Mercedes-Benz and Aufrecht, Melcher and Grossaspach – better known to the world as AMG – have always been curious bedfellows. One is conservative and mild-mannered, the other rebellious and hedonistic. Whereas BMW M and Audi Sport feel broadly aligned with their respective parents, AMG drifts off on a tyre-smoking tangent.
The SL has traditionally been a very ‘Mercedes-Benz’ sort of sports car. Picture the original 190 SL of 1955 (like a Gullwing minus the doors), the beautiful ‘Pagoda’ model that followed, Bobby Ewing’s scene-stealing 450 SL in Dallas or the crisply elegant ‘R129’ SL of 1989.
Now, as this most glamorous and distinguished roadster nears its 70th anniversary, AMG has gatecrashed the cocktail party. Uh-oh…
Brawn to be wild
There have been AMG versions of the SL before, of course, but this is the first version developed entirely in Affalterbach. Contrary to rumours, it doesn’t also replace the AMG GT – which returns in coupe-only format later this year – but it does channel some of its chutzpah. You sense the Porsche 911 Cabriolet is firmly in AMG’s crosshairs.
Topping the range is the 585hp SL 63 – yours for a somewhat alarming £176,000. Next up is the SL 55, which uses a 476hp version of the same 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 and costs a smidge over £147,000. Then there is the entry-level SL 43, with a 381hp four-cylinder engine and a projected price tag of £110,000. It’s the middle-ranking SL 55 we’re driving here.
In the metal (largely aluminium, although it still weighs a portly 1,870kg), the new SL looks every inch the AMG muscle car, with a broad grille, power-bulged bonnet and purposefully squat stance. I suspect it won’t age as gracefully as its ancestors, but it certainly has plenty of presence.
While the previous two generations of SL had folding hard-top roofs, this ‘R232’ model reverts to a fabric soft-top. It’s also the first SL with two rear seats as standard, although my eight-year-old whinged about the bolt-upright backrests and Ryanair levels of legroom. Best to treat them as extra luggage space, I think, to supplement the modest 240-litre boot (213 litres with the roof stowed).
When it came to the SL’s glitzy, tech-laden dashboard, however, young Jessica was robustly in favour, while her dad felt slightly overwhelmed by it all. A giant central touchscreen adjusts its position to be more readable in bright sunshine, and multi-colour ambient lighting makes the cabin feel genuinely futuristic at night. Call me old-fashioned, though (and she did) but I really don’t need a car to wish me Happy Valentine’s Day – complete with showers of pink cartoon hearts. Bah, humbug.
Fire up the engine and you’re rewarded with AMG’s signature Sturm und Drang. A menacing V8 backbeat is overlaid with a metallic rasp as the revs soar, the four square tailpipes detonating with gratuitous glee. It’s a bit childish, perhaps even anti-social, but it can’t fail to make you smile.
Heart of the matter
With similar power and performance to a 911 GTS, the SL 55 isn’t supercar-quick. However, a brawny 516lb ft of torque, on tap from just 2,000rpm, means you never feel short-changed on the road. Factor in four-wheel drive, a nine-speed auto gearbox and stability-enhancing rear-wheel steering, and the result is confident and very rapid progress.
Where the SL does trail the sports car from the far side of Stuttgart is in terms of engagement. Its steering feels oddly artificial and no amount of electronics can entirely mask all that weight. Then again, not everyone wants to drive like their pants are on fire, and the SL still does the long-striding, luxurious GT thing very well.
Overall, the Mercedes-AMG SL is an easy car to admire, but a harder one to love – no matter how many hearts it tries to woo me with.
Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research
TOP SPEED: 183mph
FUEL ECONOMY: 21.9mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS: 292g/km