Cars

2022 Mercedes-AMG SL First Drive Review: Still Makes You Feel Like a Movie Star

Glamorous, famous, and maybe even alluring. That's how you ought to feel while cruising down a posh, seaside boulevard in a luxury convertible. Y'know, the sun is shining, the wind is blowing, and you can feel everyone's stares as you roll on by. The jealousy radiating from passersby is palpable. People point and murmur as an obviously famous person behind the wheel—wearing a Cartier scarf and Chanel oversized sunglasses nonetheless—makes their way to Starbucks for their morning chai latte (with oat milk, of course). The luxury convertible in this grandiose scene is the all-new, 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL, and the person behind the wheel is me.

It was an early morning in Newport Beach, California. The sky was a velvety red with a dash of purple as it disappeared into the Pacific Ocean. The seagulls were busy catching their breakfast and, miraculously, traffic was light. The Sun Yellow Mercedes dashed through the sleepy beach town, acting as interim sunshine and rewarding me with an unlimited amount of headroom. The chilly breeze slipped into the cabin while a headrest-mounted vent fought to keep me warm by blowing 73-degree air onto the back of my neck. (Mercedes calls this the Airscarf. It's aptly named.)

Did I feel glamorous? A bit. Famous? Mostly jet-lagged. Alluring? Wouldn't you like to know? And while you might hate me for undoing that beautiful picture I painted above, I should tell you that I was wearing Ralph Lauren and Ray-Bans, not Cartier and Chanels. Sorry.

But regardless of where you are or what you're wearing, driving a luxurious European convertible like the SL should make you feel extremely special. Owning a $100,000-plus car with this kind of panache should help you impersonate a diva or playboy en route to Palm Springs for a weekend full of captivating encounters and cocktail parties. It should make others want to be you. Or at the very least, make them wish they were in one of the other three seats around you.

Does the all-new 2022 Mercedes SL55 and SL63 pull that off? I went to these very glamorous places; Newport Beach and Palm Springs, to find out.

2022 Mercedes-AMG SL55 and SL63 Specs

  • Base price (price as tested): TBA
  • Powertrain: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 | 9-speed automatic | all-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 
    • SL55: 469 @ 5,500 rpm
    • SL63: 577 @ 5,500 rpm
  • Torque:
    • SL55: 516 lb-ft @ 2,250 rpm
    • SL63: 590 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm
  • 0-60:
    • SL55: 3.8 seconds (est.)
    • SL63: 3.5 seconds (est.)
  • Cargo volume: 8.5 cubic feet (7.5 with the top down)
  • Curb weight: TBA
  • Seating capacity: 4
  • EPA fuel economy: TBA
  • Quick take: It's the kind of car that'll put you in the spotlight whether you like it or not. A mile-devouring luxury convertible with enough room for weekend goodies or everyday necessities. Just don't think of it as a raw sports car. 
  • Score: 6/10

The Return of an Icon

As former Mercedes boss Dr. Dieter Zetsche famously said, “There are around 900 million cars in the world and thousands of models. But there are only a handful of automotive icons. Our SL is one of them.”

Leave it to a larger-than-life automotive executive with a larger-than-life mustache to throw down a quote like that. Truth is, he's not wrong. The SL is one of the very few cars that evoke a special feeling. But unlike many of its famous Italian, French, or American colleagues, the SL does so in a unique, cross-gender, cross-generational manner.

When you think of the first 300 SL, you can't help but think of staple races like Italy's Mille Miglia or Mexico's Carrera Panamericana. The Panamericana was so deadly that Mercedes fit metal bars across the windshield to prevent dogs, vultures, or rocks from crashing through the windshield and killing the driver or co-pilot. Early SLs were all about passion, racing, and death-defying drivers. And so were the fans.

Then came subsequent SLs in the late '50s. Only the crème de la crème were seen driving these. Think of Grace Kelly, an American actress who went on to become the Princess of Monaco. Her ride of choice? An SL. Over time, the list of luminaries grew to include Frank Sinatra, Princess Diana, Bob Marley, John Travolta, Burt Reynolds, and Elton John all becoming SL owners at one point or another. I can't think of another car that's attracted this level of diversity. A Ferrari, Mustang, or Camaro? Not even close. Perhaps only the Porsche 911 is on the same level.

