Having the opportunity to test all three derivatives – the SL 500, the SL 63 AMG and the SL 65 AMG Roadsters – was a privilege and a most thrilling experience. All three Mercedes-Benz SL models are the same, yet they differ so much from one another that they each deserve to be dealt with separately in order to do justice to them.
For the purposes of this article, I am going to tell you about the phenomenal SL brand and just touch on a few, but
explicit, differences that set them apart.
Mercedes is renowned for its quality products and quality finishing, and the Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster range
is a true example of the excellence of the SL’s overall grandeur, where every component and the overall product
are nothing short of spectacular. Innovation is at the forefront, but history and tradition are clearly seen and are
imbedded in the new SL Roadster. The long hood remains, with the compact, stylish and functional passenger compartment followed by the broad and muscular-looking rear that truly portrays the athletic and sporting ability
of the SL Roadster.
Mercedes-Benz Roadster SL 300
* Prices as at date of publishing
Even standing still, the SL Roadster oozes movement and charm. It looks the part of being a more than capable sports car that is ready to do battle or just ‘cruise to influence’ – or, if it is the SL 63 AMG, just blast you away with pure, brutal sound. I think the sound is there so that you can see which direction it went, because it is fast and will disappear before you know it. Very little distinguishes the three models, and the decals, rims and the twin-blade grill of the AMG and the leather patterns of the seats are the only real giveaway. And the colours are as exciting as the vehicles.
Strapping yourself into the seats in the passenger compartment is when the fun really begins. I found the SL much easier to get in and out of than many other sports cars. The ergonomics of the seats is excellent and I could set the seat exactly as I wanted it. Add to that the excellent support and the lovely massage functions and
you are assured of pure joy. The seats of the SL are such that they press against your sides to ensure that you remain in the best possible driving position, and they are a truly excellent feature.
The upper section of the dashboard creates a formal unity and, with the exception of the black interior, is always styled in a contrasting colour. Wood trim or aluminium trim extends from the centre console across the dashboard into the doors, creating a pleasant wrap-around effect.
The high-quality instruments are striking and eye-catching and harmonise the SL history with the innovative styling.
Most of the essential systems are operated via a 3-spoke sports steering wheel with shift paddles and 12-function buttons. I just loved the steering wheel featuring a flattened bottom section, and the nappa leather-covered grip area ensures that you have total control at all times. All of the switches are exactly where you would
want them. As with any information system, you have to familiarise yourself beforehand to ensure not only your safety, but also optimum use of all the systems that are available.
There are a multitude of functions available, including massage. I made sure I knew how to operate the roof in case I got caught in the rain as happened previously. Visibility with the roof up is still very good, and, with the blind-spot indicators, you will not easily make a mistake. The reverse camera works well and so does the navigation system.
As for the size of the cabin, Mercedes-Benz has made the most of the space available for storage, with even a lockable storage box behind the front seats. I will not go into the technical details of the available sound systems fitted as standard or as options, except to say that I do believe they can move the vehicle forward without the engine being started! Sound is superb, even with the roof up or down.
‘Keyless’ is the buzz word when opening or closing the boot – and I think the next one is going to be, ‘Look Ma, no hands’. Just waving your foot underneath the boot will open it and close it again. The only prerequisite is that, as with the door, you have the key in your pocket. No, don’t worry; Fido cannot open or close the boot by
accident when he greets you and wags his tail under the vehicle.
On the subject of the boot, the boot size amounts to 364 litres with the roof stowed and 504 with the roof up. One of the problems experienced with most roadsters or cabriolets is that, when the roof is down, you can hardly put anything in the boot, as the roof obstructs the entrance. Mercedes-Benz has resolved this by lifting the
roof 25 degrees when opening the boot with the roof stowed, and thus parcels fit into the space easily. With all of that and a 75-litre fuel tank, something had to go – and that, of course, was the spare wheel. In its place are a compressor and a TYREFIT filler bottle should you need them.
