2009 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class
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    2009 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class Expert Review:Autoblog


    Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG – Click above for high-res gallery

    Finding the ideal luxury sports car is a Goldilocks proposition: cars that fulfill either descriptive – luxury or sports – are piled high as Annapurna. For instance, the Ferrari F430 is a luxurious sports car, but it's not a luxury car. The current CL63 is a sporty luxury car, but it's not a sports car. Try to find a conveyance in which the little girl with the golden locks would sigh "This one is just right" – a car that has the sporting reflexes to keep her heart beating and a cabin supple enough for her to unwind in when the twisties are finished – and you see the field is disturbingly minuscule. Against all odds, the SL63 is that car: Goldilocks' Golden Mean. Follow the jump to find out how and why, and check out the gallery of high-res images below.



    Photos Copyright ©2008 Jonathon Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.



    Before we dive into the SL63 AMG, let us go back a bit. Prior to the current, facelifted SL, we spent more time thinking about which toothpaste to buy than we ever did considering the merits of the SL-Class. Like the Range Rover Sport, the SL is an emblem, a logo, the official car of older men likely to explain the near-adolescent ages of their dates by saying things like "She makes me feel young."



    So when Mercedes called to offer a sampling of both the SL600 and SL63 AMG, we attended more out of duty than desire. To prepare for a day of motoring in the new SL600 from Santa Monica to Palm Springs where we would meet the SL63 AMG, we bought a Polo and a Rolex, rolled up our sleeves, and practiced telling our broker – loudly – not to sell our shares in Dassault Systemes until they hit 42 euros. We even tried to find an aspiring model/actress to share the day's ride with, but we had to settle for a fine chap by the name of Andy.

    We started the drive by putting the top down and stopping for coffee at one of the sceniest places in Los Angeles. We got a spot right out front. We're pretty sure that comes with the car. Women look. I flash my Rolex. Dial my broker. Bark orders. "Sell Kodak at eight-and-a-half!" I'm a winner. And now I feel like I've lived the SL dream, so I'd really like to click my heels three times and go home...

    But there's more driving to do, and it was a very good thing – for quite a few reasons – that I wasn't wearing ruby slippers.



    We pull off the highway in the egregiously misnamed Inland Empire. What, in another car, we would have looked forward to as gleeful driving sections – 180-degree turns, off-camber mountainside sections, blind corners, high-speed doglegs – began not far from the exit. And it was no more than a few corners when we had a funny and familiar feeling. Andy went around a turn at what must surely have been an accidental speed, and the conversation went something like:

    "Andy, did you feel that?"

    "I think so."

    "Do it again."

    Andy took the next turn on the gas.

    "Andy... was that a... driving sensation?"

    "I... think so... Hold please..."

    Andy laid it on through a ferocious set of kinks like he was trying to outrun Somali bandits, hit a straight and floored it, popped over a blind crest and slammed on the brakes for a tight corner that was right there! but opened up into a long sweeping downhill right where he could test the rising speed of the car against the curve.

    There was no mistaking it: the car handles.



    The 5.5-liter twin-turbo V12 with 510 hp and 612 lb-ft. that runs through a 5-speed transmission propels the 4,455-pound car to 60 in 4.4 seconds. But that's the easy part. Mercedes' that go fast in a straight line are nothing new. We wanted to know why it handled like it did. Mercedes would only say that it was due to the second generation Active Body Control (ABC), featuring revised dampers among other things, and the Direct Steer system that uses a new tooth profile – no Rube Goldberg electro-gimmicky-slash-German-engineering here – for more engaging response. Harumph.

    If that is really all Mercedes did, then the SL was a much better car – or at least, much closer to being a great car – than we ever suspected. But we don't buy it. However, all of a sudden we weren't so upset about having to go to Palm Springs to drive the SL63 AMG.



