Mercedes SL55 AMG Review

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
mercedes sl55 amg review

After a winter's afternoon spent tear-assing around in Poole Harbour, a thoroughly frozen Mrs F. sank into the SL55's heated seats, switched on the massage button and drifted off into the arms of Morpheous. I immediately began the Sleep Test. How fast could I drive without waking my passenger?

Is that the sound of eyebrows arching? Many enthusiasts will insist that the best way to test a 493bhp automobile is to grab it by the scruff of the neck and thrash it to an inch of its life. Please! Have a little respect. The SL55 may be Mercedes' fastest ever production automobile, but it is not a rally-bred Subaru. It's a Benz. It's a big, heavy, luxury car. Tradition dictates that the SL55's driver displays a certain amount of 'decorum'. Progress should be rapid, yet safe and effortless. Hence the Sleep Test.

If I'd been on a motorway, I could have doubled the speed limit without disturbing my passenger. In a straight line, the SL55 is almost as steady at triple digits as it is standing still. With 5.5-litres of 24-valve, supercharged V8 power on tap, and enough torque to tow a pocket battleship, it only takes 10.2 seconds to crest the ton. The wind roar surrounding the folding hardtop could be a bit of a bother, but nothing the car's killer stereo couldn't defeat. Otherwise, all is serene. If you could link the SL55's 'COMMAND' communications system (how German is that?) to the radar-controlled cruise control, I reckon you could phone it in.

But the road from Poole's offshore playground to the hills of Bath is neither straight nor straightforward. It's a rising falling, twisting turning, broken surface, blind spot ridden, lorry filled, two-lane blacktop. Did I mention that it's narrow? Or the speed cameras? Maintaining rapid yet smooth progress on this stretch of tarmac in Mercedes' glamorous uber-roadster is not so easy (Mr. Bond). I soon learned there's one thing you should never, ever do in an SL55, in a bend, at speed: a mid-corner correction.

Although the 'L' in 'SL' stands for 'light', I defy any enthusiast to apply the adjective to a car weighing 1955kgs. To be sure, Mercedes' AMG fettlers have done everything possible to hide the heft. The SL55's steering, air suspension, chassis and rubber all fool you into thinking you're driving a proper lightweight sports car. As soon as you attempt to adjust the car's attitude during hard cornering, you're instantly disabused of the notion. The chassis lurches, the bow ploughs, the tyres scream, the ESP button flashes and you thank God that you're fully air bagged and crumple zoned.

The SL55's electronic driver's aids will save your bacon, but it won't eliminate your startled passenger's ire. 'Slow in, fast out' is not the answer. Floor the SL55 at any speed, and the belt-driven superchargers spool up with a vengeance. Nanny deals with the inevitable tail wagging, while your passenger wonders why a Jumbo jet suddenly landed in her ears. It's a ferocious feeling, a glorious noise, but it's not easy to control. Mid-corner? Forgeddaboutit.

To pass the Sleep Test, to make progress in the traditional, unruffled Mercedes manner, there is but one possible strategy. Gradually accelerate the SL55 down the straights, slow down before the corners and then glide around the bends. Call it 'fast cruising'. It requires far more concentration and skill than slinging a Porsche Carrera about. (BSM should run a fleet of SL55's.) You mission, should you decide to accept it, is to avoid fully engaging the superchargers.

What's the point of that? Drivers favouring a posh bit of kit and a comfortable cruise would be better off in a cheaper, normally aspirated SL500. OK, the SL55 looks like a proper bloke's car – especially compared to the feminine design of the 'basic' machine. The lower chassis, meaner bodywork and huge tyres project an air of menace at any speed. And the V8 can be provoked into a wonderful, old-fashioned burble with a low-speed prod of the gas pedal. The SL55's interior adds nothing special to the experience, but there are plenty of non-sporting drivers who know the pose value of those AMG badges.

Even so, regular visits to SL Superchargerland are the car's only justification. Never heard of it? That's the new part of Benz World, where well heeled, middle-aged hooligans hoon about in mighty Mercs like TVR-driving twenty-somethings. What it's got to do with the rest of the park, where automotive Muzak plays twenty four seven, I have no idea.

Is the SL55's over-weight flamboyance a welcome break from Mercedes' traditional brand values? That depends on you. If you like pace with grace, no. If the devil owns your soul, yes. In that case, just tell tired passengers to 'sleep when you're dead', switch off the ESP, and hope your words don't prove prophetic.

Join the conversation
  • SCE to AUX Beautiful find! I can't fit inside, but I'd admire it any time.$16500 seems decent for a semi-rare collectible in good condition, but others will know better.
  • Dukeisduke I would use the phrase "new clutch disk and pressure plate", or simply "new clutch". Hopefully it's got a new throwout bearing, too. It looks okay, but the stripes have to go.
  • Crtfour I love those old "Heartbeat" commercials, and brings back memories of growing up riding in Astro vans.
  • Tassos Murilee's piece of junk today was a Camaro from 1992. I told him to scrap it ASAP and put it out of its misery before Tim steals it and makes it his so-called 'used car of the day'. I did not count on Tim being much more ambitious than that. He was able to find one that is TWENTY Years older than that.It may make a collectible for a few (sure as hell not for me), but it SURE AS HELL IS NOT A "USED CAR OF THE DAY".
  • Jeff I like these 3rd generation Camaros much better than the 2nd generation. I might be in the minority but I always liked these Camaros. As for the S-10 pickups I had a second generation S-10 for almost 21 years very reliable so I might be in the minority here as well but when something gives me good service and costs not much to keep up then I like that vehicle.