Off in the opposite direction, there are the AMG versions. In a car that’s been designed with such inherent grace, the AMG SLs can feel a little forced. That said, the SL63 is the meticulously engineered, sharply-tuned brute of the lineup. Its pulsating, bellowing, crackling high-revving V-8 (577 hp and 664 lb-ft) always feels just a little over-the-top in sounds, sensations, and actual power delivery, and the seven-speed AMG Speedshift transmission is a gem with this combination, managing to shift with delicate precision at gentle throttle openings yet bang out racing-influenced powershifts when you need to move quickly.
It’s not quite the snarling, ebullient AMG GT, but it’s also a heck of a lot more livable.
Truly, seven speeds are more than enough; the awesome, responsive seven-speed AMG transmission arguably does a better job in most respects than the nine-speed in the mainline models—and it allows full manual control, holding the selected gear even with the accelerator mashed to the floor.
But there’s no need to even use the manual mode, as the electronic shift controls feel telepathic, blipping to a lower gear with just a dab of the brakes before a corner or to control speed on a steep downhill.
All the models in the lineup now come with engine stop/start; and it's the SL63 AMG, surprisingly, that has the most subtlety to that system's operation, masterfully quelling the momentary shake you feel slightly in the non-AMG models.
We didn’t drive the 621-hp, V-12-powered S65 this time, but it remains the banshee of the lineup, a car that’s technically the quickest and fastest in the lineup, but with enough additional weight to point back to the S63 as the superior handler.
The styling tweaks for 2017, on the outside, are a relatively minor point in all but the full-frontal view of the SL. While they provide some synergy to the rest of the current M-B lineup, they also give the SL more of a polarized, two-sided design ethos: chiseled, and more like an over-the-top sport sedan front end, but with a graceful touring coupe rear two-thirds. Purely from the side profile, it’s still far from the prettiest, most perfectly proportioned SL; but from the other collective angles the facelift manages to help command quite the presence.
A calm cabin, within tempestuous performance
Comfort in the SL models, no matter which one you choose, is better than what you’ll find in most prestige luxury cars costing quite a bit more. Highlights include strong cooled seats, massage seat features, and, of course, Airscarf, which blows warmed air onto your neck on cool mornings. The top will raise or lower at up to 25 mph, and through some folding wizardry it leaves enough trunk space for two airline carry-on suitcases, plus a backpack or two. It’s a shallow space, but a usable one—and behind each of the front seats there’s a deep, lidded-and-hinged storage bin.