Mercedes-Benz has renewed its vows with a legendary luxury good—the SL Class—for 2013, and while this new generation of the brand's iconic, lavish roadster stays its course, for the most part, as more of a touring car than a sports car, it grows more intense, more dynamically capable, and impossibly, more luxurious than ever before.
That aside for a moment, the new SL doesn't spare controversy in its styling. With its open-jawed look in front and huge three-pointed star emblem branded big to the grille, along with aggressive-looking lower bodywork and finned side air vents, the SL bids farewell to the ever-stoic design of some earlier SL models, with a look that suggests it played hookie at finishing school. While subtlety is no longer in its repertoire, this is a car that's never going to be in the same company as a Corvette or Viper; it's clearly eying high-and-mighty touring models like the Ferrari California,, Maserati GranTurismo, Jaguar XKR-S, and even Aston Martin DB9.
For 2013, it's the SL 63 AMG model (starting at about $147k) that best channels the sports-car side of the SL. While the base SL 550 and its twin-turbo 4.7-liter V-8, making 429 horsepower and 516 pound-feet, is definitely eager to please, it's a cruiser at heart. The SL 63, on the other hand, subs in a brawny 530-hp AMG twin-turbo V-8 and a seven-speed AMG automatic that uses a wet clutch pack instead of a torque converter. Click the powertrain controller over to S (Sport) mode in these cars, and the SL 63 feels ready to play with the cool cats, with a howling, pulsating roar from the engine, barking off upshifts as quickly as a racing gearbox. Active Body Control makes the SL more enjoyable and stable on choppy backroads, but it doesn't always do what you expect in tight harpins, and the steering is precise but tuned pretty light for the luxury crowd.
Acceleration is scorching, with the SL 550 capable of getting to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds and the SL 63 AMG getting there in 3.9 seconds with its $9,000 Performance Package, which adds a Torque Vectoring Brake system, bright-red brake calipers, a higher 186-mph top-speed limiter, a higher 18.5-psi turbo boost, bringing power up to 557 hp, with 664 lb-ft of torque. SL 65 AMG models and their locomotive-like V-12, making 621 hp and 738 pound-feet, will be even quicker but no doubt heftier in the corners.
The big news, though is that the SL Class is considerably slimmer; it's still a tight retractable-hardtop convertible, but it loses about 400 pounds compared to the previous model, through an all-new body structure. That helps contribute to the SL's huge gains in mileage; with numbers of 17 mpg city, 25 highway for the SL 550 and the S63 even earning 15/23, it's no longer such a guzzler. And in a cockpit with such superb ride quality, top-notch wind buffeting, and the comfort of Airscarf and ventilated seats, the idea of conspicuous consumption probably doesn't sound so bad.
The 2013 SL 550, at a base $106,405, is exclusive in its own right, but with the SL 63 AMG starting at $146,705 and the SL55 at a $209,205 base price, there's plenty of upward mobility in the price. The Bang & Olufsen premium audio system in the SL is phenomenal with its crisp response (provided you don't love bass), while you'll want to get a demo of the Magic Sky Control system—a sunroof, built into the top, that tints as the sun comes out. You'll be hard-pressed to find a single luxury feature that isn't offered here, and advanced tech extras include a long list of active-safety features, Active Ventilated Multicontour seats, Active Park Assist, and Adaptive Highbeam Assist headlamps. Those wanting to rekindle the SL charm will want to max out the luxury items such as a power trunk closer, soft-close doors, a wood steering wheel, and special carbon-fiber, aluminum, or wood trims.