 26, 2008

2009_sl63_amg-img_8662.jpgI made my first pilgrimage to AMG in 2001. Arriving unannounced, I was relegated to longing stares through a chain link fence at rows of serious looking automobiles. I eventually bought an SL55 AMG. I loved its ability to terrify unsuspecting passengers. But it always struck me as an engine in search of a chassis. And better steering. And brakes. In fact, it was a steroid injected boulevardier. And now, the SL63 AMG.

After six years, Mercedes has contemporized the SL's look. The effect is jarring and far less graceful than its forbearer. The SL63's "designers" have tacked-on tasteless plastic bits onto tasteless plastic bits– from the V-shaped plastic front spoiler lip to the garish AMG badge on the side, to the unspeakably awful rear diffuser. The new look AMG brings to mind the English expression "mutton dressed as lamb."  

2009_sl63_amg-img_8668.jpgOr a wolf in bling wolf's clothing. Fire-up the the 6.2-liter AMG engine– good for 525 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque– and both tach and speedo needles peg their respective gauges and draw your attention to the words 6.3-liter AMG engraved on the dash. The car literally shakes with an enthusiastic, deeply sonorous exhaust rumble, exhorting its driver to find someone to race and I mean now.

New for this model: "Race Start." So I found an empty parking lot, warned my wife to put a cap on her juice bottle and start pushing all the new buttons, waiting for a breakthrough. When none occurred, I place a call to my favorite AMG advisor in Germany. He instructed me to push the button marked AMG, turn off the traction control, twiddle the transmission dial (more on this later), stand on the brake, pull the right paddle towards me and await confirmation.

Affalterbach, ve haff a problem. My wife actually nodded off while I was trying to figure this all out. So I just floored it and let the electronics do the rest. There may be owners of the SL55 thinking that their supercharged powerplant has greater thrust off the line, but the gearing of the SL63 offsets any theoretical advantage. And no one buying the SL63 will be embarrassed at the stop lights; it baritones from rest to 60 in 4.2 seconds.

2009_sl_amg-img_8397.jpgMercedes finally ditched the electronic brakes from its SL line; I was expecting easier modulation. Alas, such is not the case; the stoppers still feel grabby and remote. The new squared-off steering wheel looked like another affectation but turned out to be surprisingly comfortable to hold, aside from the rhomboidal plastic thing at the bottom. Other revisions to the interior are modest. There is still far too much plastic for a car in this price range.

The decidedly uncomfortable Airscarf system incorporated into the headrests looks unattractive in a robotic sort of way. The SL's COMAND system has been updated and seems to possess capabilities on par with the more modern S-Class. Without the controller knob, who knows? My Garmin Nuvi is easier to use than the SL63 AMG's electronics. On the positive side, the larger gear-revealing numerals on the center gauges were extremely… helpful.

The SL63's new  transmission is AMG's answer to the dual clutch automated manuals found in Volskies and Ferraris' F1-style paddle shift. The SL63's SPEEDSHIFT MCT 7 knob (next to the transmission) rotates between two automatic and two manual modes. The box compromises smooth operation in the automatic mode, particularly at slower speeds, where it unceremoniously clunks between gears. Strangely enough, the smoothest shifts occur in the fastest manual mode; boulevardier, no longer.

2009_sl63_amg-img_8663.jpgA button to toggle between sport and comfort suspension settings lies just beneath this "multi-clutch technology" knob. Next door: another button labeled AMG, which pre-selects sport settings for the transmission and suspension. The comfort settings yield a highly compliant ride and the sport position is highly livable.

In either mode, the initial cornering attitude is Kansas flat. The active body control settings have been revised for greater confidence and you're riding on 19's, but you're still talking 4300 lbs. worth of German two-seater. Toss this heffalump into a tight corner and, as usual, understeer rears its ugly head. A built in race timer? A Boxster driver would just laugh.

2009_sl63_amg-img_8660.jpgThe SL55 had a cobbled together feel. The SL63 feels more thoroughly considered and engineered. The uber-SL is more Affalterbach than Stuttgart now, more competitive with BMW and Porsche as a driver's machine.

Still $150k buys you a lot of sports car elsewhere (not to mention AMG's mythic depreciation). And the SL63 isn't even the top of the SL tree; $187k SL65 AMG anyone? One wonders if the SL63's a bit… pedestrian at the price. No wonder AMG is hard at work on a Black Series SL with even more power and less weight.

