Mercedes-AMG SL review

AMG was charged with changing the image of Stuttgart’s most iconic model into a driver-focused sportscar. Is it a success?

It’s difficult to know where to begin with the magnitude of Mercedes’ changes to the SL in its seventh generation.

This luxury roadster is not just an evolution of the decade-old model. It’s a significant redesign, not only in engineering and design, but also in packaging and performance. The driving position is very similar to that of the AMG GT GT.

It’s a difficult move given the SL’s prestigious status. 1954’s original SL, a modified race car with dramatic gullwing doors, set the stage for a line-up that has lasted for nearly 70 years and has long been a cult classic.

You can learn everything you need about the motivation behind the repositioning and renaming of the iconic Mercedes model, the SL, by looking at the fact that it was created by Mercedes-AMG in its skunkworks at Affalterbach rather than by its regular passenger car team at the sprawling Sindelfingen engineering facility.

AMG hopes to reclaim the driving pleasure that made the original SL so popular by twinning it’s development with the Mercedes-AMG GT. This model has Nurburgring-honed competitive pedigree and features a long list innovative innovations, including four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering. AMG is a more pure-minded sports car than a boulevard cruiser. This is also the plan.

It also abandons the second-generation SL’s two-seat layout and aluminum folding hardtop. This makes it a more flexible 2+2 interior. Traditionalists long for a return of the classic fabric hood that was introduced to the first open-top SL in 1956.

The digital aspect is also emphasized with an interior and appointments that make the SL look very outdated. All of this is designed to give the SL a broad appeal in comparison to rivals such as the Aston Martin Vantage Roadster and BMW 8 Series Convertible, Jaguar F-Type Convertible, Porsche 911 Cabriolet, and the Jaguar F-Type Convertible.

“Looking back at the history of SL you will see that it all started with motorsport. Jochen Hermann is AMG’s chief tech officer. “With the new model we’ve tried to make that connection again.” We have not forgotten that customers today value versatility. This is why we made some adjustments to the layout to add two more seats to make it easier to use as an everyday car. It was possible to start completely from scratch, without having to modify an existing structure.

The design is up to you, but it’s not hard to see the visual connections between the GT and its six-year-old brother. This is evident in both the traditional cab-backward profile and the details at the front as well as at the rear. They are a significant departure from the Mk6 SL’s design. The new car has a more striking appearance than the predecessor, with clear hints of its Panamericana front grille.

It has also grown: its length is now 4705mm. While width and height have increased 38mm and 44mm respectively to 1915mm and 1359mm. The SL is now 259mm longer, 24mm wider and 71mm higher than the GT.

The wheelbase has seen the greatest growth. To accommodate the new rear seats, it has been extended by 117mm from the 2700mm old SL. The track widths have been increased and the ride height has dropped, giving it a confident, laid-back appearance.

Detail of the new AMG SL’s mechanics

The new SL uses a unique spaceframe design. It is different from the GT’s design and is made of a mixture of aluminium and carbonfibre to support the longer wheelbase.

The entire structure is said to weigh only 270kg. The increase in dimensions, packaging and other developments, such as the introduction of a four wheel drive system, result in a 125kg weight increase for the SL 63 variant. This model weighs in at 1895kg. However, the GT’s already strong structure has seen a 50% increase in rigidity.

A steel suspension is the foundation of it all. It’s largely custom-made. The suspension uses a five-link double wishbone setup at the front, and a multilink arrangement at the rear that is similar to the GT. It also includes standard adaptive dampers and lightweight coil springs specifically designed for this application.

As part of a new Active Ride Control package, SL 63 customers also receive hydraulically operated antiroll bars. These bars replace the SL 55’s mechanical bars.

Hermann claims that Mercedes has been able to lower the axles of the SL since switching from the MRA platform to MSA. This, he claims, results in a significant lowering of the centre gravity compared to the old SL.

Although there is much to learn, the twin-turbocharged, 4.0-litre V8 engines that were available at the beginning of UK sales are well-known. The M176 unit in the SL 55 produces 469bhp, 516lb ft and propels it from 0 to 62mph in a claimed 3.9sec to a top speed at 183mph. The SL 63 has the M177 unit with 577bhp (590lb ft) and a sharper 3.6sec. It can reach a staggering 195mph and dispatch 62mph from a standstill in a remarkable 196mph.

The modified intake system, new intercoolers, an oil pan and changes to the crankcase for increased cooling efficiency, as well as a modified exhaust, are some of the modifications that the AMG powerplant has received. This version also benefits from the revised active engine mounts. These mounts are designed to adapt to the load and reduce vibrations in the body structure.

The generous engine bay space provided by the long bonnet allows both V8s and front axle to be mounted behind the front axle for better weight distribution.

Both models have an AMG MCT speedshift nine-speed automatic transmission with a wet clutch, steering wheel-mounted paddles and a nine-speed AMG MCT Speedshift 9-speed gearbox. It is attached directly to the engine, rather than being a transaxle in the rear axle as on the GT.

There are five driving modes available: Individual, Comfort, Sport+, Sport+, Sport and Sport+. Race is a sixth mode that is available on the SL 63, but it’s also an option on the SL 55. AMG Dynamics is another option that controls electronic stability control in four settings.

