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First drive: Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.

First drive: Mercedes-AMG SL 65
A V12 biturbo for the new Merc SL? Surely we're onto a winner here...

   



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Mercedes-AMG SL 65

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Oh, Mercedes-AMG - what have you done here? Drive the ludicrously powerful SL 65 in isolation and you would think it was the perfect example of the Mercedes roadster's revised range. But it doesn't exist in isolation and as a result, its fearsome asking price rather undoes the V12's whole case.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Mercedes-AMG SL 65
Pricing: SL range from 73,805; SL 65 from 173,295
Engine: 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged V12 petrol
Transmission: seven-speed AMG Speedshift Plus automatic, rear-wheel drive
Body style: two-door roadster
CO2 emissions: 279g/km (VED Band M, 1,100 first 12 months, 505 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 23.7mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited); optional 186mph limiter offered
0-62mph: 4.0 seconds
Power: 630hp at 4,800- to 5,400rpm
Torque: 1,000Nm at 2,300- to 4,300rpm

What's this?

The ultimate in the Mercedes-AMG and Mercedes-Benz four-model SL line-up. Packing a megalomaniacal 6.0-litre twin-turbo V12 engine, the Mercedes-AMG SL 65 is all of Stuttgart and Affalterbach's roadster know-how distilled into one supremely luxurious package. It develops faintly disturbing numbers of 630hp and 1,000Nm (a torque figure, mind, that would shame many marine diesels and which has been pegged back by the manufacturer; anecdotal reports suggest this lump can easily achieve 1,200Nm, maybe more) and is priced at a thoroughly scary 173,295.

It's this latter figure that raises a few issues. First, it's 99,490 more than the excellent SL 400 that bookends the other end of this particular model range. Perhaps more pertinently, it's a colossal 59,195 more than the absolutely supreme Mercedes-AMG SL 63 that is the next rung down the ladder - a car that is every bit as quick and also just as nice to look at, inside and out. And finally, it puts the 65 into competition with the likes of Ferrari, McLaren and Bentley, rather than Porsche, BMW and Jaguar. The SL 63 can hold its head high against similarly premium marques like the Germans and Jaguar; but does the SL 65 feel truly special enough to warrant a place alongside genuine supercars from brands such as the ones listed above?

Not helping the 65's case are the looks. Substantially facelifted in the manner of all other 2016MY R231 SLs, it's a handsome machine, but in standard format a modicum of its stylish verve is negated by some rather unpleasant polished chrome detailing, notably for the wheels and lower door trims. Sure, people with the sort of money to burn on a luxury roadster like this can afford to have it in any colour combination they like (we shudder to think...), yet it behoves us to say that on the launch event, it was the SL 63 that was winning the visual acclaim - not the SL 65.

How does it drive?

Note a few things in the SL 65's tech spec compared to the SL 63's data and the alarm bells are ringing before you've so much as fired up the mysteriously quiet 6.0 V12. The things we talk of are these: the V12 AMG gets a seven-speed torque converter auto, not the super-quick and faultless twin-clutch transmission of the SL 63; the SL 65 weighs 105kg more than its V8 twin; it only develops 45hp and 100Nm more, meaning its power-to-weight ratio of 323hp/tonne is a mere 6hp/tonne up on that pesky 63; and the fuel economy is even worse on the V12 than it is on the 585hp V8.

All of which translates into a drive that's not up to comparison with its smaller-engined brother. The 65 lumbers into corners, rather than slicing into them, which always makes it feel a touch ungainly and bulky; whereas its nearest analogue, the 63, feels limber and willing. The steering's fine and the top-level brakes are epic, although the standard-fit AMG Sports Suspension (it's 1,570 extra on the SL 63) doesn't seem to do quite as good a job of reining in the large body through the curves. It makes the V12 very much a 'brake, turn in, stay off the gas... stay off the gas... are we on the straight yet? Oh good, gun it now, then' sort of car, rather than one that you can get into a flowing, and ultimately rewarding, groove.

It's also extremely subdued, save for the near-deafening cracks and pops of the exhaust on the overrun - these back box histrionics are the one area the SL 65 is louder than the 63, or even the SL 400. The rest of the time, the V12 makes a fairly humdrum low gargling sound under heavy acceleration, so it's not as intoxicating to give it the proverbial beans when the occasion permits. And the fuel economy if you do start driving it hard is single-digit stuff, without question. Even for oligarchs, that's a bloody thirsty motor.

Naturally, it is absolutely bonkers quick in a straight line, especially the utterly unbelievable haymaker midrange, but yet again we'd say subjectively the SL 63 feels every bit as rapid. Maybe on a long, long runway in a head-to-head drag race, the SL 65 would make its extra power tell; on the road, you'll never notice the V12's benefit. At least the ride and refinement are as magnificent on this car as they are on all other SLs. And therein lies the rub - these characteristics are as good as other SLs, not better. So why would you pay more than 50 per cent of the cost of the 63 and comfortably in excess of double either the 400 or 500 SLs for the 65?

Verdict

The Mercedes-AMG SL 65 is a beautiful car and one we feel very privileged to have driven. Yet we cannot make head nor tail of what its purpose is at all. It's outmanoeuvred dynamically and outgunned in the sound department by the AMG SL 63, which is 60 grand cheaper, so SL fans who lean more towards 'sporty' rather than 'cruisey' will surely opt for the 5.5-litre V8 model. And if you make the argument that the SL should be a grand tourer before all else, then the 100,000 (or as near as makes no difference) cheaper SL 400 does just as good a job as the V12, adding in much superior fuel economy and emissions as a sweetener. The SL 65 therefore appears to be a rarefied car for label junkies who want what, on the face of it, is the best of the best. But for us? It's a flagship that's holed below the water line not by key rivals, but by its own in-house siblings.

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

4 4 4 4 4 Safety

5 5 5 5 5 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 28 Feb 2016



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2016 Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2016 Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2016 Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2016 Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2016 Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.

2016 Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2016 Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2016 Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2016 Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.2016 Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.



2016 Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.
 

2016 Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.
 

2016 Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.
 

2016 Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.
 

2016 Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.
 

2016 Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.
 

2016 Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.
 

2016 Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.
 

2016 Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Image by Mercedes-AMG.
 






 

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