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40 Comments on “2009 Mercedes-Benz AMG SL63 Review...”


  • avatar
    doctorv8

    Wow, you’ve already driven one? I’m jealous…but not surprised. Great review.

    So how does the new 7 speed box compare to its rivals from BMW and Audi?

  • avatar
    whatdoiknow1

    I remember back in the 1980s an AMG “tuned and customized” Mercedes Benz was actually really something special in the same light as a BMW Alpina and/ or a Ruf Porsche. Today MB is doing everything in its power to destroy any cache value that the AMG name once had. AMG used to be some serious shit back in the days. AMG used to make DOHC 4v heads for MB engines when MB was still using SOHC 2v heads as standard equipment.
    AMG had unique 17″ wheels when that size was still considered to be exotic. Anyone who can remember a AMG 6.0 Hammer from the late 1980s will understand where I am coming from.

    This SL63 is not a true AMG as are none of the new MB models that have a AMG badge on them. This thing is simply an SL equiped with a so-so sports package, a tacky body kit, and some oversized AMG badges.

    MB may have purchased AMG and as claimed brought it “in house” but in reality MB has reduced AMG to just a money making name.

    What happend to MB, the company that used to be based on excellence in engineering and UNDERSTATED elegence. Todays MBs products come off as what would have expected from a successful Lincoln not a SERIOUS German brand.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    The 2008 AMG SL65 weighs 4555 lbs.

    Did you know that when first introduced in the 1950′s with the famous 300SL Gullwing, SL meant super-light.

  • avatar
    John R

    Garish is the word of the day with this car. Even a GT-R looks understated compared to this.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Thanks Jay for this very frank review. I have found recent AMG Mercs of all flavors to be heavy luxo barges with too much engine and not enough chassis. It’s a pity as whatdoiknow1 has already pointed out that AMGs of old had some real sporting potential.

    I also agree with the comment about the styling – it’s certainly not the Germanic understanted elegance of the past. Compare this to the old 300SL and this car looks more like a $30-40K muscle car than a $150K uber coupe. For that money I’d rather have an Audi R8 or a Aston V8 Vantage.

  • avatar
    CarShark

    I have found recent AMG Mercs of all flavors to be heavy luxo barges with too much engine and not enough chassis.

    So AMG just makes reeeeeeally expensive muscle cars now? Sad.

  • avatar

    Damn that beast is ugly, but its a decent Gran Tourismo (i.e. don’t compare it to a 911) from the sounds of Jay’s review.

    As much as I love all-motor performance cars, I’d like to see how much faster the SL65 is from a 70mph roll.

  • avatar
    NICKNICK

    whatdoiknow1–

    good point, but what’s exotic anymore? to my (admittedly ignorant) mind, the STi and EVO make just about everything else look like needless luxury. the horsepower and handling bar has been raised so high that anything *truly* exotic is so expensive that it gets driven like grandma’s ford tempo. my GTI spends far more time above 100mph than my friend’s Challenge Stradale.

    other than luxury and style, these “exotic” cars offer nothing that can be used on public roads.

    another friend of mine used to only buy mercedes. now that all of his desired safety features (such as esp) have trickled down, he’s now looking at toyota. totally different market, i know, but the safety playing field has been leveled just like the horsepower one has.

    and if slumming it is the new rich…

  • avatar
    JJ

    Darn, I’m still surprised by how ugly it looks even now. The front looks terrible, the view from the sight is visually challenged due to the new nose and the rear looks worse than before.

    Overall it’s just darn ugly.

    The only thing they improved at the facelift is the steering wheel, but I’d never buy this car now, whereas I kind of liked it before this facelift, although not as an AMG.

  • avatar

    MB don’t appear to understand the SL brand. SLs were built to look great, perform reasonably well in a straight line and look classy.
    People who wanted performance bought a Porsche…
    I don’t know a single person who has owned an SL (or any other Merc) in the last 10 years who will want to muck about with different dials for different roads, moods or launch settings!
    If Lexus made a better looking SC right now they’d mop up MBs SL market in a heartbeat…

  • avatar
    gsp

    the massive MB logo in the front grill is enough to make me avoid MB cars. understated is the way to go. people notice the car you are driving without the need for an eight freaking inch logo.

  • avatar
    whatdoiknow1

    I think many of us are missing the fact that Mercedes Benz is now designing cars to the tastes of middle eastern oil shieks. This is not the car for the successful Doctor or Businessman anymore but a car for tacky people that truly have more money than class.

