You’d be forgiven for having forgotten all about Mercedes SL in recent years. The last two have been curious cars: two-seaters with pricing in the Porsche 911 ballpark but a character that couldn’t be more different. Where the 911 is a sports car with enough comfort to be day-to-day usable, those SLs were comfortable two-seat drop-tops that fell short of being convincingly sporty.
Well, that’s changing. AMG, Merc’s go-faster tuning division, has been put in charge of the SL project this time around, and it’s decided to give the car back its edge. (Yep, long ago the SL had edge – the very first SL, back in the 50s, was a road-legal version of a Le Mans-winning racer.)
The new car sits on a specially developed platform that’ll also be used for the new, still-in-development AMG GT. Where the SL is a 2+2 with a folding fabric roof (much lighter and space-efficient than the folding hard-top the last two SLs used), AMG will differentiate the two cars by making the GT a more performance-orientated coupe.
AMG is all about outstanding V8 engines, so you won’t be surprised to learn the new SL uses V8 power. In the flagship SL 63, power and torque are in 911 Turbo territory: 577bhp and a massive 590lb ft Nm. The 63 (0-62mph in 3.6sec, 195mph top speed) also gets adaptive dampers and an electronic rear differential as standard. Only mildly less ballistic is the SL 55, which does without the e-diff and rides on passive suspension but still summons 469bhp and 516lb ft – enough for 0-62mph in 3.9sec and 183mph flat out.
The SL will be four-wheel drive as standard, using AMG’s clever and potent torque-shuffling 4Matic+ system. Biased towards the rear axle during normal driving, the system can instantly divert some of the V8’s ample grunt forward to the front wheels when the rears start to struggle, such as when launching from a standstill or clawing your way out of a wet hairpin. Its behaviour can be tuned via the car’s many drive modes, and it’s these that gives this new SL its breadth of ability, AMG claims, from comfy cruiser to sparkling sportster.
Rear-wheel steering also appears on an SL for the first time, to help the car feel smaller and lighter than it actually is. And, as you’d expect given all the technology AMG has packed into it, the SL will need all the help it can get on that front… The SL 63’s kerb weight of 1970kg is nearly 200kg heavier than the similarly soft-topped 911 Turbo, which is why the Porsche is over half second faster 0-62mph with a comparable power output.
A clean-sheet SL, then, and one with plenty of promise. Same old soft roadster or genuine 911 alternative? We’ll find out when we drive it.
Mercedes-AMG SL 63: From £130k (est), 577bhp twin-turbo V8, 3.6sec 0-62mph, 195mph