    This is what you need to know to prepare yourself for the SL63: the AMG division was started in 1963 by former Mercedes engineers Hans Werner Aufrecht (A) and Erhard Melcher (M) in the town of Großaspach (G). They were racers, and they were very good at building racing engines and cars. Over the decades, at some ill-defined point, the pure racing creations became huge engines stuffed into chassis' with the handling dynamics of manatees. You could beat a Porsche to the next stoplight. You couldn't beat the guy in the purple Cavalier with the primered J. C. Whitney wing through a series of corners.

    Two years ago, though, a gent by the name of Volker Mornhinweg ascended to the AMG throne, and he had a come-to-Gott meeting with his team, putting the question, "Do we want to keep doing what we're doing, or shall we return to AMG's heritage and build proper sports cars?" The answer was unanimous, and although it has taken two years to deliver that answer in steel, the wait was, as they say, worth it.

    If we were to anthropomorphize the SL63 AMG, we wouldn't use a German, but a Russian: Peter the Great. This is the car, with its piercing look and imposing mien, that is leading the charge in dragging its compatriots – Russians in Peter's case, AMG's perception in the SL63's case – into modernity, respect.




    It was with this information, and the taste of the SL600 appetizer still fresh on our palate, that we strove to give the SL63 AMG a non-stop caning. Call the car a masochist – and yours truly a sadist – because we both loved it.

    The SL63 features the well known naturally aspirated 6.2-liter V8 with 518 hp and 465 lb-ft. Compared to the SL600, it has a 7,200 RPM redline instead of the other car's 5,950, it is 286 pounds lighter and has the same 0-60 time. It uses a 7-speed multi-clutch transmission (MCT) with four possible shift modes and a double-clutching function. And our cars also had the Performance Package consisting of 15.4-inch vented, compound front rotors, a multi-disc limited-slip rear differential, 19-inch AMG twin-spoke forged light-alloy wheels, staggered-width tires of 255/35 ZR19 in front and 285/30 ZR19 at the rear, an even more refined AMG high-performance suspension based on ABC active suspension, and a smaller steering wheel with a flattened underside and silver-aluminum shift paddles. Let's go driving then.



    The hills above Palm Springs are strung with ancient concrete, the same stuff that Sinatra and crew rode on with cars full of groupies when doing the Vegas run. But the SL63 does not ask for cosseting, it only asks for roads. It rumbles from idle, noisy, thuggish, more Corvette than The Continent. The car will happily do the low-speed boulevard run – it's a Mercedes after all – and everywhere you go and stop, people look at you like they want to welcome you since you're so well dressed... but they can't quite... because, well, sir, your car is growling...

    From a standstill, pull the trigger on the car it shoots off the line immediately, insistently. No fireworks – save for the exhaust, which appears to be bellowing the German equivalent of "Out of the way!" – just a mission to get to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, which is only a tenth shy of the new 2009 Porsche Carrera S with PDK.



    The promise of semi-automatic transmissions is that the gap between gear changes is reduced to milliseconds. The tragic disillusionment with semi-automatic transmissions comes when you discover that the gap between the clutch disengaging and then giving you access to the power again takes almost as long as the first grade. Not so with the SL63's multi-clutch transmission: it's pull-shift-power, pull-shift-power.

    Another great feature of a well-sorted semi-automatic transmission: it knows when to shift down and which gear to shift into, and if it happens to get wrong-footed the mistake is corrected in those aforementioned milliseconds.



    All you have to do in the SL63 is attack attack attack attack attack. That's all. The AMG-tuned ABC is stiffer than that on the standard SL-Class, and works with ABS, ASR, and ESP systems that have also been recalibrated to give you a lot more room to play with the car and much more subtle help if you ever need it.

    Mercedes says the car has between 68- and 95-percent less body roll than a comparable car with the same suspension setup. Throw it through turns and gravity, not body roll, will be your main concern, and it's still imperceptibly flexible enough that you won't have to pay any price in skittishness. When you're finished with a run of road-course cornering, you will demand your passenger call you Fangio for the rest of the day.



