Overall rating: 4/5
Lighter, more efficient, faster and better handling than ever before the new Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG could just be the consummate all rounder.
In the metal 4/5
Well it looks better in the flesh than it does in the pictures, but this is one colour sensitive car - we'd recommend white, silver or dark metallic colours over the brighter hues. It's certainly more aggressive than the regular SL, though it's also a lot busier, the rear end being a particular disappointment with a plethora of fussy lines and shapes.
As you'd expect, the cabin is beautifully put together, with luxurious leather and real carbon or metal trim used throughout. But it all feels rather mass market, lacking that sense of occasion offered by limited run rivals. It is, however, very spacious with plenty of clever technology, and even with the roof stowed (which moves into position quickly and quietly) the boot space is actually very usable.
Driving it 5/5
Choosing your SL 63 AMG's final specification is a tricky one - the options list is extensive and includes a variety of performance enhancing equipment, including an all-in-one Performance Pack. This brings with it a mechanical limited slip differential and more importantly an increase in both horsepower and torque.
It increases power from 537- to 564hp, and torque from 800- to 900Nm. If that last number sounds high, then that's because it is. While the 'standard' SL 63 AMG could never be considered slow, cars equipped with the power upgrade are on another level. The 0-100km/h sprint is covered one tenth quicker at 4.2 seconds and 0-200km/h is over with in only 12.6 seconds. Make no mistake; this roadster is quick, properly quick.
It's noisy as well: the pops, bangs and guttural thundering from the quad exhaust pipes is addictive - you find yourself needlessly accelerating just for the aural delights of it all. And despite the engineers' misgivings about this car's move to forced induction, there is little to no turbo noise, even under full boost.
But though this roadster sounds like a modern-day American muscle car, piling its power down on the straights, it doesn't plough straight on at the first bend. AMG sports suspension and Active Body Control ensure that there is little roll and plenty of grip - both at the front and the rear. On the limit the nose will edge (note I said edge, not wash) wide, but a lift on the throttle will see it tighten its line quickly. And if you feel like a hooligan, some extra pressure on the accelerator allows the rear to break loose and alter your trajectory once again.
There are seven speeds to the transmission, with four different shift maps - Controlled Efficiency, Sport, Sport + and manual. The latter responds well to paddle input, though you have to be quick with upshifts as it can be easy to nudge the limiter when accelerating hard. There's no such issue with downshifting, and actually the Sport + mode is a great compromise, holding gears towards the top of the rev range and dropping down the box as you decelerate.
Out goes the variable rate steering as found in the regular SL; in its place is a retuned system with direct ratios and differing power assistance according to gearbox mode. On the whole it's very good, being sharp and accurate enough to make the SL feel very agile. Our only criticism might be a slight lack of feedback, but it's a minor foible on an otherwise impeccable package.
And it's as a complete package that this SL really makes its mark. Because, while it can do all of the above, it can also slow the pace down and relax. The explosive acceleration can be replaced with gentle, smooth and quiet progress at light throttle. Neat handling becomes comfortable cruising as the suspension soaks up the lumps and bumps, and of course the self-shifting gearbox slots home the next cog with the absolute minimum of fuss. A bit of a Jekyll and Hyde, this SL 63 AMG can really do comfortable GT and raucous sports car at the flick of a switch.
What you get for your money 3/5
It will be an expensive car, but then it receives a lot of equipment as standard. But what really makes the SL 63 AMG special are the options and personalisation choices owners can apply to it. First up has to be the Performance Pack, to which you could also add carbon ceramic brakes - as a cost option.
Those less concerned with performance (after all the standard car has it in abundance) can still have their fun - adding Vario roof with Magic Sky Control (a glass panel in the hardtop that changes its tint electronically) or Airscarf neck heating, Bang & Olufsen Audio or climate seats.
Weather cancelled our helicopter transfer, so we hitched a ride with the project leader for the SL 63 AMG instead. When quizzed about the SL 63 and forthcoming SL 65 AMG, he suggested the V8 SL 63 was the more hardcore car - despite the small power deficit over its V12 brother. Both are said to steer and handle the same, but the SL 65 would be his second choice - seems there's just no substitute for that eight-cylinder soundtrack.
As an all-rounder there is little doubt that this new SL 63 AMG is at the top of its game. Performance, both in a straight-line and round the bends, is nothing short of astounding, while it also manages to look and feel special inside and out. And when you'd rather settle back, roof down and cruise along the boulevard taking in the sights and the sun around you there really is no rival.