It starts with a gurgle progressing to an authoritative brrrraaaaaaaaap
that echoes through the olive groves and vineyards. Our bright red 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG
picks off one small car after another, flicking them off as though they were bugs that had the nerve
to land on its shoulders. Such is life behind the wheel of one of the most powerful vehicles available today.
Right on the heels of the introduction of Mercedes-Benz's anything-but-pedestrian SL550
, the brand decided that if some was good, then more is better. To display their vision, we traveled to the south of France where this droptop is clearly in its element, to sample the latest in fast things from their in-house tuning division, AMG.
With the introduction of the sixth generation SL hardtop convertible, you can almost set your clock to the day that the brand would unveil its next-generation high-performance AMG sled. The public debut occurred during the Geneva show this past March. And if you're one of those especially hard-to-please types, you'll take notice that the top of the line is not necessarily the top of the line
since a bound-to-be-ultra-rare SL65 also exists.
The SL63 AMG has managed to go on a diet in the past year, now featuring a new, all-aluminum body shell that is not too dissimilar to the SLS AMG; it manages to shave some additional gross tonnage through the use of a carbon fiber-framed, plastic trunk lid. Through techniques and component upgrades like this, the SL63 sees a weight savings of 275 lbs. Finally weighing in at still substantial 4,059 lbs., the SL63 nonetheless boasts almost 30 percent better fuel economy than the outgoing model (look for about 23 mpg combined). Toward that end, the SL63 is equipped with a start/stop mode that shuts off the engine with a full application of the brakes at a stop sign or traffic light. Releasing the brake pedal re-fires the 6.3-liter V8 instantaneously. Our testing revealed a 19 mpg average, but if you're driving one of these hot-rods, chances are fuel economy is not at the top of your worries of the day.
When it comes online in July 2012, the SL63 AMG will include one of the brand's legendary built-by-hand 5.5-liter direct injection twin turbocharged V8 engines. Each engine, built from the ground up by one of the Affalterbach-based technicians, is the same piece of art that has managed to find its way under the hood of the AMG brand's other 63-badged sedans, coupes, convertibles and crossovers. For an exclusive engine, it sure gets around.
Yes, we've seen this engine before, but that doesn't make it any less impressive. For this application, the direct-injected mill designated M157 pumps out 530 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 590 lb-ft of torque between 2,000-4,500 rpm, but that's just the base model. Tick off the AMG Performance Package and you'll net an increase in turbo boost to 4.3 psi, driving output north to 557 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque and the top speed from 155 mph to 186 mph.
The AMG Speedshift MCT 7-speed sport transmission with wet start-up clutch returns, competently clicking through the gears at 100 milliseconds, based on which mode (Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Manual) you select. An AMG Race Start function creates a launch that would make drag racer John Force proud - if he traded his Mustang funny car in for an SL63. For mere mortals, 0 to 60 comes on at around 4.0 seconds or 3.9 for the Performance Package.
Based on the standard Mercedes-Benz SL550, AMG design cues help to separate it from its little brother. With the injection of underhood steroids, comes an AMG specific suspension that causes it to ride lower, and a touch wider, with new front valance, distinctive LED running lights, and a twin bar pair of wings that emanate from the three-pointed star in the front grille. A body colored carbon fiber decklid spoiler provides downforce to the 19-inch high performance tires on the metallic split-spoke alloy wheels. Order the AMG performance package and you'll get your spoiler in glossy carbon fiber.
Interior refinements include all the essentials found in the standard SL. The obvious AMG cues are all here as well, including gauge packs, and control buttons that vary suspension and drive control settings. The heated and ventilated Barcaloungers are now Airscarf-equipped to extend the topless driving season into early winter months.
Also new this year is Magic Sky Control. Sure, you and the friends down at the polo grounds have become blasÃ© over the three-piece stowable roof that manages to hide itself in the boot in just 20 seconds, even while moving. What to do for an encore? Magic Sky Control. With technology scarfed from the soon to be deceased Maybach, a laminated glass roof with electrically-charged particles goes from clear to dark almost instantly. Similar to automatically dimming mirrors that darken with the appearance of headlights from cars following behind, Magic Sky also blocks UV rays.
After driving the SL63 through some of the most beautiful and storied regions ever to be seen by Oenophiles, we have come to appreciate what this car is about. Power is generally linear, suffering only minor lag as the turbines spool up. But once they do, watch out. The AMG kicks you back in the seat with authority, letting you know who's boss, rewarding the senses with a refined feeling of speed, control and comfort, not to mention an incredible audio track of at least 530 horsepower.
Most drivers will cruise in Comfort mode but will find more control in Sport mode. Sport+ is a choppier version better suited to track days rather than a day on a winding road. Gear changes in Comfort are well controlled and not disturbing. Switch to Sport and it becomes more directed with better shift points. Throttle response is more "out there." But the control selector to get there
are not well placed, residing too far rearward on the center console.
This AMG roadster rides on a modified version of the Active Body Control seen in the more plebeian (if you can call it that) SL550. The lightweight aluminum suspension kit, both front and rear, helped to reduce unsprung weight overall. Selecting Sport reduced body lean for negotiating curvy mountain roads in Provence, which at times was probably too harsh for most of the customers who will plunk down their gelt. We think most will get more use of the comfort settings instead. Still, bragging rights are
bragging rights at the end of the day.
Steering was through a slightly overboosted AMG electrical-mechanical setup that nonetheless delivered fast responses, enabling us to quickly change direction while coming around blind curves suddenly filled with a lane-and-a-half of heavy truck from the opposite direction. We would have preferred a bit more in road feel and feedback, but Mercedes-Benz says that a little more bite might be part of the package when full production models arrive in July.
Braking was outstanding from the standard package. We found its 15.3-inch front rotors and 14.2-inch rears were well-suited to the driving we did up. For those who need to feel their insides lurch forward as the car comes to a controlled stop, there is the other-worldy AMG carbon ceramic braking system for a mere $12,625.
Clearly, the sky is not even a limit with the SL63.
Leftlane's bottom line
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG takes its place as one of the world's great grand touring roadsters. Offering oomph, looks and refinement, all in a sexy package is what this car is about.
Its motoring bona fides are untouchable, and it's the perfect ride to drive to the race track to go and thrash about in their new C63 AMG Black Series race car.
2013 Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG
base price, $146,695.
Words and photos by Mark Elias.