    When you finally do get close to the car's limits, it's a very un-Mercedes-like affair: there are no gongs, no alarms. The only communication comes from the movements of the car itself and the tires working to go in the intended direction. Coming around one corner at a speed approaching blue blazes, we could feel all four wheels sliding, gently, confidently, but saying "All right, you get another two miles an hour out of us, and then you're in the Scheisse." That's the kind of dialogue that turns good drivers into excellent ones, knowing just how much more bend you've got before the snapping and breaking begin. It still shocks us to write this, but it's another reason why the SL63 is a truly fantastic driver's car.

    There are more thrilling rocketships that will let you know you've gone too far by swapping ends and flying in reverse toward something firm and immovable. There are more luxurious runabouts that will usually distract you from investigating their sporting chops by playing a tune called "shake, rattle & roll" remixed by DJ Understeer.




    But in this car we can fight above our weight any time of day and on any road, and we'd accept any challenge from any other car – F430, Gallardo, R8, Vantage, you name it. We might get beat, but only just, and that's only if the other driver is very good and doesn't make a single mistake. And then we'd invite them to endure that other challenge, navigating one full day of LA's finest motorized morass, and we doubt the fight would last past noon. And if you're thinking the Vantage might still be in it, did we mention the disappearing folding hardtop with the panoramic roof?

    That is why this car sits, almost alone, in the sweet spot of the Goldilocks proposition. It is not exactly beautiful, but it is, to our eyes, hot. It's not buckwild, but its limits are well off in the distance. It is not the ultimate in either handling or luxury, but it is quite possibly the ultimate in balance. And unlike the Aston Martin DB9 Sport Pack, which is our favorite luxury sports car because it is gorgeous and handles gorgeously, the SL63 has a trunk that you can actually put things in. The SL63 AMG is how you say, acronymically: "just right."



    Photos Copyright ©2008 Jonathon Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.

    New styling for flagship sports car.

    Introduction

    The Mercedes SL debuted in 1957 and has been an object of lust ever since. A two-seat, rear-wheel-drive roadster, the SL is the classic sporting Mercedes. Like the original, today's SL boasts outstanding performance. The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class has matured in every way over its six generations, quicker and faster on the one hand, more beautiful and more luxurious on the other, to the point where it lacks absolutely nothing, from its array of powerful V8 and V12 engines to its powerful stereo to its active suspension system to those all-day bucket seats. It is a marvel of automotive technology, featuring a folding steel convertible top. 

    For 2009, the SL models feature a whole new look, though underneath they retain the same basic platform. Also new is the 2009 Mercedes SL63 AMG, sporting a powerful normally aspirated V8 engine. 

    Speaking of which, each of the four models that comprise the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is designed around a different engine. Each has its own character. Each has its own charms, but all are fast. There's no such thing as a slow SL, not in the current lineup. 

    The SL550 is plenty, trust us. Its 5.5-liter V8 engine emits an uncharacteristically barbaric growl for a Mercedes. Boasting 382 horsepower, it's ready and willing to accelerate at all rev ranges, and it comes with the latest in transmissions, a seven-speed automatic with a manual shiftgate. Overall, the SL550 is a sporty roadster with quick steering and nimble moves. Compared with the other models, the Mercedes SL550 seems like the deal of the century for $95,900 MSRP. 

    The SL600 has a more immediate power than the SL550, yet the engine is considerably quieter. Our advice: Don't drive a Mercedes SL600 unless $136,100 is burning a hole in your pocket because you might fall in love with it. Fast and comfortable, there's lots to love here. Its butter smooth twin-turbo 6.0-liter V12 is time-tested and produces 517 horsepower. More noticeable and oh so wonderful is its gobs of torque, a bottomless well of power available when cruising along: specifically, 612 pound-feet of torque from 1900 to 3500 rpm. The V12 comes with a five-speed automatic that can also be shifted manually. With its heavier V12 engine, the SL600 is less nimble and more of a tourer than a pure sports car. But as a touring car, say driving from L.A. to Vegas, the SL600 is pure joy. 