    Honestly how does a respectable person drive this thing and not feel like a attention craved jerk?

    IMHO the “new” Mercedes Benzs are a direct result of the Lexus effect on the Luxury car business. Like it or not Lexus is the new Benz in the USA.
    Mercedes Benz former claim to fame was that they built the best car in the world, not the fastest or flashiest but the best. With Toyota/ Lexus actually building better built cars today MB has been left in search of a new mission statement.
    When you are lacking substance you go for the BS.
    So now I guess MB is trying to be the most outrageous auto-maker today.

    Lexus and Audi are the brands that are attracting the professional set that desire understated yet elegent cars today.

    About two weeks ago I had a meeting with a new Financial advisor that was recommmended to me. He came to my home and was driving a beautiful silver CaymanS (freakin show-off)! I must admit that if he showed up in this mess of a car I would have been very turned-off, it would not have made a very good professional impression.

  • avatar

    The new look AMG brings to mind the English expression “mutton dressed as lamb.”

    Or a wolf in bling wolf’s clothing.

    Maybe it’s trying to channel its inner Pontiac

  • avatar
    willbodine

    Funny, I can remember when Benzs had decent resale value. AMG might as well stand for “All money gone.”

  • avatar

    Wow, this car is so hideous compared to the previous SL, I can’t believe it. I mean…really? This isn’t a body kit for a Fiero?

    The previous one, despite its shortcomings, was a solid design balance between understated styling with flashy elements that made it look like a rather expensive, but classy GT that could be topless on occasion. This looks like what happens when a FWD “tuner” magazine gets its hands on a car.

  • avatar
    Pete_S4

    The 2008 AMG SL65 weighs 4555 lbs.

    Did you know that when first introduced in the 1950’s with the famous 300SL Gullwing, SL meant super-light.

    I hear you on the weight!

    Close on the SL, but it’s actually a German acronym….Sport Leicht or Sport Light.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    I’m not sure I can forgive AMG for labeling a car with a 6.2 liter engine an SL63. It puts MB in the same category as Ford when they called the Mustang with a 4.9 liter engine a “5.0″

    Picking nits perhaps, but since when did Marketing start trumping Engineering at AMG?

    Great review, nonetheless.

  • avatar

    Marketing trumped engineering long ago at Mercedes-Benz and AMG. When you have AMG ML and G class SUVs, you know that marketing has taken over completely.

    Besides, Mercedes-Benz and AMG has fudged with engine displacements before, especially when forced induction is involved. The “65″ engine is actually a 5.5 liter engine.

  • avatar

    Nice review Jay!
    Performance of SL63 is just great which will compensate the look for sure.

  • avatar
    JJ

    The “65″ engine is actually a 5.5 liter engine.

    I think it’s a 6.0, but it’s based on the engine used in the ’600′ models as well as the Maybach, which is indeed a 5.5 Biturbo V12.

    AMG started of with that engine and increased the displacement and I’m sure some other things as well, resulting in a less than impressive 612 HP from a 6 litre biturbo as well as maximum torque that is limited because they couldn’t make a strong enough gearbox. It’s a challenged concept in many ways.

    The 6.2 V8 is probably the first engine AMG designed from scratch themselves, although I’m still not sure about the “handbuilt” claim.

    Anyway, they have cheated in the other direction too sometimes for marketing purposes, for instance, models with the 5,5 V8 are still called ’500′ in Europe (in the US they’re called ’550′. I guess it’s because names like S500 or SL500 appeal more to Europeans than SL550 because they have a historic ring to them, whereas in the US the larger the number behind the characters the better.

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    @Jay
    The SL63′s new transmission is AMG’s answer to the dual clutch automated manuals found in Volskies and Ferraris.
    Which Ferrari has a dual-clutch gearbox? I’m confused.

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    @JJ
    Anyway, they have cheated in the other direction too sometimes for marketing purposes, for instance, models with the 5,5 V8 are still called ‘500′ in Europe
    Oher examples: 160CDI, 180CDI and 200CDI in A/B class are all 2.0L, 200 and 220 CDI in the C/E class are both 2.2L, 280 and 320 CDI are both 3.0L.
    It’s similar at BMW. 525, 530 and 535 diesel are all 3.0L, 118, 120 and 123 diesel are all 2.0L.

  • avatar

    Mirko Reinhardt

    @Jay
    The SL63’s new transmission is AMG’s answer to the dual clutch automated manuals found in Volskies and Ferraris.
    Which Ferrari has a dual-clutch gearbox? I’m confused.

