We have a confession: We drove this 518-horsepower Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG roadster to Orlando for a Chevy Volt event. Isn't that like taking a pizza to the set of The Biggest Loser? No matter, we think the automotive world can accommodate both a cutting-edge electric vehicle and a high-performance luxury roadster. Especially if it's this one.
Appearance: The "It's Not Your Ordinary Benz" look of the vehicles in Mercedes' tuner division is bound to bring questions from the curious car fan — we heard them — such as: "Is that the new AMG?" It is, and the tip-off with the SL63 is the sculpted hood, with its twin "power domes" that slope down to the L-shaped bi-xenon headlights and a distinctive grille with the prominent Mercedes three-point star emblem. Other touches: A chrome AMG badge on the side adds some bling, especially for darker cars, and five-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels, twin chrome exhausts and black air-dam diffuser inserts. The rear spoiler lip subtly holds down the SL63 without screaming "performance car."
Performance: The naturally aspirated V-8 AMG motor puts out a whopping 518 horsepower and 465 foot-pounds of torque, and rockets you from 0 to 60 in 4.5 seconds. There are four drive modes and a Race Start function for maximum launch. (Sadly, we didn't try this function — we figured the police wouldn't look kindly on tire-smoking acceleration.) The first thing you'll notice when you crank up the SL63 is a distinctive exhaust note, much like the rumble of an American muscle car. It's pure music. Driving it is a joy: The 7-speed Speedshift automatic, with its Multi Clutch Technology, clicks off the gear changes quickly and smoothly. The steering is sensitive, with good feedback, and this car positively laughs at body roll. One can only imagine how the sibling SL65 with its V-12 performs. All that, and it's surprisingly quiet with the top down. (Bluetooth phone conversations are no problem, and the hardtop retracts in just 16 seconds.)
Interior: It's an orgy of premium leather. The seats have multiple adjustments and plenty of bolstering, but that's to be expected. What Mercedes does well is providing the things you didn't know you needed. For example, an "Airscarf" in the head restraint that gently blows warm air on your neck to keep you comfortable with the top down. The contoured steering wheel has a nice grip, and the aluminum paddle shifters are large and easy to reach. And it's not an AMG without a Race Timer or sport pedals with rubber studs to keep your feet from slipping.
Our 3 favorites
Price: It's hard to call a $139,000-plus car a bargain for the money, but . . .
Paint: Sure, you can get the standard sports-car colors, but the Diamond White is uber-cool and seems perfect.
Wheels: I love the five-spoke alloys.
Panoramic sunroof: Enjoy the outdoors even with the top up.
Airscarf: No more excuses in cold weather: Keep your neck warm when driving with the top down.
Shifting: It's precise and ultrafast.
The bottom line: The SL63 is a world-class machine, and perhaps the best car we had driven until the Audi R8 Spyder (perhaps a more pure driving experience) came along. That said, the SL63 has it all: looks, performance and luxury.