First Drives

22 April 2013

First drive: Mercedes SL65 AMG

Who fancies a 630bhp, twin-turbo V12 cruiser in their life? Then head this way…

Paul Horrell
Car image

So you're wafting around in this soft cruiser. The exhaust's a distant burble. The engine hums near-silently. The transmission slurs between ratios, needing no input from you. The seats and ride are cushy.

And then… And then. goodness gracious. How did that happen? You're punted into a parallel universe. This car isn't just rapid, it's violently powerful. Provided (and it's a big if) the rear wheels can get traction, it hurls you forward with disdainful venom.

By this point you must be thinking I'm an idiot. After all, what did I think a 630bhp, 1,000Nm twin-turbo V12 sports car was going to be? A bit of a slug? Course not. It was always going to be searing. Sure enough, when you floor the throttle, it'll turn your world upside-down. I had the traction-control light spinning repeatedly. At 130kph. In a straight line. In the dry.

By the time it's really able to stretch its legs, you're probably into Autobahn numbers on the speedo. Can't quite imagine how brief an interval it would take to get from say 160-240kph.

But here's why its brutal speed is so surprising. It lulls you into a false sense of its gentility because most of the time it is so gentle and quiet. I mean, a new Pagani also has a twin-turbo AMG V12, and it never lets you forget its animalism. But the SL65 stays mute. It doesn't howl like the Pagani, or rumble and roar like AMG's turbo V8 roadsters the SL63 and SLS.

The gearchanges aren't snappy, because it uses a normal fluid automatic, not the SL63's clutched automatic or the SLS's DCT (dual-clutch) automatic. The ride is relatively forgiving, because of the trick active body control suspension.

That suspension also means it never rolls, and it manages to be both plausibly agile in slow corners and stable at speed. But honestly you don't drive it like that, because the steering and suspension never reward you with any kind of feedback. Trying to drive it fast through a series of varying bends is a jerky, soul-less experience.

Instead, wind it back and cruise. Enjoy the soft breeze, the swaddling comfort, the full panoply of Mercedes electronic amenities.

And then, just once in a while, spot a clear open path to an SL-sized hole in the far horizon. And brace yourself. Floor it, and arrive at that horizon sooner than you ever imagined possible. Is that ever-so-brief event worth the price? To a very small but very loyal band, without question it is.

Tags: mercedes, amg, mercedes benz, sl class, sl65 amg, sl65

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