    My bad. I meant to put F1-style paddle shifters. Text amended.

  • avatar
    william442

    As a straight line guy, my previous greatest car was an Olds 442 with a 455,I love our 1999 C43.We have had this car for almost nine years,and plan to keep it, mushy brakes, heavy steering lousy ride, well you get it, for at least another nine.

  • avatar
    Captain Neek

    I second the eloquent sentiments voiced above vis-a-vis the styling and after-market “styling additions” (i.e. body kit).

    It would appear that BMW has MB in a trance. How else woudl you explain the styling of the new S-Class (boot, in particular – shades of 7-series) and the new C-Class (particularly the styling of the flanks). The less said about COMMAND, the better.

    What ever happened to styling that was understated, as well as elegant, and well-engineered vehicles without pointless electronic frippery?

    As a current MB owner, I am sad to say that it is unlikely I will purchase another soon.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    On the topic of MB and BMW naming their models differently from the size fo the engines, in the other examples, I think the manufacturer is trying to equalize the ratings between engines of various outputs. So the “335″ has a 3.0 liter engine, but the turbos make it perform as if it were 3.5 liters. I can kind of get that.

    But AMG didn’t call it the SL63 because their 6.2l engine performs like one 1.6% larger; they did it to connect with the famous 6.3l models from a generation ago. That’s lame. By no means uniquely lame, but lame nonetheless.

    Next you’ll tell me that the Pontiac Lemans wasn’t even French.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    Just curious how the 7 speed works? Say if you’re cruising in the city, will u be using 3rd or 4th gear. The 7th is probably reserve for >100 MPH.
    Is not different than riding a 24 speed bike, you’re always using the same gear at your max torque range. Granny gear uphill, top gear when you can gain top speed. The rest in between gears are kind of redundant. Or like a diesel truck your torque range is quite narrow 2250 RPM is kind of the red line, you rely on gearings to make up speed, move across a stop light you shifted 3-4 times already. Especially under a heavy load.

    A fnd says the newer E550 with 7 spd shifts really smooth, didnt feel her shift at all.that cant be in the sport mode, is like Cadillac shifting slow delayed so you dnot feel any jerk at all.
    Should you put pedal to metal it should bang you real hard though.

    And kind of sad to have succumbed to all these weight: heavy luxo barge.
    Not long ago I listened to one of these exhaust( maybe a 55 ), it sounded like a Corvette with dual exhaust. So where was the distinctive Merc sparkling sound?
    In the old days Camaros, Vettes if wanted to sound like a Prancing horse, we buy the Stebros with dual pipe rear muffler. Now sadly a Merc is trying to sound like a Vette.
    And a Merc sedan is looking like a Bimmer, so as the rest of nice cars wannabe.

  • avatar
    BEAT

    Nice car but it still looks like a Mercedez.

    I wish sometimes they hide their identity instead of just always putting a Huge emblem on the front end. Yes we know your a Benz.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    This car’s transmission uses a multiplate wet clutch instead of a torque converter. I wonder why they chose to do this weird bit of engineering, but it still sounds like they need to work out some programming bugs.

    blowfish : It feels like any other automatic transmission, it goes through seven gears instead of five or six. It’ll go into 7th at city speeds if it can, but downshifts out of it quickly when you need to go, for fuel economy.

  • avatar
    Frylock350

    The 2008 AMG SL65 weighs 4555 lbs.

    Folks that makes this car heavier than a Charger SRT8, Corvette ZR-1, hell even a regular cab pickup-truck.

  • avatar
    Thinx

    As the current owner of a 2008 CL, all I can say is “Ugh”.

    Even the vanilla, non-AMG version of the new SL looks garish and overdone.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    driving course,

    Good point. I would be much more interested in the less expensive, less raunchy, more reliable Lexus version if it were better looking. In this class though, looks are huge part of the equation.

  • avatar
    huy

    i think it looks good. saw it in the showroom recently when i bought an ML. it looks far more garish in pictures than in person. the Porsche Turbo wheels actually look nice on the car, as well. its important for you to realize that looks have nothing to do with owning a mercedes… its a comfortable car for the rich masses trying to show how well off they are. they can make a car shaped like feces and offer it for $200,000 and someone will buy it and love it, then others will have to have it as well… soon everyone will have one. no matter how ugly i find the recent models from MB, it seems to sell just fine and often are in high demand. hmm, feces anyone?

