I 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."
Or 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.
Mercedes 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.
A 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.
The 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.