The Mercedes-AMG SL63 Is a GT Car for the iPhone Generation

As both a GT and an all-out sports car, the SL63 is, like, 80% there.

byChris Tsui|
Chris Tsui
Chris Tsui.


Remember the days of gadgets that did one thing and one thing only? It wasn't a proper night out in 2004 unless you had your click-wheel iPod on hand along with a point-and-shoot camera—were you Team PowerShot or Team Coolpix? Oh, and schoolteachers were still telling kids that they wouldn't have a calculator on them at all times in "the real world." Of course, the smartphone then came along and homogeneously rendered all of that obsolete. The very adaptable, platform-sharing Mercedes-AMG SL63 sort of reminds me of that.

Not too long ago, Mercedes had a coupe for what felt like every single possible flavor of coupe consumer. Want a hardcore sports car to go toe-to-toe with your buddy's 911? You got the AMG GT. You're a realtor and need a swanky-looking, tax-deductible way to show up to open houses? There's the E-Class Coupe for you. You're a realtor who's just starting out and needs a swanky-looking, tax-deductible way to show up to open houses? C-Class Coupe it is. There was also the S-Class Coupe for monied boat enthusiasts and the SLK for BMW Z4 haters. Most famously though, there was the SL if you wanted a long-legged grand tourer that's as comfortable on the autobahn as it is comfortable on the autobahn.

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Objectively speaking, this was too many coupes. And evidently, Mercedes' product planners agreed because they have since pared it all back quite a bit. The C and E Coupes have been consolidated into the new CLE while the S and SLK are no more. Most curiously, though, the AMG GT and SL are now essentially sister vehicles, sharing a platform, powertrain, and interior. As we've already learned, this has made the GT comfier and a better all-rounder.

When it comes to the new SL—which is now, tellingly, an AMG-only model—it too is objectively better at more things. But is it better at the things SL buyers buy an SL for? Questionable. No longer strictly a grand tourer, this new SL is now also a decent corner carver. Firmly a jack of both trades, it is also, predictably perhaps, a master of neither.

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2023 Mercedes-AMG SL63 Specs
Base Price (Canadian-spec as tested)$179,150 ($226,500 CAD)
Powertrain4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 | 9-speed automatic | all-wheel drive
Horsepower577 @ 5,500-6,500 rpm
Torque590 lb-ft @ 2,500-5,000 rpm
Curb Weight4,343 pounds
0-60 mph3.5 seconds
Top Speed196 mph
Seating Capacity2
Cargo Volume7.5-8.5 cubic feet
EPA Fuel Economy14 mpg city | 22 highway | 16 combined
Quick TakeAdequately great at most things, truly amazing at none of them.

Stout Looker

Before we dig into how it drives, though, the new SL scores big points on style. As a piece of design, it is quite striking. Definitely one of the better-looking Benzes in recent memory, and I'm including the more catfish-like AMG GT in that evaluation. The front end is handsomely aggressive, the rear haunches are quite big and gorgeous in person, and this particular example is finished in a shade of gray that's said to match the hair color of the average SL owner. On appearances alone, the SL does feel like a special thing to be seen in.

The interior will be familiar to anyone who's been in any new Mercedes recently, but its turbine air vents and very cockpit-y instrument screen binnacle set it apart from, say, a pedestrian C-Class. Burmester speaker grilles and nightclub ambient lighting can feel special or gaudy depending on personal tastes, but my tacky-immigrant ass tends to enjoy it.

Shortcomings List

Less enjoyable is the company's MBUX infotainment system which, from a usability standpoint, remains middling at best in the context of other proprietary car-screen interfaces, which means it is certifiably bad in relation to screen interfaces in general.

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What's more, the screen is where you operate the convertible soft top. It's a digital slider (a bit like how we all used to unlock iPhones) that you swipe and hold. But in this example at least, the top often stopped randomly during the opening procedure, requiring another slide on the screen. This sort of thing might be expected from, say, a startup automaker having their first go at a convertible or something, but this is the Mercedes SL we're talking about. A convertible that's been convertible'ing since 1957 and should therefore know and do better.

