Mercedes-AMG SL review

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Mercedes' SL sports car has re-invented itself. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.

Ten Second Review

Luxury sports car buyers traditionally sold on the charms of a Mercedes SL will certainly be sold on this rejuvenated MK7 model. They'll like the lithe proportions and deft detailing, the powerful engines and the luxurious technology. It's more important though, to consider whether the changes made here will widen this classic model's customer audience. More sophistication when it comes to drive dynamics and the additional rear seats certainly mean it has more to offer. It's a special car. As every SL should be.

Background

Sports cars used to be one of the key pillars in the Mercedes-Benz product range, important as much for brand image as for sales. But despite all the last decade's F1 success, those sales have been falling. To the point where in 2020, less than 1% of the cars sold by the company worldwide were sports cars. And that was when the small SLC roadster was still on sale, a car since axed. But Mercedes couldn't quite bring itself to part with the SL model line of larger luxury coupe and roadster sports car models which have a history going all the way back to 1954.

It has however, dramatically re-reinvented the SL for this seventh generation guise. The name for a start, which is now 'Mercedes-AMG', designating a greater sporting intent. And there's much more: the roof switches back from metal folding to a lighter, more traditional fabric design; there are now two occasional rear seats, like a Porsche 911; there's an all-new Modular Sports Architecture platform; and both four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering are now available. This car has even been engineered for plug-in hybrid drive. In short, it's all very different.

Driving Experience

So. No more tame SL-Class; everything is now of the more focused Mercedes-AMG variety. To begin with, customers choose between a couple of 4.0-litre V8s, which direct drive via a 9-speed AMG Speedshift MCT transmission. The entry version is the 469hp SL 55, which gets to 62mph in just 3.9s on the way to 183mph. We can't really see why you'd want to go faster than that, but if you do, there's the SL 63 with 577hp, which features an engine with a larger air manifold and greater boost pressure. In this form, the SL makes 62mph in 3.6s on the way to 196mph.

These are potent stats, so it's may be just as well that for the first time in its model history, the SL has gone all-wheel drive, with a fully variable 4MATIC+ system that can distribute torque between front and rear axles. The SL 55 has AMG Ride Control adaptive damping, while the SL 63 adds to this AMG Active Ride Control with hydraulic anti-roll stabilisation. Optional on the SL 55 (but standard on the SL 63) are active engine mounts and a limited-slip differential. Four-wheel steering is offered on both variants; up to 62mph, this sees the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to those at the front by 2.5-degrees to aid manoeuvring and corner turn-in. Above 62mph, the rears turn in the same direction as the fronts to aid cornering stability.

There are five standard driving modes - 'Slippery', 'Comfort', 'Sport', 'Sport+' and 'Individual'. An additional 'Race' mode can be added to models fitted with the optional AMG Dynamic Plus package. Strangest of all perhaps is the news that this SL has been additionally engineered for a PHEV powertrain, so you can talk to your dealer about a petrol electric SL 63e model.

Design and Build

Styling chief Gordon Wagener is adamant that his brand will never do 'retro' design, which would have been an easy thing to drift into given that this MK 7 SL returns this model line to the fabric roof and 2+2 seating layout of earlier generation SL models. Instead, pretty much everything here is unique for this car, though the Panamerica-style grille is recognisable from other Mercedes-AMG models and the Modular Sports Architecture platform is shared with the new generation Mercedes-AMG GT.

The passenger cell is now more in the centre of the car, so as to make room for the extra rear seats, behind which is a longer boot lid with an integrated spoiler and quad exhausts down below. The triangular shape of the large LED tail lamps echoes the shape of the powerful headlamps up front. And this is a larger car than the previous 'R231'-series model, 88mm longer, 38mm wider and 48mm taller. More significant though, for most customers will be the move away from folding metal panels for the roof mechanism. Which means that for the first time since the fourth generation SL, this car features a fabric roof, a triple-layer top which folds in 15 seconds.

