landed close to midnight at BWI-Marshall Airport. It was late, but I still had my faculties about me despite the long flight from California. AR Publisher Kimatni Rawlins and I jumped into the competitive German convertible I’d left at the airport for the trip home, and I instantly told K-Raw: “this thing feels ancient compared to the SLs.” Such is the impression left by the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL range. Top up or top down, they are “power players” over a very broad price range.
Let say you are the type to just chill, but want ample power to accelerate with authority when the need arises. Then the $98,525 SL 550 is for you. Desire more power, status and luxury on the same platform? Then opt for the $136,525 V12 SL 600 with full luxe interior. Want raw, unbridled power that makes a profound statement every time you step on the gas? You need to be behind the wheel of the ($133,525-estimated) SL 63 AMG. And if twin-turbos, six hundred horsepower and mega torque is your thing, then the $191,000 (estimated) V12 SL 65 AMG should land a plum spot in your garage.
For this review, I’ll focus mainly on the two AMG cars, the SL 63 and SL 65 AMG. Let’s start with the “cheaper” car. The SL 63 AMG’s engine is a 6.2-liter V8 producing 518 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque.
This is the first engine developed from the ground up by AMG, and features four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, bucket tappets (rather than rocker arms) and a variable intake manifold. It shares no parts with other Mercedes-Benz V8 engines. Under the beautiful engine cover, this hand built engine features exceptional technology. For example, it’s built almost completely from a high-strength silicon-aluminum alloy; the cylinder bores make use of a twin-wire-arc-sprayed coating, a process that results in low friction and internals that are twice as hard as conventional cast-iron cylinders; high-flow intake and exhaust ports form a vertical straight line, helping the engine rev freely to more than 7,000 rpm, yet 90 percent of its peak torque is available at only 2,000 rpm; and a balanced crankshaft with six counterweights is located in five main crankshaft bearings. The crankshaft counterweights feature heavy metal plugs – a detail usually found only in racing engines – which means they can be significantly smaller, increasing power by reducing rotational inertia and oil drag.
If you did not complete your PhD in Mechanical Engineering, let me translate the previous paragraph for you – Put your foot to the floor and hang on! The power of the V8 and the sound of the exhaust are unreal. The SL 63 AMG’s new Speedshift MCT (Multi-Clutch Technology) manual/automatic transmission provides lightning fast shifts. This transmission is available only in the SL63 AMG. It features seven speeds, four shift modes and a double-clutching function, which matches revs for smooth downshifts. The four shift modes are: “C” (Comfort), “S” (Sport), “S+” (Sport Plus) and “M” (Manual). In Comfort mode, the driver gets a “soft” accelerator response so the Beluga Caviar you had for lunch doesn’t incubate. In Sport mode, the engine and transmission interact quicker – upshifts and downshifts take place at higher engine speed. Gearshifts are around 20 percent faster than in Comfort mode. Switching to the Sport Plus mode cuts another 20 percent off shift times, while the sportiest mode, Manual, reduces shifting times by another 10 percent – a total reduction of 50 percent compared with Comfort mode. In Manual mode, gearshifts take just 100 milliseconds.
Ultra-fast, multiple downshifts are another feature of the MCT transmission. For example, it will shift directly from seventh down to fourth gear or from fifth to second. In the “S” (Sport), “S+” (Sport plus) and “M” (Manual) modes, an automatic double-clutching function is active. Every manual or automatic downshift is accompanied by double-clutching. The not so subtle “blip” of the throttle during downshifts sounds awesome, and minimizes any jerking, a special benefit when braking into a curve. The SL 63 AMG’s high technology is reminiscent of a Formula 1 car.
