Road tests

New Mercedes-AMG SL 63 2023 review

The powerful new SL 63 swaps luxury grand touring appeal for sportiness

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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The pricey SL 63 makes more sense when you realise the next-generation AMG GT won’t be offered as a roadster. It should sit neatly as a soft-top alternative to the AMG GT because there’s no question over the levels of performance, but it comes at a cost to the SL’s traditional comfort-oriented approach.

Mercedes has effectively killed two birds with one stone by offering the same platform for the upcoming AMG GT and the new SL. Naturally, this brings an added focus on performance, but does it come at the expense of the SL’s legendary grand touring qualities? Well, at the time of the SL’s unveiling, former AMG boss Philipp Schiemer said the new car “combines sports cars and driving dynamics of AMG with the comfort and luxurious appeal of Mercedes.” 

The car that is perhaps best suited to combine the newfound sporty characteristics and the traditional SL open-top design is the range-topping SL 63. While the twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 produces a substantial 577bhp (over 100bhp more than the SL 55) it’s still only 11bhp more than the previous-generation SL 63 when fitted with the Performance Pack. 

We defy anyone who thinks that’s not enough power for the SL, and with 800Nm of torque, the engine dominates the SL 63’s driving experience. With that power going through a four-wheel-drive system (a first for the SL), it feels even quicker than the numbers suggest. The engine has plenty of character: snarly at low revs and building to a roar when you rev it out, with occasional strange but entertaining whistles and squeaks from the turbochargers. 

The nine-speed automatic gearbox, as we’ve found in other 63-badged Mercedes’, is a delight. Simply put, it does as it’s told when you use the manual paddles but it’s also smooth in the background when you’re cruising around. 

We’ve found with other versions of the SL that the old car’s cosseting ride has been replaced with a more fidgety approach, and this is much more apparent in the performance-focused 63. While there are huge 21-inch wheels as standard, we don’t think this is the root of the SL 63’s tendency to deliver a slightly frantic ride. AMG Active ride control suspension features here with semi-active anti-roll bars, constantly adapting the stiffness to the road surface. 

Couple that with the quick-fire steering ratio and wide tyres, and you’ll find the SL 63 requires your full attention to drive anywhere near the limit. There’s plenty of traction thanks to the four-wheel-drive system, but if you get nice and liberal with the throttle on a corner exit the 63 will reward with a satisfying wiggle from the rear. It is incredibly nimble for what feels like a big car (and despite the hefty 2,048kg kerbweight), but its character is more like a straight-line missile that will dispatch corners rather than something to hurtle around your favourite bends. 

Don’t think the SL 63 isn’t fun, though. The different driving modes don’t change the experience as much as other full-fat AMG’s (especially if you have the roof down) but that’s ok because with the exhaust valves open, the engine in its most responsive ‘Sport+’ mode. And with that long bonnet protruding out in front of you, there’s plenty of occasion with the 63. As with pretty much every other range-topping AMG, the carbon-ceramic brakes are fantastic, delivering huge amounts of stopping power without being too grabby around town. The new generation of SL design will garner many more head turns too, if such a thing is important to you. 

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The SL has always been given generous doses of technology, given its fairly lofty position in the Mercedes line-up. With the new car it's the same story, which is both positive and negative. We’re not huge fans of the augmented reality system that pops up on the central screen because it’s more of a confusing distraction just when you’re trying to concentrate on the road ahead. The active blind spot assist is also far too eager to alert that a car is behind, even if it’s nowhere near you. 

The worst piece of technology in the SL (and not just the 63) is the swipe function on the centre screen to operate the roof opening and closing mechanism. There is an override to this by holding down the roof button just below the screen, but there’s a space in the buttons overhead where a more traditional and ergonomic switch could have easily been implemented. As ever, the controls of the twin-spoke AMG wheel are a little too fiddly but they are at least easy to understand. 

Something that really highlights the SL’s newfound focus on performance is the shrinking of the boot. The old car came with a decent 364-litre capacity, but it’s now a measly 213 litres. Combined with the higher loading lip and you’re not likely to see this new breed of SL at the golf club. 

Mercedes has taken the SL and given it a proper shake-up with this new model, adding plenty of performance to the recipe. We’re not convinced if losing the SL’s traditional grand touring attributes for a sportier outlook has been an equal trade but perhaps the old SL’s stuttering sales figures meant Mercedes had no other choice than to go down the AMG route. 

As a result the new SL 63 loses many of the attributes you’d traditionally associate with the SL, but gains just as much.

Model: Mercedes-AMG SL 63 4MATIC+ Premium Plus
Price: £171,725
Engine: 4.0-litre, twin-turbocharged V8
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Power/torque: 577bhp/800Nm
0-62mph: 3.6 seconds
Top speed: 196mph
Economy/efficiency: 21.4mpg
CO2: 299g/km
On sale: Now
Senior news reporter

A keen petrol-head, Alastair Crooks has a degree in journalism and worked as a car salesman for a variety of manufacturers before joining Auto Express in Spring 2019 as a Content Editor. Now, as our senior news reporter, his daily duties involve tracking down the latest news and writing reviews.

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