As the years advance and we venture forth through the decades we occasionally reflect on those halcyon years when we were at our best. With age we become a bit softer, we opt for more luxury, more cosseting. Perhaps looser, more comfortable attire as we switch from the skinny jeans to the elasticated velour. We become a slightly more compromising version of ourselves at our peak. We might even dream of shedding some excess baggage, getting a bit more toned to become a lither, fitter more singularly focused version of ourselves. 

This is the story and the reality of the new Mercedes SL. While it is bigger and heavier than previous model at. 4,500 pounds and 5 inches longer, it is leaner and meaner with the weight gain and translated into muscle, performance and sleeker aesthetics.

For many years the SL Class was the flagship of the Mercedes brand, originally introduced in 1954 in gullwing format as a road-going version of the W198 racing car, the roadster was introduced in 1957 and resulted in the start of a successful lineage with the Pagoda Roof version and the iconic R107, produced from 1971-1990 that was Pam and Bobby’s preferred mode of transport to waft between Southfork and the Country Club. The fourth, fifth and sixth generations of the SL continued the evolution and tradition of a luxury roadster that blends elegance with practicality, including high performance derivatives fettled by AMG. 

This new generation of the ‘Sport-Light’ however is much more singular in purpose. The new SL is only available as an AMG and the sports and performance focus is very much at the core of the new design, both in form and function. Mercedes have transformed the SL from a luxury cruiser, typically found in the parking lot of the local Country Club, to a more audacious, dynamic and finely honed performance car. 

The bright Sun Yellow SL 63 that sits in my driveway, with its aerodynamics package, AMG Night Package, Extended Night Package, and 21’ cross spoked forged alloys epitomizes the audacious appeal and personality that Mercedes appears to be seeking with this new incarnation of the SL. And it looks awesome. 

The new SL has been totally redesigned and reinvented and there is not a single component that comes from the predecessor SL or any other model such as the AMG GT Roadster. The new SL is also a departure from previous versions with its new 2+2 configuration and the folding hardtop on the last three versions has been replaced with a soft top, which frankly looks much nicer, is available in black or red and also provides a weight saving of over fifty pounds. The new SL is also only available in all-wheel drive.

The chassis of the new SL is based on a lightweight composite aluminum structure that increases the tortional rigidity by 18% compared to the previous model with a low center of gravity for improved performance. Leveraging Mercedes deep experience in motorsport, a key focus of the new SL design was aerodynamic efficiency to optimize the fine balance between handling stability, drag, cooling and wind noise, to maintain the pure driving experience irrespective of whether the top is down or up. 

Reflecting the heritage and styling cues of 70 years of prior generations, the main features of the new SL are the long wheelbase, long hood, short overhangs and the cabin set well back with a steeply raked screen. The sleek power bulges on the bonnet and wide AMG specific radiator grille reflect the ancestry of the earliest SLs. The huge side air intakes and the jet-wing on the front splitter give this new SL a wider, low and purposefully aggressive look in addition to the functional cooling and aerodynamic attributes. The Z fold soft top has enabled the Mercedes designers to keep a relatively low profile and wide sculpted wheel arches give the SL a powerful rear end. The active rear spoiler is seamlessly integrated and neatly tucks away. The slim taillights reflect the sleek headlight design and the gloss black diffuser with four vertical fins and AMG exhausts integrates nicely, lifting and accentuating the rounded rear end that emphasizes the width of the roadster design. 

Approaching the SL, the chrome door handles emerge from the seamlessly flush position. They beautifully machines and feel really solid in the hand. Slipping into the interior of the SL and nestling into the standard AMG sports seats, the first impression is that this is very much a sports car with its low driving position and high door lines. The 2+2 configuration offers the added benefit of the small rear seats, though in reality they are more for storage unless your passengers are less than 5ft and the front seat occupants have very short legs to move the front seats forward.

