Review: The Mercedes-AMG SL 63 Is Burdened With Glorious Purpose 

Heavy is the head that wears the crown

June 20, 2023 6:12 am
Red car parked on street.
The Mercedes-AMG SL 63 is a 577-horsepower roadster
Vehicle: Mercedes AMG SL 63MSRP: $178,100
Pros: Sharp, aggressive good looks. Powerful accelerationCons: Dense and weighty handling. A glut of flashy display menus

Modern Mercedes-Benz performance cars come pre-burdened with expectation. Apart from being around in some fashion for as long as cars could be recognized as cars, Mercedes has a multi-championship Formula 1 team campaigning for dominance — though, you wouldn’t realize this last fact if you looked at its light-on-sports car product lineup. 

Sure, the multitude of SUVs and sedans on offer have performance chops baked in, but singular sporty offerings have been scant since the AMG GT morphed into yet another four-door offering. The current car holding the torch as the most aggressive Merc in the bunch is the Mercedes-AMG SL 63, a 577-horsepower roadster that carries the weight of this burden in a very real and palpable way. 

Reign Supreme

The Mercedes SL 63 is a two-door drop-top saddled with a 4.0-liter twin-turbo engine the puts out 577 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. This is mated to a 9-speed automatic gearbox that sends power to all four wheels. Mercedes claims it can rocket from 0 to 60 in just 3.5 seconds. 

Its wide, flat front end in relation to its short rear overhang gives the SL the appearance of a pit bull’s face — just a unit of solid bone and muscle. Indeed, the Mercedes looks nearly as aggressive as the AMG GT Roadster it replaces, though more suited for weekend cruises to the beach. 

Inside there is seating for four, albeit only in the most technical sense. The two rear passenger seats behind the main row look as vestigial as wisdom teeth and just as difficult to access. In the center sits a tablet-like 11.9-inch touchscreen where most car functions can be accessed, supplemented by a 12.3-inch display behind the driver’s wheel. 

Both seats are appropriately snug, but not oppressively so, and the cabin feels comfortable without a sense of oppression even with the top closed. With the canvass up or down, the driver’s position is very centered and focused like the hot seat of a fighter plane, giving anyone behind the meaty wheel a commanding sense of control. 

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A King’s Bounty

Mercedes has laden the SL 63 with its usual amount of gadgets that range from the vibrant MBUX operating system menus, adjustable performance settings and a host of active and passive drive assists. For the latter, while it’s usually nice to have a collection of sensors on hand acting as a second set of eyes, some of the automated safety systems can have bouts of overzealous behavior. It’s one thing for lane-keep assist to be heavy handed, but it’s another for the AMG to come to a full automatic emergency stop while nothing is ahead of it because the surrounding commuters drove too aggressive for its liking. 

Beyond that, the menus are a handful to use while on the move. Granted, a majority of them that control the finer details are meant to only be accessed prior to a journey, but even sorting through the usual suspects can be a hassle. Much of this is due to over-reliance on the touchscreen. The trade-off for axing most of the tactile buttons for the sake of streaming is that inputs aren’t necessarily found in the same place, and the lack of response or feedback is irksome. Raising or lowering the roof, for example, is a whole mini-game of holding your finger in place that should be incredibly simple but overcomplicates one of the roadster’s main features. 

Crowning Achievements

Nitpicking aside, the SL 63 AMG gobbles up the open road ahead of it with gusto. The Mercedes’s V8 thumps enthusiastically as the driver eases onto the throttle and just as the driver’s seat intimates, it feels like taking off in a vintage single-engine fighter plane. At over 4,200 pounds, the AMG feels hefty and powerful, for sure, which shines on the highway but it’s a different animal in the backroads. 

The first few exploratory corners feel okay, but there’s a cap on how well it responds with eager driving. For an all-wheel drive car, the rear threatens to loosen far too early in a turn for it to be any fun, and the AMG underpinnings are forced to bear most of the labor. 

And that pretty much sums up the entirety of the Mercedes-Benz experience. Reflective of the automaker as a whole, the SL 63 AMG is so eager to please, it becomes overbearing with how much it assists. Mercedes can’t bear to exclude a customer from its lineup, so it has multiple variations of the same vehicle. 12 SUVs of different shapes, sizes and options. Same goes for its sedans. In this roadster, every gadget Benz could think of is stuffed in lest the one you wanted wasn’t present and Mercedes wants you to feel so much like one of its race car drivers, it packs in enough assists to almost guarantee it. 

Driving the SL 63 AMG makes you feel like a rockstar, but the disconnect is such that you’re almost a negligible part of the ensemble. The car simply can’t let you feel otherwise. 

My Kingdom for a Horse

The Mercedes AMG SL 63 is a meaty grand tourer with the bite to back up its elegant savagery. Its muscular front end and stubby tail give the impression of a playful companion that could take your hand off if mistreated. That’s certainly the impression when the rubber meets the road, for as much power and control the AMG offers, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and push the cruiser beyond its brief. 

Its throaty throttle impishly prods you to drive harder and faster, though there’s no getting around just how much weight the SL 63 has to throw around. Even with all-wheel drive and enough assists to elevate even the most ham-fisted wheelman, the AMG threatens to get away from itself when the corners become as aggressive as the Mercedes purports to be. 

Due to the glut of doodads the SL 63 is burdened with simply by nature of being a Mercedes, there’s always something going on in the periphery of the drive, be it a colorful, animated diver’s display or a striking menu in motion on the control panel. Much of it like the safety and awareness features are welcome, but most are extra bits of theater meant to remind occupants that the SL 63 is no mere drop-top but a sophisticated, modern luxury ride. Great for the showroom, but on the road, simpler is better. 

With all that said, most of its foibles fade away the further down the pedal is pressed. At $178,100, the AMG SL 63 is a cruiser built for long weekends spent with the top down on the open road to nowhere, where everything ill-fitting about it is forgettable and only the memory of the rumbling exhaust note remains.

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