Nearly 70 years since its inception, the legendary Mercedes SL returns for a seventh generation—and boy does it have big shoes to fill. But with all-new styling, tech, and muscle under the hood, it aims to attract a younger, techier, and slightly more active audience than before. One thing is certain: This SL isn't quite the same as your grandpa's SL.

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For starters, it will be exclusively produced by Mercedes-AMG, not Mercedes-Benz, meaning there's no plebian base model. It will be offered solely as an SL55 or SL63, though unlike before, the numerical denotation is purely for hierarchal purposes, as they're both powered by the same twin-turbo V8 engine. Also, it'll only be offered with a power-folding soft top and all-wheel drive, but more on that later.

Design

Under the glitzy metallic paint sits a completely new aluminum body shell developed specifically for "roadster" architecture (or at least Mercedes' definition of roadster), which underpins the 2+2 convertible. Mercedes claims that not one single component has been carried over from the previous SL, nor the AMG GT—which the new SL looks slightly similar to.

As a result, every line, every curve, and every design cue is completely new and original to the 2022 SL. It all starts at the front, where the SL shows off its most familiar trait: a long hood that stretches away from the driver and dips into the large Panamericana grille. Designers took advantage of the lengthy wheelbase (106.3 inches) to factor in short overhangs and push the cabin as far back as possible. The windshield is drastically raked to build up visual momentum before the roofline drops into the wide rear arches. Lower the soft top and the design changes drastically, confidently making the SL look like it was designed to be permanently top-less.

Walk around the SL and you'll find lots of body bits designed to make the car more efficient, quieter, and more comfortable with the top up or down. Louvers built into the front lower and upper intakes open and close to provide optimal cooling and reduce drag, but the retractable rear spoiler also uses software to adapt to current conditions and driving behavior. Several adjustable and removable partitions also help with wind buffeting, which is kept to a minimum.

Inside, the SL's cabin is surprisingly bare, but I suppose that's what happens when you build nearly every single function into the touchscreen rather than have function-specific physical controls. Even the function to raise or lower the soft top has been baked into the OS. It's an identical system to the one found in the new S-Class, though the SL's 11.9-inch touchscreen can cleverly tilt 12 to 32 degrees at the touch of a button to fight off any possible sun glare.

The interior is wrapped in lovely materials like leather with contrast stitching, Alcantara-like textiles, and carbon fiber that'll help you feel slightly better about dropping six figures on what's essentially a two-seat convertible with bonus space behind the front seats. Like most cars in this segment, sure, you can fit two extremely small/short people back there, but why would you? That second row is clearly more for utility than passenger transport.

The cabin is a very nice place to be for a long period of time, and you won't be complaining about the car not being a comfortable cruiser. This baby is designed to eat miles, and eat them with style. 

Overall, the new SL doesn't disappoint in terms of design. The exterior gives off strong expensive toy vibes, and it certainly looks like an SL should—you won't confuse it for anything else on the road. It's long, wide, and it immediately catches your eye. However, I find the design of the lighting elements (headlights, taillights) a bit hard-edged and looking a bit out of place. Their angular nature makes the SL look a bit angry, and the SL shouldn't be angry—at least not like an AMG GT. Traditionally, the SL's design has always been softer and more rounded and not that of an aggressive sports car.

Driving Experience

While I'll be sharing my experiences in the SL55 and SL63, I should clarify that I only had the opportunity to drive the SL63 during the media preview. I spent about two hours in the passenger seat of the 55.

As mentioned above, the SL55 and SL63 share the same twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 engine, nine-speed automatic transmission, and 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system but boast different horsepower ratings and specs. The 55 produces 469 horsepower while the 63 produces 577. The 63 is equipped with additional programmable driving modes for performance driving, active suspension, and an electronically controlled rear-axle limited-slip differential as standard. The 55 can be equipped with those goodies, but they'll cost you extra.

