Context matters. While it’s one thing to read that our track test of the 2017 Mercedes-AMG SL65 recorded a zero-to-60-mph blast in 3.7 seconds, it’s another thing entirely to see it happen on the street. One vigilant defender of public safety secreted behind a building saw this one light up 74 mph on his radar gun, which wouldn’t be remarkable if he hadn’t first seen it standing still just on the other side of a broad exurban intersection.
We’ve tested cars that were quicker off the line, perhaps most relevantly in this context of stupid-expensive machinery, the Tesla Model S P90D. In its Ludicrous mode, it can hit 60 mph in less than three seconds in eerie near-silence. So, where the raison d’être for the SL65 once may have been the sheer grunt of 738 lb-ft of torque flowing seamlessly from the hand-built, twin-turbocharged V-12 under its hood, the world now offers other means to the same ends. The SL65 is the one that does it all the old-school way. One commonality between the two: A few seconds of stomping on the accelerator erases a lot of driving range.
Not Actually a Car
The SL65 is not so much a car as it is a statement of what its maker’s engineers, designers, and craftspeople can produce when freed from the ordinary constraints of building a transportation tool. You can commute in it—quite comfortably, in fact—but doing so is akin to crop-dusting with an F-16 or shooting your Facebook profile pic with a Hasselblad; you’re using way more tool than the task demands.
Even by ordinary sports-car measures, this SL65 could be dismissed for being almost triple the price of a Corvette Z06 convertible but less adept at track work, thanks to its nose-heavy weight distribution and a greater commitment to sunny-afternoon cruising than to lap times. But to summarize it that way ignores the SL’s heritage as the aspirational Benz roadster and the V-12 as the ultimate in AMG propulsion, not to mention the gorgeous materials, the taut fit and finish, and the sheer carved-from-granite solidity of the thing.
This new V-12 edition actually outran the 2015 SL63 model with the twin-turbo V-8 in nearly every track test, an inversion of what we found with the V-12 two years ago and in most of the other 65-versus-63 matchups of other Benz models (we’ve not yet tested a 2017 SL63). This SL65 weighed 4151 pounds, 50 pounds heavier than the 2015 example. The carbon-ceramic brakes on our test car (an $8950 upgrade) were able to haul that mass to a stop from 70 mph in a tidy 150 feet. The fancier stoppers did not impose any squealing noises or gritty pedal feel, but they did work better after a little warming.
Feature Laden, and Then Some
Aside from its propulsion by means of internal combustion, the SL65 surrenders nothing in terms of innovation and technology to anything coming out of Silicon Valley. It’s packed with nearly every feat of Magic (a registered trademark) that Stuttgart and Affalterbach can conjure. Magic Sky Control glass in the folding roof converts from transparent to almost opaque and vice versa at the touch of a button—it uses electricity to effect the transformation, so when you turn off the car the roof looks glossy black. (Yes, you can have the glass roof in lesser SLs, for $2500.) All SLs include the Magic Vision Control windshield wipers that spray heated washer fluid through the wiper blades so that the driver’s vision is never obscured for even a split second.
The SL65’s self-driving capabilities don’t quite rise to the level of those on the latest E-class, although we expect that to change in a year or so; as it is, there’s still Parking Pilot and lane-keeping assist and Night View Assist Plus to dazzle your passenger. The Bang & Olufsen audio system even employs cavities in the chassis structure to enhance bass response so that your tunes don’t sound wimpy with the top lowered.