There are other drivetrains that are being considered, such as a petrol-electric plug in hybrid similar to the S580e. However, that is not expected to be available until the second half 2022. Mercedes has not yet commented on rumors of an all-electric version.

Explore the interior of AMG SL

AMG wanted to create a new SL that was luxurious and versatile, with all of the connectivity and digital technology of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

The long door opens to reveal an interior that is as different from the old SL exterior as it is to the new SL. Since 2001, the Mk5 was built with a two-seat layout. The 2+2 design has been in use. However, the rear seats can be used for small children or extra storage.

For added support, the low-set front seats have been more heavily sculpted and now feature integrated headrests.

The dashboard, leather-bound, features a 12.3in digital dial display with a 11.9in infotainment touchscreen. It can also be tilted between 12deg and 32deg to avoid reflections. Mercedes’ MBUX system, which includes conversational voice control, controls it all. A flat-bottomed multifunction steering column with touch-sensitive controls is also available. A head-up display is now available for the first time.

Although it is high in perceived quality, some elements could be more well thought out. One of the problems is that the control mechanism for raising and lowering the multi-layered hood is too complicated.

How does the AMG SL feel to drive?

The AMG V8 engine is just as distinctive as ever. Once you start the engine, there is a loud throb of exhaust sound and a lot of mechanical engine noise in more sporty driving modes. Although the SL 55 offers great flexibility and speed, the SL 63 delivers more power and acceleration.

The gearbox performs well on upshifts, although not as fast as rivals’ dual-clutchers. However, it is consistently smooth. The continuously variable four-wheel drive system allows for the enormous outputs to be put on the road with great success. As shown in the claimed acceleration figures, the rear-driven SL has significantly improved traction.

The SL has an intrinsically more athletic feel to it, in keeping with its goal to be more driver-oriented than in previous generations. With great confidence, you can reach deep into the reserves.

The SL 55 is the most versatile everyday vehicle with a wide range of abilities. The SL 63 is a bit more responsive, louder, and faster than the SL 55, but it’s still fun to drive.

The SL’s cruising capabilities are outstanding when you slow down. The V8’s wide range of torque combined with the high gearing at its upper end make for a remarkable drivetrain that is effortless at all speeds. Both models can travel long distances without difficulty. However, you shouldn’t expect to get more than 25 mpg even for the most leisurely of journeys.

All this comes with a new level driver engagement. Although the SLs aren’t known for their straight-line speed, recent models have had to be modified to accommodate other mainstream Mercedes models.

The new model is even more unique. It provides great agility, balance and body control. You can also switch the AMG Dynamics system into Master mode to adjust mid-corner.

It is a large car that offers all the luxury and comfort you would want, but it also has the ability to respond with fluidity and ease to inputs from something lighter and less spartan. A significant increase in body stiffness, a lower centre of gravity, and a networked suspension with 4-wheel steering combine to provide a new level of response, sweetly striking handling, and exceptional athleticism.

This car isn’t designed to be driven on backroads like some AMG models. It’s sensitive enough that it can be controlled by delicate inputs. You can customize the SL to your liking with the many driving modes.

Brilliantly weighted, the electromechanical steering rack delivers a lot of feel and more enthusiasm than that of its counterpart, the GT.

The balance is extremely neutral and has a great grip. It remains stable even as the lateral forces increase. Although we have not yet tested the standard suspension, the hydraulic anti-roll bar does a great job of reducing body roll. The car moves with great enthusiasm, but it remains perfectly controlled, flat and poised.

The 305/30-profile rear tires are a great deal. You can go crazy with the throttle, but still keep within the limits of the remarkably high limits.

Fun can be had though as the torque-laden drive allows you to unload the rear end in the more permissive driving modes. These allow the four-wheel-drive system to deliver nearly exclusive rear-drive traits with some provocation. The electronics control everything.

The carbon-ceramic optional brakes are similar to other AMG models. They feel a little less until they reach temperature, but provide massive retardation.

The ride and its suitability for UK roads remains a question. Even when the suspension is in its most comfortable settings, there’s still a firmness to it. This suspension is far from the cosseting roadster that we have grown to love over the years. It can handle poorer surfaces with enough control and compliance. Sometimes, however, the dampers’ fast responses are impeded by larger transverse expansion joints. This can cause some stiffening.

Road roar can also be seen on rougher surfaces, taking away the beauty of otherwise excellent refinement.

Do I need an AMG SL to drive?

We will get a more definitive verdict on ride quality and refinement when the new SL is available in the UK. But, it is clear that the Mk7, with AMG leading the development and adoption of a dedicated spaceframe platform platform, is a more sporty and focused prospect than any previous iteration.

It’s more versatile and practical than ever before. It is now a 2+2 layout, with a fabric hood replacing the folding hardtop used for the two previous SLs. This gives it more space than the 911 Cabriolet despite a significant reduction in boot capacity.

Although pricing has not yet been announced, expect to see a significant increase in price over the previous model. The SL 55 is estimated to cost more than PS100,000. While the SL 63 will cost around PS120,000, estimates suggest that the SL 63 will cost about PS120,000. It is certainly high-end.

You will get the most engaging SL in decades. It combines all the drama and driving pleasure of the GT with two additional seats and is more practical for everyday use.

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