    Since the beginning, the SL's laurels have been raised by performance models, and two AMG versions are available in the current lineup. The 2009 Mercedes SL63 AMG uses a normally aspirated 518-hp 6.2-liter V8 mated to a new seven-speed automated manual transmission called the AMG Speedshift MCT 7. The SL63 AMG is a meaner version of the SL550. It's the sportiest SL and, arguably, the sportiest car Mercedes-AMG has ever built. The SL 63 AMG is brutally quick and fast when the throttle pedal is pushed into the carpet, yet it is still quiet enough, and docile enough to use as a commuter car in heavy traffic every day. Stand on the gas and it's even louder than the SL550. 

    The SL65 AMG has a twin-turbocharged V12 that puts out 604 horsepower. It is a torquey beast that delivers a rush of power bested only by exotics and pro drag cars. It's a lot of car, perhaps too much for an unskilled driver as its immense power can make it hard to handle. Like the SL600, the SL65's V12 is quieter than the V8s. And like the SL600, the SL65 is heavy (it is the heaviest SL), so it isn't as tossable as the V8 models. Tossable often equates to fun. 

    Not surprisingly, no SL gets good fuel mileage. The SL550 is EPA rated at 14 mpg city and 21 mpg highway, and it gets worse as you move up the model line. As a result, every SL is saddled with a Gas Guzzler Tax by the federal government. 

    Inside, the SL is a model of fine German luxury. Leather upholstery is standard, and the seats have plenty of adjustments to make just about anyone comfortable. The view from the drive. 

    Lineup

    The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class comes in four models:

    The SL550 ($95,900) has a 382-hp 5.5-liter V8 mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capability via the gearshift or available steering wheel paddles. Standard equipment includes leather upholstery; heated 12-way power-adjustable seats with lumbar adjustment; dual-zone automatic climate control; interior air filter; navigation system; Tele Aid assistance system; power tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; cruise control; memory for the driver's seat; exterior mirrors, and steering wheel; heated power mirrors with driver's side auto-dimming and passenger side tilt-down back-up aid; power windows and power door locks; remote keyless entry; Harman/Kardon AM/FM stereo with six-disc CD changer; auxiliary audio input jack; Sirius satellite radio with six-month subscription; Bluetooth wireless cell phone link; trip computer; auto-dimming rearview mirror; universal garage door opener; heated rain-sensing variable-intermittent wipers; automatic headlights; power-retractable hardtop; wind deflector; theft-deterrent system; adaptive bi-xenon headlights; front and rear fog lights; Active Body Control adjustable suspension with level control; and P255/40ZR18 front and P285/35ZR18 rear tires on alloy wheels. Note the SL550 is saddled with a $1300 Gas Guzzler Tax. 

    The SL63 AMG ($132,000) comes with a 518-hp 6.2-liter V8 mated to a new seven-speed automated manual transmission called the AMG Speedshift MCT 7. The SL63 adds to the SL550 uprated brakes, massaging multicontour seats, carbon-fiber interior trim, alcantara headliner, Bose AM/FM/CD player, 6CD changer, sports suspension, 255/35R19 front tires, 285/30R19 rear tires. 

    The SL600 ($136,100) comes with a 517-hp 6.0-liter V12 and a five-speed automatic with manual shift capability. The SL600 also gets upgraded leather upholstery; massaging multicontour seats; wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel; alcantara headliner; keyless access and starting; front and rear park assist; panoramic roof; and a power trunk closer. The SL600, SL63 AMG and SL65 AMG have a $2600 Gas Guzzler Tax. 

    The SL65 AMG ($190,700) adds to the SL600 uprated brakes; leather-wrapped steering wheel; ventilated seats; carbon-fiber interior trim in place of wood trim; sports suspension; and P255/35ZR19 front and P285/30ZR19 rear tires. 

