I recently went to Texas so I could drive a Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG Black Series. I also drove several other cars while I was there, like the new Range Rover, and an original 1990 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX, but really I went to drive the SL65 AMG Black Series. You would go to Dallas, too, if you could drive an SL65 Black Series.
Here’s a little back story: In the late 2000s and early 2010s, Mercedes-Benz came out with several "Black Series" models that brought performance a little beyond the standard AMG vehicles. There was an SLK55 AMG Black Series, a CLK63 AMG Black Series and a C63 AMG Black Series, but the two crowning models were the SLS AMG Black Series and the SL65 AMG Black Series. Now, the SLS Black Series was based on the SLS supercar, so it was more expensive, more special, rarer and whatever. But the SL65 Black Series was more powerful (661 horsepower vs. 622 for the SLS). And the SL65 Black Series wasn’t exactly cheap or common: It cost around $300,000 new, and they only made 300 for the world. Of the 300, 175 came to North America — and I drove one of the 175.
Before I drove it, however, I filmed a little tour of it — and even after spending a few hours with it, the SL65 Black Series intimidated me. It’s a regular SL, except it has massively flared fenders, a fixed roof and a fixed wing. It’s insanely expensive, insanely rare and insanely powerful; in fact, that 661 hp figure I quoted you before makes it the single most powerful Mercedes-Benz ever. Yes, that’s right: Even though it came out nearly a decade ago, they still haven’t topped it.
So getting behind the wheel of the Black Series was a little scary, but I did it. I was also informed by the owner, in no uncertain terms, that he had new tires on order and they were going to be delivered soon, so I should turn off traction control and "really go wild." Now, I’m not in the business of "really going wild" in 661-horsepower automobiles, but — at the owner’s insistence — I did turn off traction control on a very wide, very empty stretch of rural Texas highway, and I jammed the throttle. The car just sits and spins. In fact, I got the SL65 to break loose at one point when I floored it at roughly 70 miles per hour on just slightly slick roads from a little mist. Think about that: it broke loose at 70 miles per hour. A Mercedes-Benz!
That wasn’t the only way the SL65 Black Series impressed me. Another one of its amazing capabilities was its feeling of building power; there was a lot of power from zero, but it felt like the car was actually accelerating faster as you got higher in the rev range, even as it should’ve started feeling slower. I ran out of nerve long before the car ran out of juice — and while the top speed is limited to 199 miles per hour, I could see the Black Series pulling hard every minute of the way to get to that point.
Cornering, however, wasn’t the SL65’s strong suit. It drives a lot better than a regular SL, but that’s not saying much; a regular SL is probably the least-sporty sporty vehicle on sale today, as it’s aimed at luxury buyers who want a car that’s sporty in appearance, but not in practice. The SL65 feels much tighter around corners, and it felt unusually stable on the road, but it’s also a big car with a big engine and a big footprint — and even though they grafted on a roof to improve rigidity and probably played with the suspension considerably, it still feels like more of a high-speed cruiser than a fun, throw-it-around-corners sports car.
Not that I minded throwing it around corners. I had serious fun with the SL65, and it seriously impressed me — though the acceleration was really the main attraction. The SL65 is a monster, a beast, a (near) 700-horsepower car from an era before 700-horsepower cars were commonplace in the ultra-high performance realm. It has more power than a Ferrari Enzo and a higher top speed than an F40, and it is, quite seriously, one of the ultimate Mercedes-Benz models in history. And it was certainly worth a trip to Dallas. Find a Mercedes-Benz SL-Class for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.
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