I dare say that we all like the idea of owning a performance car – or at least a car with a little performance. Imagine being able to despatch a slow-moving caravan without having to wait for two miles of clear and straight road. But the flip side of proper performance can make a car a nightmare to live with; stiff ride, noise and a general lack of refinement are the classic issues.
That’s not something your average Mercedes-Benz customer is going to put up with, which is why the AMG version of its luxurious SL roadster has a difficult brief to achieve. It needs to look fabulous, drive and ride with all the comfort of the standard SLs but at the same time have blistering performance and be a total hoot to drive hard. An SL AMG owner wouldn’t accept anything less.
The first nod to this dual purpose role is the engine. The badge might say ’63’, but underneath that long bonnet is twin-turbocharged 5.5-litre V8 already appearing in the higher end AMG models. If you’re familiar with the naturally aspirated 6.3-litre unit though, I don’t blame you for being disappointed – that engine is an absolute delight.
But it only took about two miles for all doubts to be dispelled. For starters, you’d never know it was turbocharged judging by the riotous noise it makes. Normally turbo engines have less of the beautiful exhaust noise, something the 6.3 was known for. But when you tread firmly on the accelerator it sings and pops and snarls; not too much of course, this is still a Mercedes-Benz.
More important is how it goes of course, and there’s nothing but good news here too. It has 530bhp, which is a lot, as well as 590lb.ft of torque. If you are some sort of megalomaniac and that’s not enough you can plump for the AMG Performance Package which bumps this up to 556bhp and 664lb.ft of torque. That also gets you a raised electronic speed limiter, from 155mph to 186mph.
Those figures don’t quite illustrate just how rapidly the SL63 goes though. It’s the torque that does it, providing instant urge right from tickover and all the way round the rev range. It punches forward from rest, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission shifting at the red line for you unless you use the paddles to shift yourself. But arguably more impressive is the way it continues to pile on speed relentlessly – whatever speed you start at you can add another big chunk in a matter of seconds.
Before long of course you’ll find yourself piling into a bend at speed, and where you might expect this unquestionably sizeable car to struggle, it somehow manages to surprise once again. It only takes a few tight bends for you to get a sense of it feeling much smaller than it actually is; the aluminium bodyshell and suspension components that have helped to shave over 100kgs compared to the outgoing car pay dividends. It turns in very obediently, grips securely both at the front and rear and will power out with real purpose. Start playing with the ESP settings and you can even play the hooligan – and the SL63 is happy to play along.
And yet it never stops being a comfortable droptop grand tourer. It’s easy to dismiss the numerous settings for the suspension, gearbox, steering and engine as mere gimmickry, but the reality is you can set the car up to waft along, demanding almost nothing from you at all. Set the radar-guided cruise control on the motorway and you can cruise for hundreds of miles, settled in the multi-adjustable comfortable seats, the audio system providing high quality accompaniment and the noise levels impressively low.
The biggest problem with the SL63 AMG is all the decisions you’ll have to make; performance pack or not, the Magic Sky roof that gives you shade or a clear view at the touch of a button or the ‘hands-free’ boot system that can be opened or closed with a kick under the rear bumper. You’ll want to take a little time with the colour and wheel combinations too; in solid red the SL can look a little chunky, yet in the matte white finish with black wheels it is classy and even a little bit sinister noise
So what began as a difficult brief actually turned in to the recipe for the perfect high-performance roadster. The SL is tremendously fast, involving and satisfying, and yet it can sooth away your troubles and despatch you to your destination with total ease. All you need to do is pay for it.
Written by Matt Joy
Facts at a glance
Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG, £100,000 (est)
Engine: 5.5-litre petrol producing 530bhp and 590lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Seven-speed dual clutch gearbox driving the rear wheels
Performance: Top speed 155mph (limited), 0-62mph in 4.3 seconds
Economy: 28.5mpg combined
Emissions: 231g/km of CO2