Inside, the cabin adopts the 11.9-inch MBUX portrait centre infotainment screen from the S-Class, but with AMG visuals and graphics. Some of which also feature on the 12.3-inch digital instrument panel. AMG sports seats are of course standard, complete with the Airscarf neck heating system for when you're driving roof-down on chilly days. Behind, as we said, there are now 911-style occasional-use rear seats, though Mercedes admits these are only suitable for people shorter than 1.5m tall.

Out back, there's a 213-litre boot, supposed to be able to take a couple of golf bags. An optional Load Compartment package gives you a sliding partition that increases boot size to 240-litres when the roof is raised.

Market and Model

Expect prices to start at around £85,000 for the SL 55 variant - and closer to £100,000 for the SL 63. You'll want to order the optional Load Compartment package; and possibly also the front active spoiler, a carbon fibre feature hidden in the underbody ahead of the engine which automatically extends downwards by 40mm at 50mph to create a venturi effect. There's also a large active spoiler incorporated into the edge of the boot lid, which activates at five different angles from 50mph upwards, enhancing downforce.

As you'd expect, a wide range of individualisation is offered to suit the most diverse customer wishes - from sporty-dynamic to luxurious-elegant. Twelve paint colours are offered (including the two exclusive SL paints 'Hyper Blue metallic' and 'MANUFAKTUR Monza Grey magno'), plus three roof colour variants and numerous new wheel designs. Three exterior design packages are available to further sharpen the look and make it either more elegant or more dynamic. The SL 55 4MATIC+ runs on 19-inch AMG multi-spoke alloy wheels as standard, optionally in silver or matt black. The SL 63 4MATIC+ sits on 20-inch AMG 5-twin-spoke alloy wheels. The range of wheels includes a total of nine different variants. They include two aerodynamically optimised 20-inch options in 5-twin-spoke or multi-spoke design. The range is rounded off with 21-inch AMG alloy wheels in a 10-spoke design and 21-inch AMG forged wheels in a 5-twin-spoke design, both in two colour variants.

Cost of Ownership

There will be an E-Performance hybrid version of this seventh generation SL, but we don't know much about it yet. With the ordinary V8 variants, you will of course need deep pockets for the running costs. But at least you can buy with confidence. There's a thirty year warranty against corrosion (yes, you heard that right). And we'll tell you that the comprehensive three year unlimited mileage warranty is built upon by Mercedes' Mobilo scheme which delivers breakdown cover for up to thirty years, as long as you continue to have your car serviced at a Mercedes main dealer. And it's worth knowing that your maintenance outlay can be kept a little in check by going for the optional Service Care package that takes care of routine maintenance, spreading the cost of regular servicing, guaranteeing the price of parts and labour for up to four services and covering the cost of all recommended service items such as brake fluid, spark plugs, air filters, fuel filters and screen wash.

There's also a 'Service' segment of the instrument screen with an 'ASSYST PLUS' dashboard service indicator that monitors engine use and tells you exactly when a garage visit is due. It's also worth mentioning that the 'Mercedes me' remote online services package includes remote self-diagnostic capability, enabling your SL to monitor wear and tear items and alert your local dealer to let you know if something needs seeing to. As for the question of residual values, independent experts reckon they will be a strong as they was have been with an SL.

Summary

This is a very special car. Like its predecessors, the seventh generation SL offers a unique, fascinating and in some ways contradictory interpretation of sports car motoring. It's not really tailored for a track, yet it's more than just a very grand GT, a combination that won't suit if your preferences lie at either of these extremes. For many though, this will be the perfect way to reward themselves for a lifetime's endeavour, a car that feels genuinely coupe-like with the roof up and roadster-ready, top-down.

As for the changes that have created this revitalised MK7 model, well they're very welcome - and not only because of aesthetic updates that have given this car so much more streetside presence than it had before. Four-wheel drive, four wheel steering and the stiffer chassis will make a big difference to the driving experience, aided by the lighter weight of the new fabric roof, which compensates for the larger body shell needed to accommodate the welcome addition of extra rear seats. In summary, what we have here is an enduring but very modern take on luxury sports car motoring. And a model that's every inch a classic Mercedes-Benz.

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