Any time I drive a Mercedes-Benz SL-Class, I feel I should have a girl named Britney or Paris in the passenger seat and my friends must refer to me as M-Feb for the following week. These cars scream 'wealthy Hollywood diva' or 'Newport Beach trophy wife' as much as a Pomeranian wearing a designer sweater. With six-figure prices, it's no wonder they draw the heady crowd they do.
For 2009, Mercedes threw most of its resources at the SL63, but the SL65 was certainly not left alone. The previous-generation SL65 was extremely difficult to drive, with its mountainous torque making itself known at even slight throttle tip-in. The go pedal felt as if it was more for requesting acceleration from the traction control system rather than controlling the engine. The 2009 SL65 has a more linear feel. For the first third of pedal travel, it feels like a car and not an explosion. Around town, it's easy to drive and can accelerate in traffic without needing five car lengths to launch. In a canyon, this behavior translates into subtle throttle movements that allow for more sporting driving and much greater confidence.
The suspension is handled by Benz's Active Body Control (ABC) system. For normal driving, the system is amazingly comfortable and smooth. The car feels every bit as elegant as you'd expect. When the driver starts turning up the wick, the system responds equally well. Having full control of both roll and pitch, body movement is remarkably well contained, especially when considering the car's two-ton-plus curb weight. Enthusiasts might feel uncomfortable with ABC at first. Since it's a fully active system, it can completely stop body movement at will. Rolling into the throttle when exiting turns, the car squats. Then ABC decides that enough weight transfer has occurred and it feels as though the car hits its bump stops. The suspension will continue to soak up bumps, but ABC has artificially eliminated roll and squat. This isn't a bad thing from a dynamic point of view, but it can be unnerving to the person who really likes to work the weight transfer while driving.
Steering feel is also much improved on the new AMG SLs. Earlier models felt rather dead on-center and didn't deliver much in the way of feedback. This is still no sports car, but on-center feel is more precise and turn-in is less of a guessing game.
For sheer grunt, I can't think of another car off the showroom floor that matches the SL65's powerplant. The 6.0-liter biturbo V12 is amazingly flexible in its power delivery. At 2000 rpm, the car delivers a kidney-punching 738 lb-ft of torque keeps that keeps up until 4000 rpm. For horsepower enthusiasts, it delivers 604 hp from 4800 to 5100 rpm.
The numbers, however, are purely academic. It isn't too often one can say that a car has more than enough power. This one as more than enough for most drivers' own good.
As with all SLs, the power hard-top is a work of art. It delivers coupe-quality comfort and silence while in the up position. When lowered, it takes up a good deal of trunk space, but then again there are trade-offs for everything. Wind noise is minimal, even above posted speed limits, and the much-touted Airscarf neck warmers work amazingly well. Basically, it's a headrest-mounted hair dryer that circulates warm air around each occupant's neck and makes keeping the top down bearable as you climb in altitude and drop in temperature.
Overall, the SL65 is a fantastic high-speed tourer. It isn't a track car and it isn't a sports car in the true sense-neither is its goal in life. It will cover ground with remarkable speed, but delivers comfort not often found in an open-top two-seater. Despite a somewhat flashy image, this may be the ultimate gentleman's performance car.
2009 Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
6.0-liter V12, sohc, 36 valve, turbocharged and intercooled
Peak Power: 604hp @ 4800 rpm
Peak Torque: 738 lb-ft at 2000 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.2 sec. (mfr.)
Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)
*What we like
Luxurious grand tourer with amazing manners and ungodly speed
*What we don't
All of 4,555 pounds to start, steer and stop