The lion and the pussycat: The Mercedes SL 63 AMG

Mercedes Benz SL 63 AMGIf the SLK has ever been criticised for looking a bit too weedy, one glance at its biggest of brothers, the SL 63 AMG, would be enough to make even Chuck Norris think twice about getting involved. The SL is Mercedes’ top-of-the-line roadster, and the AMG version is the performance highlight among the five cars in the range. Its purpose is to combine power, agility, luxury and comfort in a package that looks like it might punch you square in the mouth if you try to mess with it. Make no mistake; it’s both jaw-droppingly good looking and, being on the large side, hugely imposing. Imagine it as a lion, to start with.

Mercedes is in the process of downsizing and turbocharging its performance engines, all in the name of reducing emissions. The 6.2-litre lump in the SL is something of a dying breed, then, and it’s a real shame for fans of naturally-aspirated engines, because it’s a desperately characterful unit with a warm soundtrack and a real willingness to rev. The V8 unit is called a 6.3 by Mercedes (even inside the car itself), but since it’s really 6208cc it’s a bit of an exaggeration. Perhaps they just liked the odd number, but whatever size it is, the same engine has seen service in a number of AMG cars in the recent past, and once you get out on the road it’s one of the SL’s main highlights.

Settling into the driver’s seat is a very pleasant experience. The muscular lines of the exterior, from the four exhausts to the stunning wheels and wide stance, give way to an oasis of stitched leather, punctuated by electronic interfaces for the navigation, seat adjustment and stereo controls amongst other toys. In the sporting spirit of the AMG brand, the steering wheel is contoured to fit your hands snugly in the ‘ten to two’ position, and there’s a complete range of adjustments available for the wheel and seat. You can even adjust the headrest if you like. The heated seats are impressively comfy, offering support in all the right places including good bolstering at the sides of the seat back.

You’ll find it missing a pedal, though, because the SL 63 comes with an AMG 7-speed fully automatic gearbox, with a couple of gearshift paddles behind the steering wheel if you’d prefer to take some control. You only get some control, mind you; the computer will always override your decisions if it disagrees, and there can be an irritating delay in downshifts if you’re in a hurry. It’s usually best to forget the paddles altogether and just change the way the gearbox deals with the 518bhp and 465lb/ft of punch on tap, by using the four mode settings; Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Manual, the last of which speeds the shifts up to just 100 milliseconds. Select that mode and the SL has definitely got something of the lion about it.

What it doesn’t have is outright drama. As alluring as the growl of the V8 is as the revs climb rapidly around to 6000 and beyond, it’s quite muted given how powerful it is. It’s not a car that will cause turned heads to start shaking, and that’s usually a good thing. Thanks to the complex electric folding hard-top roof and the structural fallout from that, this SL is actually a bit on the weighty side at nearly two tonnes, and the performance is dented a bit as a result. Its relatively restrained vocal chords go hand in hand with acceleration that’s smooth and relentless, but never brutal. Not very lion-like after all.

To add to that, it’s an especially effective cruiser. It’s unfathomably stable at high speeds, and the steering is reassuringly chunky, blessed with good weight and adequate feel. It’s a responsive car to drive despite its size and weight, and the overall impression it gives is that of a thoroughly effective all-rounder, especially when you factor in the outstanding ride quality. Admittedly, billiard table-smooth German roads won’t trouble many cars, but hunting out some rutted ones off the beaten track shows what a really well-engineered beast the 63 is. The ride is just jiggly enough to remind you that you’re driving a high-performance car, but it’s always well controlled. Under the skin, the lion is more of a short-tempered but reliable and lovable domestic cat.

Boot space is a bit restricted. There’s enough room for a couple of small-to-medium size cases, but the awkward shape of the available area, and the need to leave space for the roof to retract into, means that for such a big car you have to be careful with your packing when it comes to a long weekend away.

Finally, let’s talk numbers. To start with, here’s six: 106,820. That’s the number of pounds you’ll have to part with to put an SL 63 AMG on your drive. A new pair of back tyres will set you back more than £600, and since Mercedes only claim 20mpg on the combined cycle, you can probably expect to be shelling out quite a bit in fuel. With a CO2 output of 330g/km it’s hardly cheap to tax, either, but all this is beside the point if you’ve got the money to spare. This is a very well rounded car, with no one quality outshining the wealth of others, and with no real flaws either. It’s perfect for its target market, even if that target market is quite small.

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