  • avatar
    iNeon

    Am I dreaming whenever I remember this as a 3-Star review?

  • avatar
    willbodine

    I am amused by the comments criticizing M-B’s “rounding-up” of the displacement numerals.
    To be fair, they have also rounded down, when it suited their impenetrable alpha-numeric “logic” (remember the 190E? 2.3 & 2.6 L).
    I am more offended by their former US “partner” who calls an engine a Hemi when it does not, in fact, have hemispherical combustion chambers!

  • avatar

    I think the direction that Mercedes is taking, especially with their AMG cars, is a welcome one.

    Their performance has always been considered legendary but the designs were sometimes noted as being too conservative. The new aggressive look I think will bring in a whole new customer base.

    And the traditional MB customers can always opt for the non AMG models which now offer more than enough performance for this market demographic.

    Look at the C63 AMG, I think more and more customers who might have never considered a MB over a BMW (M3, M5, M6) will find themselves taking a hard second look. And their commercials are reflecting their new direction.

    Check out this amazing C63 AMG video review by Autoblogger.

  • avatar
    engken

    As a former owner of a Porshe 911, Porsche 996 turbo, SL 500 and SL 55, I find the comments here amusing to say the least. The SL 55 was far and away the best car I have ever owned, bar none. A perfect combination or style, comfort and speed. I absolutely plan on purchasing an SL 63 in the very near future. An Audi, Cayman or Lexus. Why even bother to compare inferior cars with this one? I would never even walk into an Audi dealer, I would never own another Porsche, and as a resident of an Asian country still bitter about WW-II events, would not drive a Lexus in order to avoid random acts of retribution.

  • avatar
    jrg881

    Ok I need to comment on this review because there are things which need to be said..

    1. I personally own both an ML and CLK 63 convertible and both are true performers. Although the Clk’s handling can be better, it is still unbelievable bang for the buck for straight line performance, look etc. compared to its Beamer and Porsche rivals which lack driving and interior excitement.

    2. NOT EVERY CAR IS MEANT FOR THE TRACK… Just because it’s not setting record times on various race tracks does not mean this car should not be considered a true performer.. I have not driven this car, however I know from owning two Amg’s and driving it’s predecessor the SL 55, this car CAN handle and CAN perform in a different type of performance sense.. It may not be a track car as you say, but that’s not necesarilly a bad thing. It can still be a fun and exciting car to drive under realistic driving conditions. And that seems to be what most of you people forget, is that you’re not Mario Andretti or Earnhardt.. Stop acting like you’re driving NASCAR and respect a car for what it’s meant to do

  • avatar
    lawmnsuu

    I too need to speak on behalf of Mercedes…I have personally driven in the last month a 09 911s, turbo, SL63, DB9 and Vantage. I am in the market for a new car and these all fit one aspect or another of my quest. No car can be all things to me or anyone else for that matter. If money were unending I’d own each one.

    Mind you this is my daily driver so the car must be comfortable, engaging and an overall joy to drive. I drove a friends SC 430 and to make any comparison to the SL 63 or any other car I mentioned is a joke. The SC 430 drove like a pillow. The vehicle completely insulates you from any driving experience. The SL 63 has more power, torque, sweetest engine sound (but not quite as nice as the DB9) handling, seat accomodations, etc, etc, etc.

    The 911 was really engaging probably the most dynamic experience (the pdk trans was awesome) but I am afraid that I would grow weary of its harsher attributes if I had to endure it on a daily basis. As a second car its a no-brainer. And not in the turbo version but with the 911s and the pdk so that I can drift the rear around a turn if I choose to (impossible to do in the 4 wheeled turbo).

    The thing that I have to agree with is the fact that the SL 63 is probably not the most visually appealing of the group I’m looking at. While it may be less awe inspiring than say the DB9 I wouldn’t exactly say its a dog either.

    I may be all wrong but the prior naysayers were so vehement in their denunciations that they almost sounded like jealous children. Maybe not, but anyone who trounces a car that almost all professional evaluators have raved about is somewhat suspect.

  • avatar
    Dr. No

    Having owned a SL 12 cylinder myself, I think this incarnation is quite excellent. I wish it were lighter, but it’s not a track car and to judge it as if it were is missing the point.

    And I don’t agree with the naysayers on the styling: I think they did a commendable job with the design.

    Personally, I won’t be spending up for high-end Benzes, because the depreciation is ridiculous instead of mythic.


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