AMG takes over the SL and creates a more refined and practical alternative to the AMG GT two-seater.
The night before the test drive, the 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL63 parked outside appeared to be daring us to compare it to any SL that’s come before. A smoother and softer shape, the new SL retains the long-hood and short-deck proportions of its predecessor, but with much trimmer overhangs. It looks less brickish than the previous square-jawed design, the front curvier, the back sculpted and sloped. The net effect is that the new car appears smaller than the old one despite growing in length.
The last-generation SL seemingly abandoned its role in the lineup as technology and styling leader to become just another pricey convertible. Sales plummeted. Toward the end of production in 2020, the SL’s sales were a tenth of what Mercedes sold in the ’90s. With the new SL, Mercedes is aiming to return its sporty convertible to, if not legend status, at least relevance.
The car may constitute a small portion of Mercedes’s sales, but the SL is a symbol for the brand, a way to showcase the elegance and technology it has to offer, and a tie to the past. “You don’t want to have the SL go away on your watch,” said AMG CEO Philipp Schiemer, admitting that it was both intimidating and thrilling to take on the responsibility for the new version. “It’s motivating,” he said. “It’s something different from the last one, different also from the GT. Fast, but also usable. Comfortable. And beautiful.”
The new car’s beauty is more than skin-deep. The SL’s new underpinnings are pretty enough to put on display and consist of a mix of aluminum, magnesium, carbon fiber, and steel—they also boost torsional rigidity by 18 percent over the previous SL. The new structure features a 4.6-inch-longer wheelbase, making room for tiny rear seats, and the retractable hardtop of the last two generations is gone. Switching to a cloth top saves 46 pounds and lowers the center of gravity.
With the fully lined cloth top folded away—it takes 15 seconds and can be done at speeds up to 37 mph—the interior welcomes you in. While most new cars try to highlight their digital goodies, the SL almost hides them, aiming for a more analog vibe. It’s a simple cabin design by modern Mercedes standards, as it lacks a dash-wide screen or quilted pillows. An 11.9-inch touchscreen slants between two turbine-style vents, and the digital cluster is shrouded by protrusions from the leather-wrapped dash. There are few physical controls in the SL. Climate, stereo, navigation, phone, and roof position are all handled through the center screen. The SL screen is likely to get particularly smudgy, as several of the controls are not just one-touch, but require a sliding motion.
It’s roomier inside but still an intimate space, though not the dark confessional of many sports cars. The rear seats are not suited for adults but are useful for small children, soft luggage, or beagle puppies. It’s better up front where the performance seats of our SL63 were bolstered and narrow but plush and comfortable enough to satisfy an S-class customer.
Those sporty-but-not-too-sporty seats mirror Mercedes’s goals for the new SL. To acknowledge that the new SL was developed by the brand’s performance division, the model is now a Mercedes-AMG, not a Mercedes-Benz. A clear challenge for the SL is to differentiate itself from the increasingly radical AMG GT two-seat roadster, but the car also can’t be too luxurious or cushy because such an SL would be anathema to the AMG brand.
Both versions of the SL certainly get AMG-grade goods under the hood. AMG’s twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 makes 469 horsepower in the SL55 and 577 horsepower in the SL63. We estimate the SL55 will hit 60 in 3.4 seconds, with the more powerful version dispatching with that task in 3.1 seconds. The V-8 itself is subtle, tuned to grumble rather than growl, with no juvenile pops from the exhaust. Your neighbors might be annoyed at how quickly your SL tears down the street, but they won’t be bothered by the sound. The aggression level of this car is all in its price and its fierce face. Both engines mate to AMG’s familiar nine-speed automatic that replaces the torque converter with a multi-plate clutch pack. Both come with all-wheel drive to make it easy when pulling away from the ski resort in Saint Moritz—just be sure to switch on the heated headrests.
When you get tired of dawdling through the scenery, the SL63 we drove moved right past speed limits faster than you can blink. Bringing the SL back to legal speeds is easy thanks to the optional carbon-ceramic brakes that not only looked good behind the 21-inch wheels but are strong enough to bring the car to a stop so quickly there might have been a momentary pause in the movement of time.
Multiple drive modes give you a variety of throttle responses and steering efforts. On a curvy road, the SL feels competent but not organically connected, like it’s overthinking its objective. We can’t help but wonder if there’s too much going on beneath the surface. Torque vectoring, rear-wheel steering, and an active suspension work together, but not always in concert. With all three doing their things, we found twitchiness, smoothness, sluggishness, and comfort, all in the same car. Maybe it’s too smart for its own good.
The new SL does recapture a lot of the allure absent in the last SL. The ’22 SL is gorgeous, fast, and comfortable enough to make sense in a lineup that also contains the AMG GT. Pricing is yet to be released, but we expect the all-AMG lineup to start at about $135,000 for the SL55 and rise to over $175,000 for a loaded SL63. The 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL should be at dealerships in time for convertible weather this spring.