by: Mike Ginsca
The Mercedes-Benz SL class has been with us since the 1950s with the 300SL Gullwing. Since that time, it has evolved into the quintessential long distance weekend getaway car.
Performance – The SL in the name of this car stands for “Sports Leicht” which translated means “Sports Lightweight”. That is a bit of an ironic name these days because while the 1950s 300SL weighed in at just over 1000kg, a modern SL weighs in at around 2000kg. Most of the weight comes from government laws which dictate that cars must be safer in the event of an accident. The only way to make a car safer is by making it tougher which means adding lots of high strength materials into the chassis which increases weight. There is also the demand that comes from customers wanting more luxury and electronic gadgets with their vehicles. Again this also increases the weight. Happily however, as soon as you press the throttle pedal down to the floor, you will not feel the weight of the Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG. That is because under the hood lies a 6.0L V12 engine with two turbochargers making an astounding 604hp and 740 lb-ft of torque. Yes, you read those numbers correctly. 600+hp and 740 lb-ft of torque in a rear-wheel-drive, convertible Mercedes-Benz. You may think that this kind of power may be overkill in a road car and in many ways it is. In 1st and 2nd gears, the traction control system is constantly on to prevent the rear wheels from slipping. Even in 3rd gear the traction control system will interfere in some situations to make sure that the tires are not overwhelmed by the power of the engine. It’s only when the car gets into 4th and 5th gears that the engine’s full power gets delivered to the pavement. But most Mercedes-Benz vehicles are electronically limited to 250km/h so all that power is for nothing if the SL65 AMG can never reach its theoretical top speed of 320+km/h. The main purpose of this car is for long distance cruising and overtaking on a highway. Going from 100km/h to 150km/h takes no effort at all in the SL65. If the tires can grip, the phrase “getting shot out of a cannon” is not a good enough metaphor to describe the acceleration of the Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG. Shock and disbelief are better ways of describing the feeling you get when the car accelerates as fast as it can.
Unfortunately the words lackluster and vague can be used to describe the rest of the driving dynamics of the car. Because this was built as a comfortable long distance cruiser, the steering and brake feel are not what you’d expect from a car that cost over $180,000 CAD when new. The steering is smooth and irons out most of the roads imperfections which is good for cruising but it does not give enough feedback as to what the wheels are doing. There is too much assist from the hydraulics which makes the steering feel vague when driving more enthusiastically through a mountain road. The same can be said of the brakes, they’ll stop the car with ease but there is no feeling in the pedal. As a sports car, there are many other vehicles to choose from but as a cruiser, the Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG is perfect.
Comfort – In this area, the Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG is above the rest of the competition. Starting with the infinitely adjustable seats, they are so soft that it feels as though you’re sitting down on marshmallows. IN addition to the soft seats the suspension can also be adjusted for a smoother ride. Called ABC (Active Body Control), the system either stiffens or softens the suspension to reduce body roll but it also has a noticeable effect on the ride quality.
Sitting in the cabin of the SL65 AMG has a familiarity of old Mercedes-Benz vehicles. That feeling of a solid build quality and traditional materials such as wood grain and rich leather. With the top up, there is very little noise intruding into the cabin thanks to a metal folding roof rather than a cloth convertible roof. One area of the cabin that is a bit of a disappointment is the COMAND infotainment system. This early generation of the system is hopelessly complicated and it would take an owner quite a long time to learn how to properly utilize it.
Odds and Ends – Despite the nuclear reactor under the hood, the Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG is actually an easy car to drive at normal speeds through a city. The power delivery is gradual and smooth, the transmission shifts smoothly and doesn’t jerk you around, the suspension makes the car feel as though it’s gliding over bumps on the road, and the noises coming from the engine and exhaust are not deafening. Obviously it cannot be used as a practical family car due to the fact that it only has 2 seats and the trunk is almost non-existent with the roof down. But as a second car or even a primary car for a single person, it is a very good day-to-day vehicle.
Thank you to Autoform Performance Inc. for providing the car.
Editor at large and gearhead. Can drive anything on 4 or 2 wheels... sometimes 3 wheels too.