Twenty years ago, I owned one of my favourite cars of all time, a metallic black Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG.
The raison d'etre of this car was the supercharged 5.5-litre V8 engine at the heart of the car. This same engine was used in the CL55 AMG and the CLK55 AMG, cars which I also owned, but the SL was the best of them all. The sound, the speed and the fuel consumption were all outrageous by the standards of the time. The supercharger gave this car a character that was unique and the shear breadth of performance capability was extraordinary.
It was also very well built at a time when some Benz models were, frankly, not as robust as they should have been. Add in a folding hard-top that took the worry out of parking the car overnight on the streets of London and, for me, the car was as close to perfection as I could imagine at the time.
That 2003 SL55 never pretended to be a track day car, but it was a brutally fast GT that, apart from almost daily trips to the servo, I loved. And so, when the crew at Torquecafe asked me if I was interested in driving the latest SL63 AMG, I jumped at the opportunity. I was dead keen to see and feel how this newest SL compared with my favourite Mercedes-Benz model of all-time.
The first impression of the latest car is the sheer quality of the product is definitely still there. Unlike many cheaper Mercedes cars that I've driven over recent years, the new SL looks and feels like a Benz of yesteryear. Robust is the best word to describe that feeling of structural integrity that the car reflects.
I have to say though, that I was immediately surprised that Mercedes have reverted to a soft-top for the R232 SL model range. This hadn't been seen since the R129 SL range which finished production over 20 years ago. I presume that this step was taken to differentiate the car from it's sister car, the AMG GT, and, maybe, also to save weight. Having said that, all these cars weigh so much these days that it doesn't really make much difference. The soft-top works superbly, of course, and it feels as quiet as a hard-top when up, but that sense of security when leaving the car in the streets of any major city in the world is diminished.
Stepping inside the car reveals a near perfect driving position and a good combination of old and new in terms of cockpit layout. This really is a beautifully made car.
Even the streets and byway of Brisbane, which are mostly diabolically maintained, failed to upset the poise of the SL63 as I did a boulevard cruise one morning. Like almost every car I drive these days in Australia, it's best to leave all available settings in whatever cruise/comfort modes are available. A good ride is far more important to me than the ability to create enough cornering G-force to spill my coffee.
I suspect that the real market for this car, given the Australian market for the whole SL range is probably only between 50 and 100 per year, is the streets of Malibu or Fort Lauderdale. Despite having huge horsepower (577hp, or 430kw for non-motorsport types), the SL63 never really feels like those ponies should be used. It's a top down cruiser with a wonderful burble sound from the V8 engine.
Honestly, I found the car immensely competent but sadly lacking in the truly bad boy character of the old R230 SL55. And that's probably as much a reflection on the times we now live in as the cars themselves. The ability to have a bit of a blast on the road, whether here in Australia or in the UK, has long gone through shear volume of traffic and draconian road regulations. It's not a question of right or wrong, it's just a fact.
I love cars and have done all my life. But I can't see the relevance, these days, of the latest SL63 or any of it's ilk. The performance is simply totally unusable.
I'd love to see AMG produce a two-seater (the silly rear seats in the latest car are as silly as the optional ones were in the old R107 SL 40 years ago) that used all available technology to create a very lightweight, robust, very efficient, internal combustion engined masterpiece. In my book, that would include a folding hard-top!
But the market appears to be there for this incredibly well put together dinosaur for the moment. And so, it probably makes perfect economic sense to make and sell the latest SL63.
For me, I'll hang on to the memories of the wonderful supercharged SL55 AMG and have my fossil fuel fun on the water instead!