    Options include a Premium package for the SL550 ($3750) and SL63 AMG ($3050) that includes ventilated/multicontour seats, keyless entry and starting, Airscarf heating, power trunk closer. A Wheel package for SL500 and SL600 ($1950) adds ventilated rear brake discs, sport steering-wheel with shift paddles, unique exterior trim, 19-inch alloy wheels with performance tires. An AMG Performance package for SL63 AMG ($14,220) includes a limited-slip rear differential; 15.4-inch diameter two-piece compound ceramic brakes; performance tires; unique alloy wheels; and 186 top-speed limiter. The SL550's Trim package ($1510) adds a wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and upgraded leather upholstery. Front and rear park assist is optional ($1140) for SL550 and SL63 AMG. Illuminated door sills are available for SL500 ($700), Adaptive Cruise Control is optional for all ($2230), and the Panorama glass roof is optional for SL500 and SL63 AMG ($1950). Special paint options are available. 

    Safety features include dual front airbags, side-impact airbags, driver knee airbag, pop-up roll bar, tire-pressure monitor, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, traction control, and electronic stability control. Front and rear park assist are standard on SL600 and SL65 AMG and optional for SL550 and SL63 AMG. 

    Walkaround

    The Mercedes SL-Class is restyled for 2009, with a more aggressive V-shaped nose, new multi-element bi-xenon headlamps, new fender shapes, new fender gills and hood power domes, and larger side mirrors. The only parts carried over from 2008 are the door skins. The new grille is deeper, wider and taller, with sharper corners than previous grilles, with a big air intake underneath. The front fenders are longer. The new rear end features a diffuser-style rear bumper, new trapezoidal exhaust outlets, and new taillamps. 

    The platform, or basic structure, stays the same, however. The 2009 SL has the same aerodynamic performance and the same weight distribution front-to-rear as the outgoing car, namely a 0.29 drag coefficient and a 51/49 percent balance. 

    The restyled hood has a two raised ribs, each about a foot off center. Like the previous model, the hood on the 2009 model has twin air intakes at the back, just in front of each passenger, and these are decorated with three fins apiece. The hood leads into redesigned headlights that take on a cat's eye look and move away from the rounded, dual headlight theme Mercedes has used for years. The available Intelligent Lighting System automatically aims the lights into corners as the driver turns the steering wheel. The center grille opening on the 2009 models is slightly larger than on the 2008 models, with one chrome bar instead of three surrounding a large central Mercedes logo. Fog lights flank the reworked lower fascia, which features a shape that mirrors the grille opening. 

    Along the sides, the breathing ducts behind the front wheels change from two horizontal to three vertical gills on the 2009 SL550 and SL600, bisected by a chrome horizontal accent piece. The gill design now extends into the front of each door. The line that starts at the bottom of each gill extends into a rising character line that wraps around the car and gives the SL a forward-leaning rake. The SL600 has a V12 logo beneath the gill on each side. At the bottom, the rocker panel design is reworked as well. 

    The rear design is very similar to that of the previous model. The only notable change is a restyled rear fascia with a ribbed, diffuser-style lower portion. 

    The SL63 and SL65 come with a unique hood, front fascia with larger cooling intakes, and a black grille. The hood has a noticeable power bulge in the center that replaces the two raised ribs. The bi-xenon headlights have black surrounds and the fog lights have round instead of elliptical shape. On the sides, the AMG models have additional intake ducts just in front of the wheels and the side gills are replaced by E-shaped inserts in matte silver; the SL63 has lettering that says 6.3 AMG, and the SL65 has V12 BITURBO lettering. At the rear, AMG models have a lip spoiler, deeper side sills and a rear fascia that houses a pronounced black rear air diffuser and two pairs of chrome tailpipes. 

    All SL roadsters have a power retractable hardtop that opens or closes in 16 seconds. Unlike some convertible tops, the SL's does not open or close if the car is in motion, even at low speeds. The available panorama glass top gives an open-air feeling even with the top up. The SL is a beautiful car with the top down and the sleek roof makes it look even better with the top up. 