Regardless of trim, the SL is fast, there's no doubt about it. The 55 can do zero to 60 in 3.8 while the 63 does it in 3.5, meaning that despite the 108-horsepower difference they're both extremely quick for heavy luxury cars (Mercedes hasn't announced the cars' official weight yet). Top speed is rated at 183 for the 55 and 196 for the 63.

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While you can't exactly feel that 0.3-second difference while launching the SL from a standstill, you can certainly feel it when passing at speed. The 63 has a monumental torque curve that simply feels like it's never going to end. There isn't a public road where you can safely experience this without risking getting in trouble with the law. This sucker pulls harder than the AMG GT C I drove last year, and that's really saying something considering that's a lighter, much livelier car.

MBUSA

MBUSA

Slip into Sport+ mode and the car comes alive, letting you rev higher, hold gears longer, and roar louder. The engine and transmission combo is the highlight of the package, as it should be with any AMG. Get into a cadence along twisty canyon roads and you can feel the engine hum along, always providing you with the right amount of power to rocket from one apex to another.

Surprisingly, gears in the nine-speed transmission don't feel tall, which was a big complaint of mine in the sportier AMG GT. Even in the curviest of roads, the SL was good for waltzing around in fourth and fifth gear, occasionally dropping to third or second for tight hairpins. I have to admit to dropping an extra gear even when not truly necessary just to hear the crackle and pop of the exhaust.

The steering doesn't share the agile chops of the engine and transmission, however. It feels slow and numb, sadly—kneecapping whatever excitement the road attempts to transmit to the driver. This only exacerbates the biggest detractor in driving the SL at speed: the weight. The SL is just too heavy to be properly slung around the twisties.

Despite the excellent carbon-ceramic brakes, it's impossible to ignore the fact that it takes the SL too long to slow down and too much steering angle to corner. You can constantly feel the weight push the car into turns, making it slightly unpredictable at speed—at least in my situation with only an hour or so behind the wheel.

MBUSA

You get the feeling that the car doesn't like to be rushed. You end up wanting to crank up Barry White's Essential Playlist on the Burmester surround sound system instead, focusing on enjoying the drive rather than trying to nail every apex. During my limited time with it, the SL felt more at home on medium-fast to fast roads, as well as cruising down posh boulevards. Of course, that's what it's been designed to do. This is what the SL has always been for. On the hunt for a corner-shredding sports convertible? The AMG GT Roadster beckons.

Verdict

It's impossible to avoid comparing the new SL against the car that sets the bar for all sports cars: the Porsche 911. And like I mentioned earlier, the 911 is the only car that comes close to or equals the SL's icon and celebrity status. That being said, I feel like comparing these two is quite silly.

True, when you look at the SL's rear end from half a block away, you'll think it's a 911 Cabriolet. Based on its proportions, seating arrangement, and overall styling, prospective cross-shopping buyers might think, "Well it's this or a 911." To that, I say, no.

The SL is a different animal, an entirely different machine. The 911 wouldn't suffer from the issues I noted above, it would simply set those canyon roads ablaze and arrive at its luxurious destination an hour before the Benz. The SL, however, would have folks looking at it and wondering what fashionable man or woman is driving it. With the Porsche driver, they'd simply write them off as another Patrick Dempsey wannabe. You buy a 911 if you want a car that can do it all and you don't want to overthink the process too much. You buy the SL with more deliberation than that.

Jerry Perez

Yes, the SL leaves something to be desired in terms of performance driving, but it nails everything else, including the embodiment of the SL persona. And I'd daresay that for most SL buyers, that'll be more than enough. It's a handsome, showy, convertible that wants to do nothing else but please you and make you look good.

The whole point of driving an SL is to feel hot AF while enjoying the finest German engineering money can afford away from breakneck speeds. In this car, you never need to be in a hurry. There's no rush to get somewhere. The journey is the destination. Want something else? Look elsewhere.

Email the author at jerry@thedrive.com.

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