Mercedes SL65 AMG Black Series (2008) CAR review and video

Published:06 November 2008

Mercedes SL65 AMG Black Series (2008) CAR review and video
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By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

London motor show video

This is the Mercedes-Benz AMG SL65 Black Series, the star of CAR Magazine’s December 2008 cover. CAR was invited to an exclusive test drive of this outlandish machine on road and track at Mas du Clos, France. Just 350 SL Blacks will be produced, with only nine coming to the UK.

We’ll deal with the road test here, but you’ll read what it’s like to drive flat-out on track – as well as an exclusive interview with AMG boss Volker Mornhinweg and his amazing plans for AMG diesels, hybrids and the new Gullwing supercar – in the magazine.

How much is the Mercedes-Benz AMG SL65 Black Series?

You’d better take a seat. Prices aren’t yet confirmed, but UK customers might pay as much as £250k.

But remember, even the standard SL65 comes in at £154k, and the Black Series is a massive, low-volume re-engineering job. The folding hard-top has been ditched in favour of a carbon panel that’s been bonded in place, upping rigidity and lopping 250kg off the kerbweight which falls from 2120kg to 1870kg. Of the other panels, it’s pretty much only the doors that are carried over from the standard car. The other parts – the front wings, the front bumper, the aggressively scooped bonnet, the rear arches, the bootlid – are all ultra-strong, ultra-light and ultra-expensive carbonfibre composites. Even the rear screen and rear side windows are new, replaced to improve aerodynamics and create a more coupe-like profile.

It’s not, erm, black...

The Black Series moniker came out of a dinner that AMG held for key customers prior to the 2006 Chicago motor show. These people usually had a number of AMG products in the garage, but turned to other manufacturers for hardcore thrills. Black Series products meant they would no longer need to. The name, says AMG, suggests the pinnacle of the range, much like American Express’s most exclusive credit card and other premium products.

So, you can order Obsidian Black, but you’ll also choose from Iridium Silver, Paladium Silver, Fire Opal Red, Diamond White and Tenorit Grey.

Click 'Next' below to read more of our Mercedes SL65 AMG Black Series first drive   

London motor show video

These bulging panels are all very well, but what’s underneath?

The standard 6.0-litre twin turbo V12 is boosted from 612 to 670bhp thanks to improved cooling and larger turbos. Torque remains pinned at ‘just’ 737lb ft because the standard five-speed auto can’t cope with the there-for-the-taking 885lb ft. Apparently an extra 50bhp would be an easy tweak too, with no negative consequences for reliability. A stronger seven-speeder is in the pipeline, but it won’t see service in the Black, which makes do with revised software and an uprated hydraulic system to deliver 25% faster shifts.

The suspension, meanwhile, has been fettled by motorsport-proven experts KW. It’s not adjustable in-car, but it is a fully adjustable set-up that can be tailored to your requirements. New wheels were naturally required to fill those gaping arches (relatively narrow 265/35 ZR19 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GTs up front minimise tramlining at the expense of a little understeer, 325/20s at the rear give the SL some hope of gaining traction). Yet the brakes remain standard, AMG claiming that the weight loss more than offsets the extra horses the stoppers have to restrain. Fewer kilos no doubt also help account for the marginally improved mpg.

What’s it like inside?

Surprisingly luxurious, with leather and Alcantara and fillets of carbon trim. The main clue to this car’s track-honed origins is its fixed-back bucket seats and the airbag-free, carbon-lined door cards. The seats are still comfortable, but they don’t offer quite as much lateral support as you might expect. Yet the majority of cars will retain the standard chairs, the 200 US-bound examples forgoing the trick, airbag-free seats and door cards to meet strict domestic safety regs.

Click 'Next' below to read more of our Mercedes SL65 AMG Black Series first drive   

London motor show video

How does it drive?

The SL is epic. As you’d expect, it rides so firmly that passengers of a weaker constitution will soon feel sick. This means body control is extremely good, yet the firmness is at least underpinned by enough suppleness to stop the ride feeling too crashy.

The brakes don’t quite have the initial feel you’d expect, but do offer plenty of retardation when you need to lean on them. And the throttle might be edgy during low-speed manoeuvres, but the gear shifts manage to be both refined and pretty quick – thank that uprated hydraulic system and the fact that the torque converter locks up entirely from first gear, making for cleaner, faster shifts. There’s a choice of sport and comfort in full auto mode, and two speeds in the manual setting. The latter differentiation seems surplus to requirements. Drivers have two auto modes to choose from already, so why not just make manual as fast as possible?

Prod the throttle and there’s a little lag – blame those larger and slightly slower to react turbine blades – but the boost soon comes in with such unrelenting, linear ferocity that you’re at the 6200rpm limiter before you know it. The soundtrack is of hard-blowing turbos, so it’s less characterful than AMG’s brawny naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8, but you do get that invigoratingly sudden release of pressure come gear change time that characterises big boost race cars. And then it all happens all over again with equal intensity. The lag is actually something of a blessing on the road, giving you as it does a little warning of what’s to come and the chance to accelerate early in bends without fear of an international sideways incident.

Of course, you’ve also got traction control, with the options of full armbands, a midway setting and an in-at-the-deep-end, all-systems-off mode for the very brave.

Click 'Next' below to read more of our Mercedes SL65 AMG Black Series first drive   

London motor show video

It’s a beast to drive, then?

Not so. In fact, the AMG people were keen to point out, while it wasn’t quite as quick around a track as the SLR supercar, the Black Series is easier for a less experienced driver ‘to manage in a critical situation’ and, therefore, more exploitable for the average Joe.

For all the intimidation you feel on approaching the SL, it takes precious little time to feel comfortable going extremely fast. It helps that, despite the huge track width, the SL doesn’t tramline. Coupled with light, linear and fast steering that’s responsive from the first few millimetres, it makes the SL incredibly easy to punt down a tricky road with confidence.

Verdict

The SL might not have the badge kudos of a Lamborghini or Ferrari – and, let’s face it, it’s more expensive than the costliest model from either Italian manufacturer – but it is an extremely accomplished and breathtakingly hardcore machine. That it still manages to feel refined and entirely unintimidating while being so focussed is astounding. Top marks, then, to AMG for coming out fighting when pressures environmental and economical could so easily have neutered this project.

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Specs

Price when new: £250,000
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 5980cc 36v V12, 670bhp @ 5400rpm, 737lb ft @ 2200-4200rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 3.9sec 0-62mph, 200mph, 19.6mpg
Weight / material: 1870kg/steel and carbon
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm):

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  • Mercedes SL65 AMG Black Series (2008) CAR review and video
  • Mercedes SL65 AMG Black Series (2008) CAR review and video
  • Mercedes SL65 AMG Black Series (2008) CAR review and video
  • Mercedes SL65 AMG Black Series (2008) CAR review and video
  • Mercedes SL65 AMG Black Series (2008) CAR review and video
  • Mercedes SL65 AMG Black Series (2008) CAR review and video
  • Mercedes SL65 AMG Black Series (2008) CAR review and video
  • Mercedes SL65 AMG Black Series (2008) CAR review and video

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

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