    Interior

    Inside, the SL is a picture of German luxury. Leather upholstery is standard and even the padded dash is covered in hand-stitched leather. The speedometer and tachometer have the appearance of fine watch faces, with black centers and numbers, white rims and red needles. They are shrouded and are always easy to see. The trip computer can be set so temperature, trip odometer, selected gear, and numerous other readouts can appear in those black centers. Water temperature and fuel gauges flank the two main gauges. 

    The COMAND operating system has a new look for 2009 and additional functions. It comes with a 6.5-inch color screen and an SD card slot, and it incorporates the radio, six-CD changer, and telephone controls. The radio preset buttons are arranged in a phone-like pattern on the right side of the screen. While the COMAND system has a lot of buttons, it is pretty easy to use after some acclimation. Comand now includes a universal media interface in the center console that accepts not only iPod but also USB sticks and most other popular portable music players, and can display the music information on the screen and speedometer face. Optional is COMAND APS, which adds a 40-gigabyte hard drive that holds navigation map information and music files. Mercedes says that only four gigabytes are devoted to music, which is enough for about 1000 songs. COMAND APS also has voice activation and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The Harman/Kardon surround-sound system uses 10 speakers and packs 510 watts of sound power. Mercedes trumpets the quality of this sound system. We found it to be good, but we've heard better in cars costing much less; great sound is hard to achieve in small, two-seat sports cars. 

    The SL has seating for two, but both occupants are sure to be comfortable thanks to 12-way standard adjustments. The view from the driver's seat is unobstructed with the top down and is good even with the top up, unlike with many convertibles. Getting in the SL requires a step down and getting out requires some torso strength to pull yourself up. You won't want to drive your grandmother around in the SL. 

    Airscarf is an optional neck-level heating system designed to expand the times you can drive with the top down. The system incorporates heating vents into the headrests. We could only feel a little warm air on our necks, and we didn't find Airscarf to be effective enough to allow driving with the top down in, say, 55-degree weather. 

    Like the last model, the 2009 SL has a pop-up roll bar and a wind blocker behind the seats. The wind blocker works well, redirecting air around the passengers and allowing for a quieter cockpit. The roll bar is covered in leather and the driver can opt to put it up whenever he/she wants. 

    Cargo room and small items storage is in short supply, though we know that's part of the deal with a sports car. Both the center console and the glove box are small. There are no convenient trays in which to drop a cell phone or the like. There are two cupholders and they are both over-engineered units that pop out beneath the COMAND screen. Unfortunately, the cupholders only accept soda can-sized containers, and when used your beverage blocks the COMAND controls. 

    The trunk offers 10.2 cubic feet of cargo room with the top up, but that shrinks to 7.2 cubic feet with the top down. That said, there is enough room for two small suitcases even with the top down. So pack light for that weekend in Vegas and you can drop the top for an evening drive through the desert. 

    Driving Impression

    Each of the four models comprising the Mercedes SL-Class has its own personality. The SL550 weighs less than its siblings and is nimble and tossable, though it's more of a touring car than a pure sports car. Its 5.5-liter V8 puts out 382 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 391 pound-feet of torque from 2800 to 4000 rpm. The V8 emits a barbaric growl that is uncharacteristic for a Mercedes. The engine provides willing power at all rev ranges, and motivates the SL550 from 0-60 mph in 5.3 seconds. The transmission is a seven-speed automatic with a manual shiftgate and available steering wheel shift paddles. It has Comfort, Manual and Sport settings. The Comfort setting shifts up quickly to save fuel, which means immediate power won't always be on tap. The Sport setting holds gears longer to keep power ready, and upshifts and downshifts can sometimes feel abrupt. The Manual mode gives the driver the option of picking the gears. Gears can also be selected manually in the other modes. 

