Mercedes-Benz flirted with their mid-century roots by re-imagining the 2013 SL550 as a lighter, more powerful ride. But the ballsier SL63 AMG catapults the decades-old country club cruiser into supercar territory with meaner looks, more focused performance, and a leaner power-to-weight ratio.

The SL63 comes at a $41195 premium over the more pedestrian “Super Leicht” and the extra bucks go toward the twin-turbo 5.5L V8. The bigger mill is hand-built using AMG’s “one man, one engine” philosophy. Churning out 530hp and 590 lb-ft of torque, the powerplant is capable 0-62 mph in 4.3sec.

Tick the “Performance Package” box and turbo boost is increased to 18.5psi, producing 557hp and 664 lb-ft. The option skims 0.1sec from that sprint, and top speed is extended to 186mph – for a $9000 premium.

Sharing the SL550’s aluminum body and magnesium roof, the SL63 adds a carbon composite trunk that ditches 11 lb – chump change on a two-ton car, but every bit helps, adding up to a total of 275 lb over its predecessor.

A multi-clutch seven-speed transmission achieves sportier shifts in as little as 100 milliseconds. Active Body Control is standard on the AMG version but options abound, conspiring to boost the price tag towards $200k: a B&O sound system runs $6400, the Premium Package with keyless entry, rear camera and Airscarf heater depletes your account by $4300, while carbon/ceramic brakes will bleed $12625 from you.

Our drive through hills overlooking Saint-Tropez’s Côte d’Azur revealed addictively swift acceleration that begged for repeated downshifts, followed by launches towards the horizon.

While the SL550’s exhaust offers subtle hints of turbo whistle, the SL63’s subsonic sounds boom sublimely. Like a high-watt, low-distortion tube amp, its acoustic qualities are melodious and easy on the ears.

Handling with the suspension on its stiffest setting is eerily flat. AMG claims it eliminated 95% of body roll, leaving the remainder for feedback – and indeed, there’s a steep dropoff in grip when the tires finally give up. But until that point, the SL63 maneuvers imperturbably.

Less involving than, say, a Porsche 911, the SL63 nonetheless feels potent and nimbler than you might expect. While the electro-mechanical steering felt disconcertingly numb on-center, head of development Tobias Moers assured us there was plenty of time to resolve the problem…

Our other gripe pertained to the seven-speed’s delayed response in manual mode, a recurrent issue for all Mercedes-Benzes of late, even the C63 AMG Black Series.

For what it’s worth, the gearbox performs flawlessly in Sport + mode, shifting quickly with impeccably rev-matched downshifts. Equally impressive are the carbon ceramic brakes.

Punchier, prettier and more involving than the SL550, the SL63 AMG manages to entertain with its kick-in-the-pants acceleration and superb soundtrack.

Second Opinion SL550

Mercedes-Benz stated “controlled efficiency” was its approach to commotion and consumption, but there’s also an element of controlled lunacy. This becomes especially evident In a canyon.

Having enjoyed 429hp to spring from the last corner to the next, there are two aspects of the new SL that detract from the fun The first is the brakes. They slow the car down, but there’s no “bite”, no confidence from the pedal.

There’s no sensation from the electrically assisted steering either. And that’s an even bigger shame, because the SL could probably take a bend much faster than most drivers would dare. Unfortunately, it’s hard to gauge when the front tires are going to understeer. And smacking a $120,000 car into the guardrail will spoil anyone’s day.

Nevertheless, the SL remains calm and composed as its nose changes direction and heads toward the apex. Then something strange happens. With no extra input, the tail seems to shimmy a fraction, as if there was four-wheel steering. It does have a semi-active suspension as standard, or there’s the optional Active Body Control, but this phenomenon occurs in both versions.

The shimmy could be the result of various sensors measuring steering angle, road speed, weight transfer and yaw rate, feeding it back to the central computer, which then performs a calculation and stiffens the suspension in a fraction of a second.

Mercedes-Benz wanted the SL to be more athletic, and it succeeded. Perhaps more by high-tech trickery than old-fashioned chassis tuning, but the result Is about the same.

Magic Vision Control, for example, uses tiny jets in the wiper arm to replace nozzles that splash washer fluid onto the windshield. Their introduction means visibility is preserved, as well as dryness when the top is down. It also uses less water, allows a smaller reservoir, saving 4 lb. This kind of obsessive attention to weight would be expected from Lotus, but is no less welcome from a luxury marque.

By Basem Wasef,
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