Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG at Performance Car Of The Year 2008: Classic MOTOR

IF [Luftwaffe chief and Nazi bastard] Hermann Göring was still alive, he’d drive one of those,” commented Herr Morley during his brief, but beautifully succinct appraisal of Mercedes-Benz’s re-engined, facelifted AMG SL.

This Performance Car Of The Year article was first published in MOTOR Magazine November 2008.

Simmering in metallic black, the new SL63 packs a mean visual punch, and it's a look that it confidently backs up with real fighting talent. Indeed, this bruiser is such a riotous, outrageously addictive bundle of love/hate that it could shock the living crap out of any bully you’d care to name.

2008-Mercedes-Benz-SL63-AMG-drive.jpgBut intimidating speed and thrilling noise are only part – albeit a sizeable portion – of the SL63’s seemingly endless repertoire. On the surface, that mightn’t seem like a whole lot; it is, after all, a 1.9-tonne, super-expensive convertible that doesn’t really need to master much beyond looking buff and sounding tough.

But the SL63 manages to be gob-smackingly brilliant at just about anything it sets its mind to, and shouldn’t be judged by its potential audience of ageing fat cats. Large and flabby the SL63 AMG most certainly is not. It weighs 1895kg, which is getting up there, but with 204kW/tonne working in its favour, the SL63 is a slingshot off the line.

Its new AMG Speedshift MCT seven-speed auto dumps a conventional torque converter for a wet start-up clutch in order to abolish slip and give instant response, and it has four drive modes – C (comfort), S (sport), S+ (sport plus), and RS (race start). And it kicks arse, namely that of BMW's double-clutch.

2008-Mercedes-Benz-SL63-AMG-exterior.jpgIn normal kickdown in C or S, Speedshift MCT can leap-frog as many gears as necessary to be in the right ratio, and it always is. Turn the dial near the gearstick to S+ and it’ll hold gears to the rev cut-out while throttle-blipping on downchanges, accompanied by a hair-tingling V8 exhaust crackle on overrun that's so carnal, it makes you giggle.

Another party trick is launch control. Select ESP Sport, then Drive, stand on the brake and rotate the dial to ‘RS’. Click the right wheel-paddle to confirm you’re about to attempt to affect the earth’s rotation, then flatten the accelerator. Revs spike to 4000rpm, the SL63 primes, then rips out of the blocks like a bellowing jet.

It's as brilliant as the M3's launch control is rubbish, and even the clutch-dumped AWDs couldn't match the SL63 to 60km/h. Then at the kay mark, at 240km/h, the SL63's magnificent brakes rise to the occassion by consistently and effortlessly hauling it up. Same goes on the racetrack.

2008-Mercedes-Benz-SL63-AMG-rear.jpgThe SL63's mega brakes are the perfect complement to its staggering track ability. No one expected the SL63 to be much chop at Wakefield Park, but it clocked the same lap time as the Lotus on semi-slicks! The mega-Merc preferred a slow-in, fast-out approach, but its turn-in, balance, body control, and power-down ability simply beggared belief – all harnessed by the subtle genius of ESP Sport.

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The new Direct Steer steering set-up must take some of the credit here, too, for its speed, feel, and accuracy. The SL55 was a fabulous car, but the SL63 manages to seriously exceed expectation. It's a car whose electronics actually enhance the experience, but AMG's bad boy has a visceral appeal that goes way beyond silicone chips. It has soul, brother.

 

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