And if for some reason the base “63” is not quite up to your lofty performance specs, then opt for the $14,000 SL 63 AMG Performance Package, which includes:
- The top speed raised from 155 to 186 mph
- Vented, ceramic, 15.3” front brake discs
- A multi-disc limited-slip rear differential
- Staggered width 19-inch AMG twin-spoke alloy wheels and tires
- AMG high-performance suspension
- Smaller AMG sport steering wheel with a flat bottom and silver-aluminum shift paddles
The characteristics of the SL 63 AMG are far removed from the rest of the silky smooth SL clan. This is the one to buy if you are a rebel, and you want the world to know it. The engine wails a mighty song at max rpm, with an exhaust note that announces your unkind road intentions. While not faster the SL 65 AMG, it’s an overall more sporting ride that will not only please the Beverly Hills set, but the macho types that would normally gravitate towards Porsche Turbos or baby Lamborghinis.
The experience in the SL 65 AMG is stealthy. Based on the 6.0-liter V12 found in the SL 600, the AMG version gets a pair of exhaust spoolers that wind the horsepower numbers up to a mighty 604 and torque to an astonishing 738 pound-feet, or 1000 Newton-meters for the metrically inclined. This car is scary fast and whisper quiet. We handily dispatched our SL 63 AMG partner car during a stoplight to stoplight run. We then played “tag” during exhilarating runs through the mountains and canyons of California. But the mission of this car is not about destroying the competition. It’s about making the ultimate statement for the SL line. When people pull up beside you and spy the “V12 BiTurbo” badge on the quarter panel, they will quickly look away, unless they are in some serious iron. Even those who have the goods to run with you will think twice, as they’ll know if they miss a shift, you are just gone.
As you would expect, ride quality in the non-AMG SLs is excellent. Surprisingly, ride quality in the über performance AMG cars is excellent as well. When you travel to a Mercedes-Benz press event, they make sure you get plenty of time behind the wheel. We spent two full days toughing it through Beverly Hills, Del Mar, Santa Monica and Palm Springs. The SL range has star quality wherever you go, a surprising achievement considering that the Maybach sedans and SLR Coupe and Roadster are a few notches above the SL on the Benz Corporate Ladder.
All 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL roadsters are now available with AIRSCARF, an innovative feature that first debuted on the SLK Roadster. AIRSCARF is a neck-level heating system that blows warm air from the head restraints of the driver and passenger seats, allowing occupants to cruise comfortably with the retractable hardtop open in colder weather. AIRSCARF uses a heating element made of barium titanate, an exotic ceramic that heats up in seconds when electrical current is applied. Also for 2009, the entire SL range is upgraded with “Parktronic” parking assist and a full panoramic sunroof standard.
Mercedes’ love it or hate it COMAND system with GPS navigation has a new interface and a four gigabyte hard drive as well as an integrated six-disc CD-DVD player and a Music Register for around 1,000 MP3 tracks. You can also listen to music via an SD card slot on the COMAND unit. The system sounds terrific, with plenty of power to overcome road and wind noise with the top down.
The SL range is also Bluetooth compatible. Any Bluetooth-enabled cell phone will work hands-free – even with the phone in a pocket or purse, the audio is automatically muted when a call is made or received, and callers are heard over the audio system speakers. In addition, phone address book info can be displayed by the COMAND system.
When in need of some rays, the SL’s retractable hardtop can be fully opened or closed in just 16 seconds. A hydraulic pump and 11 computer-controlled hydraulic cylinders quietly power the system. “Easy Pack” allows a trunk area of 7.2 cubic feet when the top is down. With the top up, the trunk holds 10.2 cubic feet of gear.
And these convertibles are very safe, as the SLs provide all of the built-in safety that’s expected in a Mercedes-Benz. All SLs include a pop-up, automatic roll bar that can also be manually raised. A windblocking fabric in integrated into the rollbar, but the thickness of the blocking mesh severely limits rear vision during daylight hours and makes it all but impossible to use during nighttime hours.
Shoulder belts are integrated directly into the seats for greater occupant protection, especially in roll¬overs. The SLs are also equipped with side airbags, but do not include door mounted side curtain airbags like those found on Volvo’s C70 Convertible.
So what’s a near-perfect driveway for me? Give me a C63 AMG for around town romps, an S Class for long-distance cruising and dinner for four, and any of the SL range when I need to get away. In the case of the AMG masterpieces, get away in a hurry!
Copyright 2006 Automotive Rhythms Communications, LLC. All rights reserved.