Mercedes SL63 AMG hits 100km/h in 4.3s. Photo Gallery
Philip King road tests and reviews the Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG with specs, fuel economy and verdict.
The toaster I bought recently came in a huge box to accommodate all the bumph that came with it. There was a catalogue of similar products, so I could furnish my kitchen with a kettle or blender along the same lines. There was a guarantee it would toast until eternity and instructions which, if I had never used a toaster before in my entire life, just might have been useful.
Insert bread. Turn on. That sort of thing.
Then there were safety warnings that assumed I was a complete stranger to electricity and, best of all, a note congratulating me on my superb product selection.
Giving you a warm inner glow after buying a white good, or in this case an orange good, is retailing 1.01.
But Harvey and Bing and their mates must look enviously at car dealers. Toaster-love is contrived, a ripple in the empathic ether. Buying a car is a seismic event. This is something carmakers like to dwell on, especially the premium brands.
Catch the right emotional wave and they can surf their way to fat margins. You might think, given the number of vehicles that pass through the paws of Prestige Motoring, that I've become inured to their various charms. Not so.
The same cars manage to strike the same chords generation after generation, on a spectrum from ennui to excitement via irritation and delight. There are some cars, though, that summon a feeling I can only describe as "King of the Road''.
It's a very short list and while yours might be different, mine does not contain a single Ferrari, Lamborghini or Aston. There are no BMWs, Audis or Porsches either. They have qualities aplenty, just not this.
On my list there are just two: the Range Rover Vogue and the SL AMG. Obviously, whatever they have, it doesn't boil down to power or luxury. You can't point to part of a Range Rover and say, "Ah, that's the secret ingredient.'' But from behind the wheel of these two utterly different cars I feel as if I'm in the throne room of vehicledom. No other cars can do that.
I'm aware, of course, there are plenty of negatives to both.
The Rangie makes you public enemy No 1 to the entire environmental movement while the SL has the unmistakable whiff of white shoe. So I'm not suggesting you actually buy one on the strength of this emotion. I can imagine wanting a Rangie but there's no way I'd want an SL. It's wrong in every way.
It's a convertible, and a folding hardtop one at that, so it won't drive as well as an equivalent coupe. Worse, it's an ostentatious convertible that exists mainly to show others of a well-heeled persuasion that you're better off than them.
To top it all, this SL, the sixth of the line, is downright ugly. The lumpen design of the standard car is made even worse in the AMG studio by add-ons and aero bits. Now it's heroically unattractive in a Henry VIII sort of way.
Its elegant predecessors, the original 300SL Gullwing or second-generation Pagoda, must shrink with dismay at their brutish heir. From the driver's seat however, this is not what you see. Instead you look out over substantial bonnet real estate with strakes and vents that connect you visually with what's underneath.
The cabin matches the drive experience nicely, with a solidity that Bentley would be proud of. Rich metal, carbon fibre and leather. Nice little IWC clock. The seats are excellent, of course. They look more sporty than regal, but in reality that's what they are.
That's a turbocharged 5.5-litre V8 with 395kW and 800Nm awaiting your command. There's a delay -- the lag between edict and obedience that turbocharging brings -- but before long the tyres are scrabbling to do your bidding like frightened courtiers.
It's awesome power and it quickly corrupts. Despite its size, it can weave through other traffic as though it were stationary, reaching 100km/h after 4.3 seconds.
A performance pack lifts power to 415kW and torque from 800Nm to 900Nm, cutting one-tenth from the sprint time. Keep your foot down and the acceleration is relentless, hitting 200km/h in 12.9 (or 12.6). Turbocharging tends to stifle the sound of an engine and it's no different here, although the bass blatt that emerges could be a force of nature with enough growl to make it addictive.
It sounds best when punching down through gears, when the multi-clutch transmission matches revs for you. This gearbox, with four levels of aggression, can be abrupt when cold and defaults, annoyingly, to an eco mode which shuts down the engine at lights. This allows Mercedes to claim remarkable fuel economy of 9.9l per 100km.
You'll never see that, though, because once you're behind the wheel you become Harry in Vegas. This chassis, lighter than the previous model by 125kg, is up for a night out like no previous SL I've driven. Usually, hardtop convertibles feel like you're driving a box of flatpack furniture but this one is all-of-a-piece, as rigid as a car with a proper roof.
The body control is remarkable for something exceeding 1.8 tonnes and it handles directional changes with an alacrity you simply don't expect. It turns in, points and has tremendous grip. This royal can dance.
On my test route I was expecting sloppiness but what I got instead was supremely assured handling combined with an ermine ride. The brakes can be uneven in feel, a minor letdown given the rest, but the steering is precise.
There are drawbacks -- the roof won't fold on the move and it's a shame some of the mechanism is visible. Worse, there's no digital radio, as there is in a Toyota Camry, which meant that instead of News Radio I had to listen to the parliamentary broadcast. But the view from the throne turns out to be sensational. And I'm thinking of doing away with parliament.
Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG
Price: from $381,500
Engine: 5.5-litre twin turbo V8, 395/800Nm
Transmission: seven-speed automatic, RWD
Thirst: 9.9L /100km
Aston Martin V12 Vantage
Price: from $386,391
Engine: 5.9-litre V12, 380kW/570Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, RWD
Thirst: 16.4L /100km
Aston Martin V12 Vantage - see other Vantage verdicts