Well, enough about the superb styling and innovative technical wizardry. Let’s get to the essence of the SL Roadster. Handling and performance are as good as it gets. All three models are capable of going from 0 to 100kph in just over 4 seconds, and the top speed is limited to 250kph, or, if you opt for the performance package, the speed is limited to 300kph. I had the opportunity to take the SL 63 AMG with the performance package to 280kph, and, I must say, this speed was easily reached with lots of power left to reach the 300kph mark. Handling up to that speed was great, and bringing the Mercedes back to standstill was just as easy with the brakes not fading at all.
We had the opportunity to drag-race all three derivatives at the old airfield at Fisantekraal, and what sheer exhilaration it was to have them competing against one another just to show the difference in speed. Of course, the SL 65 AMG was the winner, but, when I drove the SL 500, I stayed in front of the two juggernauts
for the first 200 metres.
Now, let’s talk engine, gearbox and performance.
The bullet – sorry, the Mercedes-Benz SL 500 – is as fluid as they come and, unless you have the gear setting on manual, the only way you will know that the magnificent 4.6-litre, twin-turbo, V8 is changing gears is by the commanding sound of the engine dropping a few revs and the rev counter coming down fast, only to immediately wind itself up again. Power delivery is excellent, with 320/435kW at 5 250 r/min, and 700Nm at 1 800r/min. Zero to 100kph is reached in 4.6 seconds.
The seven-speed automatic gearbox is as fluid as they come, and, through its three settings (being comfort, sport and manual), you can get the best out of it. Yes, it does have an eco setting and it will work, but not while we were testing it.
If the Mercedes SL 500 Blue EFFICIENCY is the bullet, then the Mercedes-Benz 63 AMG is the supersonic bullet. This magnificent 5.5-litre V8 with biturbos delivers 395kW at 5 500r/min and 800Nmat at 2 000–4 500 r/min. The 63 AMG is propelled from 0 to 100kph in 4.3 seconds and is fitted with the AMG SPEEDSHIFT MCT & speed sport transmission.
And, again, there are three settings just to make this juggernaut go even faster and be more agile. The sound acoustics of the 63 AMG are not refined or subtle – what one gets is a blatant roar made to show its power and ability, and changing down produces an even nicer roar. Change gears up manually and you
are further rewarded with a whiplash sound that excites even the most timid of us. Be careful of whiplash of the neck as well, as this beast does not take any prisoners. The SL 63 AMG is sheer pleasure uncut, x-rated, call it what you want, but it really touches the top end of enjoyment that is possible with a vehicle.
The most sophisticated of the three models, the SL 65 AMG is of course the flagship in all areas, with the 6-litre V12 delivering 463kW at 4 800 r/pm and 1 000Nm at 2 300–4300 r/pm. The SL 65 AMG goes from 0 to 100kph in just 4.0 seconds, and the speed is limited at 250kph, or 300kph with the performance package. The
same gearbox is used as for the SL 63 AMG. The SL 65 AMG’s acoustics are not as robust as with the 63 AMG, but it still lets you know you are dealing with a most powerful beast, but one that is more refined.
All in all, it was a day thoroughly enjoyed. Being one of the few fortunate ones to have driven, dragged and experienced the Mercedes-Benz SL range, I, too, have my favourite. No, don’t guess – you will be wrong. Taking into account the capability of the vehicles, their sheer luxury and performance, the ambiance, and, of course,
the price, I do believe that the Mercedes-Benz SL 500 is the roadster for me. It does every thing I want and much more. It is not as brutal as the SL 63 AMG Roadster
and maybe not so sophisticated as the SL 65 AMG, but it is so near to them as is possible.
The SL Roadsters are lovely looking, show off their 60-year heritage and also gave us the opportunity to experience the top end of motor manufacturing at its best.
In addition to the above, there are more accessories and optional equipment that can further individualise the vehicles, but they are already loaded with so many extras and topquality accessories that it is only the true connoisseur that will get more pleasure by changing, or adding to, these magnificent Roadsters.