Inside the ‘17 Mercedes-Benz SL65 Roadster’s sleek-but-familiar frame resides a supercar’s worth of power – a handcrafted twin-turbocharged 6-liter V-12 with, delivering 621 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque at a low 2,300 to 4,300 rpm. And, builder Antonio Donadai’s signature on its carbon fiber engine cover!
This SL is the seventh in a series of arguably the best known Benzes, born in 1954 as the 300 SL Gullwing coupe. Tests of uber-SLs are rarities, the last one we had an SL550 three years ago with 429 horsepower. It hit 60 mph in 4.2 seconds and 100-mph in 9.7 seconds, averaging 20 mpg on premium fuel with auto engine shutoff engaged. Now we had the latest SL65 with five different driving programs – Comfort, Sport, Sport +, RACE and Individual.
Each successive selection makes engine and transmission response a bit quicker and tightens the suspension and via software. SPORT+ mode really firms up the suspension, snaps off firm upshifts and throttle-blipping downshifts with some serious snarl. INDIVIDUAL mode lets the driver mix how they want the steering, drive system and suspension. Then RACE mode slams shifts at full throttle and backs off stability control as it sets suspension on full firm. RACE also likes you to paddle shift, guided by a handy upshift light.
Set it in Sport+ and we sprinted to 60-mph in 4 seconds flat with wheelspin in the second and third gear shifts, reaching 100 mph in 8.2 seconds. Passing power was abundant, the engine snarling, the wide rear rubber giving just a wiggle of traction squirm. We averaged 10 mpg on premium. Sport, Sport + and RACE also allowed the exhaust to really roar, with an explosive “pop-pop-SNAP!” from the pipes when you backed off.
This aluminum-bodied roadster rides on a four-link front, and independent multi-link rear suspension with coil spring, single-tube shock absorber and continuously adjustable damping and tubular torsion bars all around, plus active body control and suspension. A rear-axle differential lock reduces slip on the inside wheel when cornering so you can power out earlier.
The ride in Comfort was composed and smooth, handling potholes with a firmly controlled yet buffered rebound. It just stuck and tracked through any turn at any speed, nice and responsive enough for daily driving. But when curves beckoned, it was in Sport+ for the most responsive chassis feel, controlled ride and decisive steering. The ride was very firm with buffered rebound on the harshest bumps.
But the 4,200-pound GT flowed through turns like a lighter car, glued to the road and handling with finesse. Tackle a turn and the tail stayed planted, neutral and precise in composure, then composed powering out of turns. Its steering was full of firm response, the car responding quickly with accurate feedback through the helm. With Sport+ nudging back stability control, we could really play in a turn, getting the tail to rotate, rear tires screaming, then catch it.
Our test car’s optional ceramic compound brakes had really big cross-drilled rotors – 16.5-inch fronts with six-piston fixed calipers, and 14.2-inch in back. They could be touchy, with short travel and immediate response. But they hauled the car down time and time again from high speed with no drama and a high degree of fade-free control. We also had standard Active Brake Assist, which starts tapping the brakes if you are closing too fast on someone in front. It worked.
As for looks, there’s similarity to that 550SL we tested in 2013. But the face is brand new. A slimmer, wider grille cleaves the air with a longer nose, its three-pointed star supported by polished alloy bars. The headlights are slimmer, more streamlined, with an LED swoosh rising over the projector units. Lower side intakes are more pronounced, trimmed in chrome that continues under the grille.
Long, slim fenders with gently curved flares frame low-profile P255/35R19-inch Michelin radials in front on polished alloy 10-spoke wheels with huge cross-drilled carbon ceramic disc brakes and gold AMG calipers. The fender vents are fake, and retain twin chrome strakes of the last generation. The redesign adds a flared lower sill with a chrome blade for the SL65. Rear tires are larger P285/30R20-inch Michelins.
Inside are very supportive diamond-tufted Nappa leather seats with 12-way power adjustments, heating and ventilation, 3-level massage and active side bolsters. The driver faces a fat-rimmed, flat-bottom three-spoke AMG steering wheel with power tilt/telescope. A classic white-faced 220-mph analog speedometer and 8,000-rpm (6,000 redline) tach with carbon fiber-like inserts live under a stitched leather dashtop. In between, a color LCD display for trip computer, turn-by-turn navigation, engine and stereo information. It displays DISTRONIC PLUS cruise control, which maintains a preset distance, stops if traffic ahead does, and easily handles stop-and-go.
The main screen houses audio, telephone, navigation, car systems and Mercedes mobile web site. It displays horsepower/torque plus oil and transmission temperatures, or the steering angle, plus longitudinal and lateral acceleration. Intuitive voice control handles phone, audio and navigation with minimal commands. There’s a superb 900-watt/12-speaker Bang and Olufsen AM-FM-Sirius Satellite-CD/DVD sound system.
An AMG sculpted alloy and leather electronic shifter works with selective driving modes, plus a Sport suspension and Manual transmission settings. There’s a control to raise the front suspension so the front splitter won’t scrape a driveway, but it takes multiple taps of a button to get there. The dash-mounted analog clock comes from IWC Schaffhausen.
That power top folds and drops quickly into the trunk, chewing up five of its 13.5 cubic feet. To activate the trunk lid, tap a toe under the rear bumper to open, and tap a button to close. Top down, wind management is good, aided by a wind-blocker.
There are four versions of the SL Roadster – the $86,950 SL450 with 362-horsepower 3-liter V-6; SL550 starting at $110,800 with 449-hhorsepower 4.7-liter Biturbo V-8; AMG SL63 with a hand-built 5.5-liter V-8 offering 577-horsepower starting at $151,350; and our AMG SL65, starting at $219,850. Everything above is standard including the V-12, except a few options – Designo piano black lacquer interior trim is $1,500; carbon ceramic brakes are $8,950; plus $1,900 gas guzzler tax and $925 transport charge, and it roars out the door for a whopping $232,925.