Halo vehicles are a heckuva thing. They’re top-of-class rides meant to showcase the best a company has to offer, usually in luxury or performance, but the best examples have a wealth of both. With consumer preferences having permanently shifted to SUVs, some companies choose to make that style of machine their halo – witness the Cadillac Escalade – shoving aside cars as they chase the Next Big Thing.
Not at Mercedes. And especially not at the performance skunkworks Mercedes-AMG. The mighty SL-Class, now bannered under the latter, has been the cherry on top of an expensive sundae since the 1950’s, representing an aspirational luxury sports car destined for the sunny shores of California or the glamourous heat of Monte Carlo. Drop-top roof? Acres of rich leather? World-destroying powertrain? Check, check, and – in the case of this new 2022 model – definitely check.
The SL has never been a totally rational buying decision, but most of the world’s best cars have always appealed to Id over Ego. For 2022, Mercedes is seeking to clarify its top-rung convertible lineup, binning the S-Class convertible and pushing the AMG GT droptop into a purebred sports car arena. This leaves the mighty SL to do what it does best – prowl moneyed parts of the world with equal measures of luxury and performance.
Under the hood of the new SL 63 4MATIC+ is a 4.0-litre V8 biturbo engine, assembled by hand in Affalterbach by one of AMG’s master builders and adorned with a metal plate signed by the assembler, one Daniel Holzer in the case of our test car. The mill is rated for 577 horsepower and near-as-makes-no-difference 600 lb-ft of torque, all of which is funneled to the macadam through a 4MATIC+ all-wheel drive system. This is the first time an SL has been offered with power at each corner, deploying programming that is naturally rear-biased and working in concert with active rear-axle steering. Below 100 km/h, the rear tires turn opposite to the fronts up to 2.5 degrees, virtually shortening the wheelbase and making quick work of twisty roads or parking garages alike. Above that speed, the tires turn in concert, helping high-speed stability.
Herr Holzer was on point the day he assembled the engine in this SL 63, as all 577 of the finest German horses were on duty during our trip down the California coast before heading inland up some sinewy roads of the San Jacinto mountains. This route proved the duality of this megabucks convertible and its ability to flip between comfortable boulevardier and popping-exhaust plaything that can induce grins at the flick of a paddle shifter. Spinning the steering wheel-mounted drive mode button to Race unleashes this engine’s snarl and bark, and lift-off crackles ricocheted off the California landscape like shots from a Hämmerli rifle. It’s worth noting there is a separate button on the SL 63’s steering wheel whose sole duty is to select the amount of racket emanating from the roadster’s tailpipes. In other words, those with grumpy back issues can enjoy the Race mode exhaust drama without a sternly tuned suspension setting. In other words, it is possible to set everything to Comfort – steering, traction control threshold, the works – but still relish in tawdry aural delights.
The ’22 SL was created on an all-new roadster architecture utilizing a composite aluminium structure, with no part of the body shell adopted from the predecessor or any other model series. In fact, that shell is said to weigh just 600 pounds, contributing to the SL’s 52/48 weight distribution – no mean feat in a vehicle with a jumbo V8 stuffed up its nose. Even with the addition of all-wheel drive and two extra seats, this ragtop weighs just 200lbs more than its predecessor.
And a ragtop this truly is, deploying a cloth hat instead of a folding metal roof, one which raises or lowers in just 15 seconds. Mercedes-AMG insists this material was selected in order to preserve trunk space while saving weight and reducing the car’s centre of gravity. Its closest competitor, the Lexus LC500 convertible, makes the same choice. In practice, a cloth top does permit pert styling while using the leading edge as a neat tonneau when retracted and the triple-insulated lining contributes to a reasonable if not invisible level of road noise. Your author hopes the cloth folding wrinkles disappear with use, lest an SL steam cleaning service become a business opportunity in tony parts of the world.
The company takes pains to emphasize their new SL has returned to 4-seater status, a designation it has not enjoyed for decades, and that humans up to 1.5 metres tall (about five feet, in Queen’s English) can plug themselves into these chairs. In reality, the back bench is little more than an extravagantly upholstered parcel shelf with seatbelts. But the front seats are thrones, adjustable six ways from Sonntag and featuring a so-called Airscarf, fettering warm breezes upon the driver and passenger necks from vents embedded in the headrests cushions which themselves feel as if one is resting their head on a fat puppy. Your long-of-limb author would appreciate a better dead pedal for the driver’s left foot; the existing slab of plastic is misshapen. But that’s small potatoes.
The symmetrical instrument panel is designed to remind passengers of a sculptural and powerful wing, structured into upper and lower sections. A centre console dominates the gulf between driver and passenger, flowing into the dashboard like smooth California gusts and peppered with metallic panels which pair especially well with optional fiery red upholstery. Those round air vents operate with a tactile and very German click, with a style evoking other models in the AMG catalog.
Taking centre stage is an 11.9-inch multimedia touchscreen in portrait orientation which can be electrically adjusted in its inclination from 12 degrees to 32 degrees. While surely costing a bundle to engineer and produce, it helps ward off irritating light reflections when the soft top is open and is a great party trick. If the driver adjusts its pitch with the roof up, the system remembers its top-down setting and returns to the previously set angle as the cloth lid disappears into its compartment.
All of which once again proves the clever dichotomy of this new roadster from the gearheads in Affalterbach. The 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL 63, with its outrageous soundtrack and extravagant cabin, will likely cause your internal Id to say, “I want it, I want it, I want it.” But, thanks to impeccable assembly and trick engineering, your Ego might reply “After careful consideration, I concur.” Appealing to both sides of the brain? There are only a few halo cars which can turn that trick, and this is one of ‘em.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.