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SLR-lite. Image by Kyle Fortune.

SLR-lite
Heading the new Merc SL changes is the fitment of the AMG 6.2-litre V8.

   



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| First Drive | Palm Springs, USA | Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG |

It was always a question of when rather than if AMG would fit its 6.2-litre V8 engine into the two-seat SL to replace the 5.4-litre supercharged unit of the SL 55. Mercedes provided the perfect opportunity for their colleagues at Affalterbach's to do just that, giving the SL range a mid-life update that brings a new look, more dynamism and improved equipment. Replacing the brutish SL 55, the SL 63 promises similarly insane levels of performance, but in a far more resolved and dynamic package.

In the Metal

Everything looks good under a bright desert sun, but there's no denying that Mercedes' styling changes to the SL really work. The alterations up front are fairly extensive, new headlamps replacing the old twin-styled ones, a more prominent single-bar grille giving the SL a wider look that's reminiscent of the SL's predecessors. The SL 63 obviously benefits from some additional visual enhancements over its mere ordinary relatives. The front bumper gets black mesh grilles, additional vents fore of the front wheels, punctured side wings with '63' badging, a rear lip spoiler and five-spoke alloy wheels. Their combined effect gives the SL some real attitude, something that's underlined when you turn the key and the 6.2-litre announces its awakening with a fantastic tearing metallic rasp from the quad exhausts.

Inside it's all largely familiar, detail enhancements to the instruments and telematics systems being the chief improvements, along with new seats. The SL 63 is littered with AMG badges and there are a number of new switches and knobs positioned around the new AMG Speedshift MCT transmission's gearstick for the numerous electronic driver aids that AMG has added. The SL remains the only car in its class that offers a folding hardtop, the vario-roof turning it from a smart coupé into a cool roadster in just 16 seconds.

What you get for your Money

The 2008 SL gains a lot of revised equipment along with its new look; the AMG version, being one of the range-toppers, coming very comprehensively specified. Obviously the key to the SL 63 is the 518bhp 6.2-litre V8 and the new 7-speed AMG Speedshift MCT transmission it's mated to. In addition, AMG has extensively retuned the suspension to provide greater agility and precision on the road. The specification list for the SL 63 has more letter combinations than your worst Countdown conundrum, the acronyms relating to the numerous driver aids that enable the SL 63 to use its extraordinary power.

The engine is simply a masterpiece, in this installation delivering 518bhp and 464lb.ft of torque. That'll inevitably increase in the Black Series model that's expected soon, but until then SL 63 AMG drivers will have to 'make do' with the ability to sprint to 62mph in 4.6 seconds. For your £102,975 you also get one of the most naughty-sounding exhausts to ever feature on a production car; the noise it makes when it starts up is enough to have the hairs on people's necks a mile away standing on end. The most significant enhancement that AMG has added to the SL 63 is that new 7-speed AMG Speedshift MCT transmission. It's an unusual combination of manual and automatic, derived from the 7G-Tronic automatic, but featuring a clutch instead of a torque converter. It remains a two-pedal system, operated by paddles behind the steering wheel or left to its own devices.

Driving it

AMG promises that the changes it has made to the SL 63 over its SL 55 relative make it a more rewarding drivers' car. That's impossible to deny, the 63 immediately feeling more precise and planted than the sometimes wayward SL 55. The front end turns in quickly, but there's not a great deal of information from the steering wheel. Learn to lean on it and the SL 63 rewards with remarkable front end grip, understeer rarely apparent - even when pushed hard in tighter bends. The rear is similarly impressive, the fidgety back end of the SL 55 long forgotten. The ride too is remarkable, AMG's tuning of the suspension allowing the SL 63 to cover ground with astonishing competence. It makes the SL 63 a devastatingly effective cross-country machine, though some might lament the rawer, more edgy driving experience that the SL 55 delivered.

They'll certainly miss the SL 55's immediate torque, the SL 63's peak torque less and its delivery far more measured than the brutal, tyre-melting kick that the SL 55 gave. The SL 63 undoubtedly feels like the more precise instrument that AMG promised, though for all the fuss AMG has made over the transmission it's not the revelation we'd perhaps expected. The two-pedal, paddle-shift set-up promises 100 millisecond shifts as quick as Ferrari's 599. That's in its fastest setting, there being four to chose from: Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Manual. The gears are shifted quickly enough and downshifts in the manual and more sporting modes are rewarded with a glorious throttle blip, but it's still reluctant to downshift precisely when you want it to, robbing you on occasion of engine braking when entering a corner. Given the SL 63's extraordinary mixed brief, and its remarkable ability to fulfil it, that's only a minor complaint, though.

Worth Noting

The ESP system now has three settings: on, ESP Sport and off - the latter being best left for tracks. ESP Sport mode allows enough slip to be enjoyable, but with the safety net should it be needed. As ever there's the opportunity to choose a few packs from AMG to make the SL 63 even more special. The Performance Pack adds a limited slip differential among other trick bits, while a Driver's Pack will remove - make that reposition - the SL 63's electronic speed limiter from 155mph to 186mph. Without it AMG is confident that the SL 63 would comfortably breach 200mph. AMG's Performance Studio also brought along a matte coloured car to the SL 63's launch, something they can do for customers on special order, but you'll need a few extra thousand pounds to do so. Interestingly though, AMG's people let it slip that they're looking into ways of taking matte finish paints into production.

Summary

AMG has finally put its flagship, high-revving V8 engine into the SL, and it has created a remarkably well rounded sports car and GT. Much of the rawness of its predecessor has been tuned out, making the SL 63 a more precise and dynamic drive; different then, but no less exciting. It'll be interesting to see what AMG's alchemists in the Black Series department have in store for it...

Kyle Fortune - 14 Mar 2008



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2008 Mercedes-Benz SL specifications: (First Drive)
Price: £102,975 on-the-road.
0-62mph: 4.6 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Combined economy: 20.3mpg
Kerb weight: 1970kg

2008 Mercedes-Benz SL AMG. Image by United Pictures.2008 Mercedes-Benz SL AMG. Image by United Pictures.2008 Mercedes-Benz SL AMG. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Mercedes-Benz SL AMG. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Mercedes-Benz SL AMG. Image by Kyle Fortune.

2008 Mercedes-Benz SL AMG. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Mercedes-Benz SL AMG. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Mercedes-Benz SL AMG. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Mercedes-Benz SL AMG. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Mercedes-Benz SL AMG. Image by Kyle Fortune.



2008 Mercedes-Benz SL AMG. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 Mercedes-Benz SL AMG. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 Mercedes-Benz SL AMG. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 Mercedes-Benz SL AMG. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 Mercedes-Benz SL AMG. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 Mercedes-Benz SL AMG. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2008 Mercedes-Benz SL AMG. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 






 

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