Featuring the most outrageous stats of the facelifted Mercedes SL line-up, AMG's 65 is purportedly the very best you can get. But we're inclined to disagree on that score...
In the metal
Made more handsome by the same facelift details all SLs benefit from, there's nothing wrong with the Mercedes-AMG SL 65's basic shape. And given buyers at this rarefied level can probably afford to paint their cars in whatever colour schemes they like, our next comment is pretty irrelevant. But somehow, be it Mercedes' specification choices for the launch cars or whatever, the 65 did not look as nice as the 63. Chief gripe from us revolves around the chintzy polished chrome the 65 is 'blessed' with as standard, which adorns the alloys and various bits of body trim. We're sure some Americans and people in the Middle East like this kind of thing, but for European sensibilities it's not so appealing.
The interior is as exquisite and solidly built as any other SL's, but again, it doesn't feel a marked cut above even the SL 400 and 500 series models, let alone the 63 with which it shares so much. Perhaps if the 65 received bespoke cabin treatment it would feel worth the premium over its 585hp relation; however, that's not the case and so from behind the wheel it feels like pretty much any other SL going, despite its V12 status.
Our mystification continues once we start driving the 65. Oh, don't get us wrong - the pace, particularly roll-on acceleration from middling speeds, is eye-wateringly rapid, the composure of the body is excellent on its AMG Sports Suspension and the V12 in Sport+ mode has a menacing, gravelly exhaust note that's rather intoxicating; never more so than when it pops and cracks on the overrun, as it is then that it sounds louder and meaner than any other SL. It also does the supple ride thing and has a well-isolated cockpit - even with roof down - which both serve to make it a comfortable machine to cruise in.
Yet, for the rest of the time, you kind of idly wonder where your extra money is going. And it's not just that the SL 63 gets close enough to the 65 to make the price difference look a little optimistic - it's actually that, in many instances, the SL 63 is simply better than the V12 model. The V8 has by far the nicer soundtrack all round (indeed, even the V6 biturbo SL 400 makes the 65 seem a touch anodyne in the noise department). The 63 is 105kg lighter than the 65 and all of the extra weight in the range-topper is courtesy of the V12 lump, which means you've got the equivalent of a fat man like me sitting on the front axle. The fuel economy returns, in reality, are abysmal once you start stoking that massive biturbo V12 up, even more feeble than the 63's economy. Performance is almost identical between 63 and 65; there's only 45hp and 100Nm in it, after all, so their power-to-weight ratios are 317- and 323hp/tonne respectively. And there's not enough obvious special equipment within to justify stepping up to the V12 from the already-sensational V8.
So our balanced verdict would be this: in isolation, the SL 65 is a stupidly good, extremely rapid grand tourer and wholly deserving of its four-star rating, despite its fearsome expense. But when driven hard, it always feels like a hefty machine being asked to do things it doesn't really want to do, whereas the 'lesser' Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes-AMG SLs can put on a better pretence of being sports cars. And it never sounds exciting enough for a 630hp leviathan pounding a ferocious 1,000Nm of torque into the road surface. It would be much happier cruising up and down the Cote d'Azur than anything else, and while that will be absolutely fine for the well-heeled types who will buy the SL 65 purely because they need luxury goods with the best possible label on them, real driving enthusiasts should be looking to any of the other SLs first and foremost, the 63 being the principle port of call.
What you get for your money
Mercedes-Benz Ireland tells us that the price for this car is 'on application. In other markets, it is more than double the price of an SL 400 and a good €75,000 more expensive than its V8-powered 63 stablemate. That's a huge premium for a car that's - on the face of it - no quicker or better to drive. Such aggressive pricing for the flagship places the SL 65 in the realms of Bentley, Ferrari and McLaren, rather than BMW, Jaguar and Porsche, and among such an automotive elite is the point when the Mercedes SL doesn't look quite so special any more.
Bentley Continental GTC: four-wheel drive traction and four(ish) seats, plus an interior that feels a cut above (despite some Volkswagen switchgear). The Bentley is a very, very hefty car, mind.
Ferrari California T: turbocharged open-top Ferrari seems to lack the pizzazz of other Maranello products, although any Ferrari is - despite Merc's best efforts - far more glamorous than an SL.
McLaren 650S Spider: it might not be quite as exciting to drive as Woking claims, but the McLaren is a bona fide supercar that can do comfort to a surprisingly high degree. Monsters the SL 65 as a result.
If the Mercedes-AMG SL 63 didn't exist, or the entry-point SL 400 wasn't so bloody capable and quick itself, and Mercedes-AMG slashed a good few tens of thousands of euros off the price of the SL 65, then we'd be much more impressed by it. No doubt it's ferociously rapid, superbly built and decent enough to listen to, but in all respects it's either matched or bettered by its cheaper stablemates. If you really must have V12 power, by all means go for the 65 - you will not be disappointed. However, if we were SL fans who'd made a heaping great pile of cash, we'd be spending our hard-earned on the SL 63 with a few choice options instead.