From £116,6259
Mercedes-Benz gives its SL luxury roadster a mid-life tweak. We find out how different it feels, and whether it still leads the class

What is it?

For those of you familiar with the glacial pace of Mercedes-Benz SL development, prepare to be alarmed. Just four years after it was launched, here’s the facelift. 

It’s okay, calm yourself. Mercedes clearly did. This is one of those mild tweaks, as befits a car that Mercedes, presumably, will be disinclined to throw vast sums of development money at because of the small numbers it sells in. Britain is its second-largest market, where fewer than 1000 of them a year find owners. 

So, mild facelift it is. Most notably, the front – the face, if you will – has been, er, lifted. It’s now a bit more reminiscent of both the rest of the current range and the first SL, the racing one that the modern SL doesn’t otherwise particularly resemble. AMG’s GT is Merc’s racy car these days, the SL is a luxurious two-seat roadster, even when equipped with a 5.5-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 that puts out 577bhp. 

The other options are an SL 400 (a 3.0-litre V6), the SL 500 (a 4.6 V8) and the AMG SL 65, which has a 6.0-litre V12. All of those have two turbos apiece because, let’s face it, a 6.0-litre V12 wouldn’t be sufficient without two turbos.

The 63, though. At £114,100, do you need it over a £73,805 SL 400 or the £82,850 SL 500? Unlikely, although somehow a car like the SL feels like it wants a V8, and if you’re going to have a V8, then I’m inclined to think that it’s worth having one that somebody has made as rowdy as the AMG engine. 

The 63’s motor makes 577bhp which, when driving an 1845kg car, means performance is fast-sports rather than supercar quick. It can reach 62mph from rest in 4.1sec and is limited to 155mph. All versions do it in four-point-something, mind you, so none is slow, but only one makes this sort of noise. So it sounds like a sports car. Does it drive like one? 

What's it like?

The SL 63 will do a passable impression of a sports car. Don’t think that it ever rides anything other than well – no matter whether you put its adaptive dampers into their sport or comfort modes – while truly agile it is not. But it is willing, and bear in mind what this car is asked to do: it weighs nearly two tonnes because there is a roof in place, making it almost as quiet as any coupe in the district. That roof can be lowered into the boot in 18 seconds.

And while, yes, it has only two seats, they are impeccably comfortable and electrically adjusted. Interior fit and finish are superb too, and there’s lots of kit to fit and finish in here. The SL is, for all intents and purposes, a luxury car. It is the kind of car that you’d look forward to sitting in every day of the year. If it did an even passable impression of what a sports car is, then, that would be no unremarkable achievement.

It does rather better than passable. Engine response, despite two turbos, is good: although the automatic gearbox presumably masks some of it. The AMGs get seven-speed transmissions (although they’re each different from each other; the 63’s has a wet clutch and the 65’s is a torque converter) rather than nine-speed torque-converter units that the 400 and 500 have just adopted.

The 63’s shifts well enough left to its own devices, but is less crisp than the eight-speeder of, say, a Jaguar F-Type. Ditto throttle response. Pull shifts yourself though and, occasional obstinate downshift aside, it’s on your side.

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If anyone tells you that an SL 63 isn’t fast enough, meanwhile, they’ll probably be telling you porkies. A 65 has more low-down urgency to go with its V12 smoothness but £59,195 is a lot of extra money to spend to shave 0.1sec from your 0-62mph time. Given you get heavier handling at the same time, in essence it still feels like the 65 exists solely so its owners can show other people how much they’re willing to spend.

The SL 63 is where it’s at. It steers accurately and with pleasing weight and response. Handling is faithful, predictable and secure. It changes direction more happily than a Bentley Continental. The nose will push on in a corner if you let it, but it responds as you’d hope if you don’t want it to, while there’s sufficient power to overwhelm the rears if you want that, too.

Should I buy one?

It’s no surprise that those who do are very likely to replace it with another one. At any speed, an SL 63 is an engaging companion. It is enjoyable enough as a sporty GT roadster thing, but probably better still – because let’s face it, most owners won’t be flat out very often – as a fast cruiser. There’s minimal breeze with the roof down, a fine noise all the time, and a relaxing, easygoing driving rhythm to get into.

All, in fact, that made the SL so appealing four years ago is still right here. Still blending a number of characteristics more capably than anything else around.

Mercedes-AMG SL 63

Location Los Angeles; On Sale April 2016; Price: £114,100 Engine V6, 5461cc, twin-turbo petrol; Power 577bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 663lb ft at 2250-3750rpm; Gearbox Nine-speed auto; Kerb weight 1845kg; Top speed 155mph (limited); 0-62mph 4.1sec; Economy 28.0mpg; CO2/tax band 234/km / 37%

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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Peter Cavellini 28 February 2016


Nearly there, the rear needs some work still,but, on the whole,it's not bad.
Daniel Joseph 28 February 2016


I've never noticed this before, but take a look at photo five above: the wheelbase looks way too short and the front overhang in particular is monstrous. The effect may be exaggerated by the (ugly) black wheels, but it is very unathletic and at odds with the supposed sporting character of the car. Incidentally, IMHO the facelift is ok but can't do anything to solve the bloated look, which is far removed from the taut elegance of the R129 generation model.