On the subject, this particular SL also presented questions in regards to build quality—the driver's door creaked slightly every time it opened, while the little rubber mat that covers the wireless charger had come loose. Granted, this was indeed a press unit that might have had a rough life. But having been in dozens if not hundreds of pressers over the years, this sort of thing is a rarity and frankly quite unbecoming—especially in a $200,000 Mercedes with just 2,500 miles on the odometer at the time of testing.

Strong, Loud

What isn't unbecoming, though, is what's under the hood. Within the SL63's long nose sits a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 claiming 577 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. Zero to 60 mph happens in a respectably par-for-the-course 3.5 seconds and top speed is electronically limited to 196 mph.

Chris Tsui

Less powerful and less expensive SLs are available, though. The SL55 uses this same V8 albeit detuned to 469 hp, adding 0.3 seconds to the 0-60 time while SLers who really aren't concerned about performance should consider the four-cylinder SL43. As staff writer Nico DeMattia discovered in his recent review, that 2.0-liter is decidedly less special than the V8. But the entry-level SL can still be a solid grand tourer with half the cylinders and at almost half the price. OK, so the SL43's $110,000 base sticker isn't quite half a $180,000 SL63, but it's close enough.

Those who do pony up for the big boy V8 are in for a treat. The AMG M177 V8 really is a great engine, and among the 4.0-liter V8s coming out of Germany's Big 3 luxury automakers, this is hands down the coolest sounding one. It's rumbly and rowdy in audio while feeling innately robust. It cracks and burbles with a convincingly manufactured spontaneity but the movements it causes remain smooth and GT-like, never too punchy.

Straddling Lanes

Evaluated as a sports car, the new SL can indeed hustle and carve up a backroad with fairly great ability but I wouldn't call it terribly engaging. Steering could be a tad chattier and sharper while its brake pedal and transmission are technically capable pieces of kit, but not too much to write home about as entertaining, hard-driving tools, especially in the context of other, ultra-capable cars in this arena. At the very same time, evaluated as a GT car, the ride is a little too communicative to be a class-leading grand tourer. There are comfier options for cross-country jaunts. 

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In a nutshell, this is, like, 80% there as both a GT car and as a sports car. The fact that it straddles both as well as it does deserves its flowers, but that also means it isn’t quite as amazing as it could be at either job.

Eight Out of 10

One car that does accomplish near-max stats in both these categories is, of course, the Porsche 911. Where the SL made its name on grand touring, the 911 carved out its legend status in being able to serve up dual personalities. This is what the new SL attempts to do now, but notably not as successfully. That finicky infotainment system and top operation don't help its case either.

I once wrote that "[the Jaguar F-Type] is firmly a seven out of 10 car. It does everything just well enough to make it a decent weekend ride for those who love its specific visuals and exhaust audio. And ... that's kind of it. The week I spent with it was quite enjoyable, but when it was over, I didn't feel myself yearning to drive another F-Type again. Sure, it looked and sounded plenty exciting in the moment but there are a lot of other fish in the sea. Fish that are better put-together, more fun to drive, and—believe it or not—look and sound even better than this."

The Mercedes-AMG SL63 delivers a similar story with the caveat that it's probably closer to an eight out of 10. It does enough good things to objectively make it a more than decent sports car-slash-GT. The V8 remains a highlight as does the way it looks, but it doesn't truly excel at any one thing as a driving experience to let it emotionally stay with me after it was gone.

And while being able to listen to all of the music ever made, take practically unlimited pictures or videos, share said pictures and videos with pretty much anyone in the world, and, of course, work out precisely how much you should tip all on one device is mighty convenient, I can't help but lament the focused quaintness of a distinct, purpose-built machine. Like a turntable or an old film camera. Or, y'know, a Mercedes SL that was made to do one thing and one thing only: tour grandly.

Chris Tsui

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