The interior is well appointed, aesthetically clean and minimalist, which really appeals to me. The aviation inspired instrument panel is designed to look like a powerful wing with the beautiful, galvanized silver turbine nozzles as air vents. The high resolution 12.3 inch instrument cluster is fully digital integrated into the panel, offering a range of 5 different display styles to include Classic, Sport, Supersport, Track Pace and discreet are available as well as a full screen GPS map. I prefer the Classic display with round speedo and tach, but with the center display set to show the horsepower and torque that gratifyingly displays a bar that unfurls towards the driver when you apply power.  

Most of the controls and switchgear are seamlessly incorporated into the four lateral spokes of the AMG Performance steering wheel with its haptic touch sensors. The left upper spoke controls the instrument cluster displays and the right controls the media displays. The lower spokes control the cruise control and telephone hands free system. The AMG Performance Wheel also includes two very clever round touch screens conveniently located by the drivers thumbs to scroll between Comfort, Sports, Sports+, Race and Individual settings on the right and a plethora of other adjustments on the left.  The column includes the switchgear for the AMG SPEEDSHIFT MCT 9G transmission, which can also be shifted via the aluminum paddle. Other than the window and seat buttons on the doors, everything else is neatly incorporated into the huge touchscreen on the center console. Mercedes call this integration of analogue geometry and the digital world ‘hyperanalogue’. 

The latest generation of the MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) is exceptionally good. The large 11.9 inch wide portrait format multi-media touchscreen screen can be electrically tilted between 12-32 degrees, exceptionally useful when the top is down to adjust for sunlight and reflections. The entire user interface of the MBUX is genuinely superb and the best system on the market today, the maps are clear and detailed particularly in the 3D format, it is easy to navigate through the system, the ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice control feature works well and there are a series of small buttons elegantly integrated on the bottom that allow you to quickly get back to the home screen, AMG performance settings, general settings, volume and camera. The cameras and parking system literally offers a 3D 360 degree birds eye view of the car and its entire surroundings that you can move around to see everything. The MBUX also incorporates AMG Specific content on the SL including AMG Performance and AMG Track Pace. 

The sports design and intent of the SL is further underscored with the AMG Performance menu that shows a wide range of data from power, torque or lateral acceleration to the power distribution of all-wheel drive and fluid temperatures. AMG Track Pace is a data logger for the track allowing a Telemetry screen to display 40 data parameters. This is can vbe complemented by lap and sector times on both the multimedia display, head-up display and in the instrument cluster, as well as additional training and analysis tools. 

The black Nappa leather and optional Carbon Fiber trim package in my demo car feel functional, tactile and look superb. The seats are very firm, but supportive and offer a wide range of movement between the door mounted switches, which can be a bit finicky, and the touchscreen. The head restraints are integrated into the backrest, which emphasizes the sporty look, particulary with the polished alumum AMG logo. Mercedes have also integrated a clever AIRSCARF feature as standard, whereby warm air flows into the passenger compartment through vents in the head restraints to offer a layer of warmth around the head and neck of the driver and front passenger like a virtual scarf.

The electric soft top reduces weight and lowers the center of gravity of the new SL. It comprises of a three layer design with an acoustic insert. The space and weight saving of the Z fold design also enabled the designers to dispense with a traditional soft top cover and the entire process of raising or lowering the roof takes around 15 seconds and it can be deployed at up to 35mph. The soft top configuration also allows for a larger and more flexible luggage compartment, at around 7.5 cubic feet that can be 8.5 cubic feet when the soft top is up. It is not huge, but ample for a weekend away and fits two small sizes golf bags. When the soft top is up the fit is superb and the acoustics are excellent, absorbing peripheral exterior sound as effectively as any hard top. 

