► New Mercedes-AMG SL65 tested
► 622bhp, 0-62mph in 4.0sec, £173k
► Updated styling, revamped tech
Oh thank goodness. Someone has seen fit to give the current Mercedes SL a nose job, instantly rectifying its weakest feature – those strangely amorphous Mr Blobby looks.
With its new upright grille design and all-LED headlights, the 2016 SL is now a rather handsome beast. It now also gets some AMG bodywork addendum, standard across the range, and a host of detailed technical changes that result in a more compelling package. Is Mercedes finally ready to go toe-to-toe with the Ferrari California T?
If that’s the case it had better be packing a pretty big set of guns…
Don’t worry, it is. The ‘entry-level’ SL400 3.0-litre V6 biturbo – which kicks off proceedings at £73,805 – has been boosted by 35bhp to 362bhp, and both this and the 449bhp SL500 4.7-litre V8 biturbo now benefit from a new nine-speed automatic gearbox to keep their motors singing at their sweetest. In theory.
But if you really want to go Cali T baiting you’re going to want one of the AMG models. The SL63 is fine, of course, what with its £114k price tag and 577bhp 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8.
To be properly on point, however, the £173,295 SL65 is the real answer. Not just because of the enormous increase in price, but also because it’s powered by a 622bhp twin-turbo 6.0-litre V12. This out-cylinders the Ferrari by another 50% and produces a staggering 737lb ft of torque all the way from 2300 to 4300rpm.
Is the SL65 actually any good though, or is it all muscle and no trousers?
While there haven’t been any hardware changes to the SL family’s chassis, Mercedes has been busy tweaking the software that controls the variable damping and the Active Body Control system – which on the non-AMG models is now available with the same Curve Tilting function as the S-Class Coupe. This means it leans into bends to counteract body roll; it’s a strange sensation at first, but quite a successful piece of engineering.
These changes have shifted the SL’s emphasis slightly but meaningfully towards the sportier side of things – and the AMG variants are that bit more aggressive again. Though it isn’t quite as incisive as the lighter (by 105kg!) SL63, the SL65 nevertheless blends strong levels of grip with eager turn-in and truly remarkable poise, no doubt largely enabled by the SL’s astonishingly rigid aluminium structure.
This thing just does not flex at all, roof up or down. Together with beautifully judged damping that soaks up sudden surface changes with immediate authority, yet is rarely ever jarring, this allows the SL65 to cover ground immensely quickly while remaining a consummate cruiser – whenever the will to dominate lesser traffic has abated.
The SL65 is fast, then?
Heavens, yes. In fact, the raw statistical evidence of 0-62mph in 4.0sec doesn’t really do it justice – not least because the old school seven-speed automatic fitted to this model quite obviously has to be circumspect about that enormous truckload of torque.
This circumspection manifests itself in a number of ways, including the slight delay between heavy application of the throttle and meaningful response (as if the engine and gearbox are negotiating the rules of engagement prior to violence), and the occasional pause during manually actuated upshifts when closing on the redline.
On the flipside, once you’re rolling and into the meat of the torque band, even moderate application of the throttle will see the SL65 fully throw itself at the horizon.
What’s not to like?
If you’re in tune with the price, not much really. The steering doesn’t feel entirely trustworthy when pressing on – strangely the SL63’s is far more convincing – and aside from the sporadic short, sharp bang! from the exhaust on the overrun it doesn’t sound especially exciting. Alas, the noise is somewhat akin to an industrial drainsucker.
There’s a definite sense that this is the more mature of the two AMG versions, though, which gives the SL65 a different kind of appeal; old money versus new money, perhaps, given the extra £60k it requires.
Anything else worth knowing about the 2016 Mercedes SL?
Well, the folding hardtop roof now works up to 25mph – though you still have to start opening and closing ceremony when stationary – and the luggage cover in the boot is now power operated. Soon we won’t be able to do anything without pressing a button. Almost all of Merc’s latest safety tech is on offer, too.
The bonkers engine is its own worst enemy, as it’s only when its monumental output suddenly needs to be deployed that the SL shows any sort of significant chink in its armour. Well, that and the staggering price.
As such, while it’s a deeply impressive bit of kit, if we wanted a shouty, driving-orientated SL we’d go straight for the SL63 and pocket the difference – but for most SL65 buyers it’s less about owning the best and more about owning the most expensive. And from that perspective it’s unlikely to disappoint.