    The SL600 is more refined than the SL550 but not as sporty. It has a lot more immediate grunt, but is much more subtle in announcing its presence. The SL600's V12 engine puts out 510 horsepower at 5000 rpm and 612 pound-feet of torque from 1900 to 3500 rpm (221 more than the SL550). It has a five-speed automatic transmission that shifts smoother than the SL550's seven-speed. The SL600 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, a benefit of its torque. The heavier engine, however, makes it less nimble than the SL550, making the SL600 even more of a tourer versus the sporty nature of the SL550. It'll easily best the SL550 in a straight line, but will lose ground in the turns. 

    The new SL63 AMG offers the best combination of power and handling. It is a meaner version of the SL550 in terms of power and is even better when it comes to handling. It cranks out 518 horsepower at 6800 rpm and 465 pound-feet of torque at 5200 rpm. The SL63's 6.2-liter V8 barks like the biggest dog on the block at startup, under acceleration and during downshifts, and emits a constant background rumble while cruising. A freer revving engine, the 6.2 hits its redline at 7200 rpm, which is pretty high for a large V8. It comes with a new seven-speed automated manual transmission that Mercedes calls the Sportshift MCT 7. MCT stands for Multi Clutch Technology, and the multiple clutches allow this transmission to shift gears with no interruption in power delivery. The new AMG transmission has four driving modes, Comfort, Sport, Sport-Plus and Manual. Sport shifts 20 percent faster than Comfort, Sport Plus shifts 20 percent faster than Sport, and Manual shifts another 10 percent faster than Sport Plus, or 50 percent faster than Comfort. In Manual, shifts take only 100 milliseconds. The MCT also features multiple downshifts, from seventh to fourth or fifth to second, for example, with double-clutching, throttle blipping and perfect rev-matching in between; the Sport Plus program works like a skilled driver might to keep the engine in the power band for hard driving. It downshifts readily when you get off the gas, such as in a long sweeping turns, so maximum torque is on tap when you're ready for the power again. Mercedes quotes a 4.4-second 0-60 time for the SL63, and we believe it. 

    The SL65 AMG has a twin-turbocharged V12 that makes an astounding 604 horsepower from 4800-5100 rpm and a stump-pulling 738 pound-feet of torque from 2000-4000 rpm. Like the SL600, it is more subtle about its performance capabilities, issuing a subdued turbine-like hum. The SL65's 0-60 mph time is 4.2 seconds, and it feels even quicker. With just a 0.2-second difference in 0-60 times, you might think there wouldn't be much difference between the SL63 and the SL65. You'd be wrong. While the SL63 is a grunty, torquey beast, the SL65 delivers a rush of power that throws you back into your seat and feels like a jet taking off. It also has an unfortunate tendency to sta. 

    Summary

    The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class models are a joy to drive. With the deployable steel convertible top, you get a completely weatherproof coupe for cold or wet days, and a wide-open convertible for sunny or play days. Going up through the model line, each is faster than the last. Tires, suspension, and brake and steering options are improved on the 2009 models. The SL550 is relatively agile and delightful to drive. The SL600 is more luxurious and gives its driver a wonderful feeling of power. The SL 63 AMG is brutally quick and fast when the throttle pedal is pushed into the carpet, yet it is still quiet enough, and docile enough to use as a commuter car in heavy traffic every day. The SL 65 is the ultimate ultra-performance touring car with more power than anyone needs. Then again, the SL has never been about need. We love these cars. 

    Jim McCraw reported on the SL63 AMG from Santa Monica, California; Kirk Bell reported from Chicago on the SL550 and SL600; NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough contributed to this report. 

    Model Lineup

    Mercedes-Benz SL550 ($95,900); SL600 ($136,100); SL63 AMG ($132,000); SL65 AMG ($190,700). 

    Assembled In

    Bremen, Germany. 

    Options As Tested

    Premium package SL550 with ($3750) ventilated/multicontour seats, keyless entry and starting, Airscarf neck-level heating, power trunk closer; Gas Guzzler Taz ($1300). 

    Model Tested

    Mercedes-Benz SL550 ($95,900). 

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