The SL uses the same hand-built AMG 4.0-liter V8 biturbo engine for the both the SL 55 and SL 63 variants and for the first time in the history of the SL, power is transferred to the road with an all-wheel drive system. The turbochargers are located in between the cylinder banks, which is referred to as a “hot inside V” and creates a compact design, more spontaneous response and lower emissions due to optimal airflow to the close coupled catalysts. The turbos use twin-scroll technology where the housing of the turbocharger is divided into two parallel channels for flow. This is combined with two separate exhaust ducts which makes it possible to control the exhaust gases on the turbine wheel separately. This reduces the exhaust gas back-pressure and improves gas exchange resulting in increased output, more torque at low revs and immediate response times. Rapidly accelerating in the SL with the top down you can hear the lovely woosh sounds of the gas as it is released from the turbo wastegates on the rapid gear shifts. My demo, the SL 63 produces 577 hp and 590 lb-ft or torque, which rapidly propels the SL to 60 mph in under 3.5 seconds and in calibrated tests by Car and Driver and Motor Trend, it was well within these numbers. 

The AMG 9 speed Multi-Clutch-Transmission was specifically adapted for the SL and includes a wet start-off clutch that replaces the torque converter, reduces weight and optimizes accelerator response times. The calibrated AMG transmission software provides for extremely short shift times, rapid downshifts and includes an automatic throttle blipping feature in downshifting which is automatically activated in Sport, Sport+ and Race modes. There is also a RACE START function which ensures optimal acceleration from a standstill. The SL is equipped with the AMG Performance 4MATIC+ fully variable all-wheel drive as standard, which offers different drive concepts and the application of fully variable torque distribution to the front and rear axles optimizing traction and which means that the new SL can be driven continuously variably from traction-oriented all-wheel drive to pure rear-wheel drive. 

The SL 63 is also equipped with the innovative AMG ACTIVE RIDE CONTROL suspension with active, hydraulic anti-roll stabilisation. In addition to increased ride comfort and damping, this system allows for enhanced turn-in and load change behavior with AMG dynamics that results in increased precision and driver feedback. The SL 63 also has an electronically controlled limited-slip rear differential that improves traction, cornering, high speed handling and stability. The SL also benefits from the application of the Mercedes active rear axle steering system, where the rear wheels will angle up to 2.5 degrees and steer in the opposite direction of the front wheels at speeds below 60 mph. This essentially shortens the wheelbase increasing the turning agility, requiring less steering effort and enhancing the fun factor. It also reduces the turning circle for tighter environments and easier parking, automatic parking and remote parking. Above 60 mph the rear wheels turn parallel to the front wheels up to a maximum of 0.7 degrees, which essentially lengthens the wheelbase and allows for improved stability and lane changes. When the driving modes are adjusted, such as Sport+, this also correspondingly adjusts the responsiveness the rear-axle steering.

My demo car was also fitted with the optional Carbon Ceramic High Performance Braking system, which can be identified with the bronze finish of the brake calipers. The carbon ceramic system further reduces weight and enable the SL to withstand prolonged track use, and the SL feels like it would be extraordinarily capable in a track environment.

The price point of the SL55 starts at $137,400, which puts the SL up against some formidable competition, specifically the BMW M8 Competition Convertible $146,600, the Porsche 911 Carrera 4 GTS Cabriolet ($171), Corvette Z06 3LZ ($127,545), Audi R8 Spyder ($171k) and the  Aston Martin Vantage Roadster ($150,086). 

The base price of the 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL 63 Roadster is $178,100 and my demo car came with the optional Carbon Fiber trim ($2,850), Carbon Ceramic Braking System ($8,950), Aerodynamics Package ($2,850), Night Package ($750) and Extended Night Package ($750), 21’Forged Cross Spoke Black Wheels ($3,300), Dark Light Package ($550), Black Microfibre headliner ($1,600), Load Compartment Package ($485), Driver Assistance Package ($1,950) and Performance Line ($1,800). With the gas guzzler tax and destination and delivery charges this brought the total price of this car to $206,285. 

This new version of the SL is exceptional, it is a worthy successor to the lineage of the original ‘Sport Light’ concept and the W198. It is beautifully designed and combines the sleek aesthetics that have always been a hallmark of the SL, with uncompromising performance, handling and day-to-day usability.

It has inspired me to return to the gym in the hopes of improving my own performance and aesthetics. I can only hope to reinvent my younger self quite so successfully.

More information on the Mercedes AMG SL 63 Roadster can be found here.

Photographs by James Henderson.