It’s no secret the SL’s fifth generation isn’t selling well. Indeed, a 2016 sales figure puts it as the brand’s worst selling model since 1999. But what’s interesting, and telling for the future of the SL, is that more interest is being shown in the S-class model. After all, it’s a much more durable, trustworthy, robust and comfortable car than the car before it.
Designers have maximised the quality of a hallowed old affair, retaining a wide, iconic grille, classic glassage and reviving some of the old styling features. It’s also imbued with a new level of luxury.
It’s also become a volume seller. Mercedes has sold more than 53,000 cars in the first nine months of 2019. In North America, demand for the S-class has been especially strong and it’s even up a third on last year’s take. And SUVs, which these days top a million models a year, are in particular demand.
So, it’s clear that consumers want a classic version of the well-regarded Mercedes SL, a version that’s both durable and comfortable. And that’s what the 2019 SL63 AMG Coupe is all about.
Styling is absolutely classic: lots of steel milled from a single piece of aluminium in the new GT67 engine air intake and intake pipes and other parts of the basic body frame. Designers at Mercedes also took the iconic shape of the rear-lacing lights for the 50th anniversary of the launch of the original SL four-door coupe and applied it to this new version. That results in a coupe that looks similar in many ways to the original: high-grade, robust, handsome and comfortable.
If anything, this is a more contemporary and aerodynamic version of the original SL than a coupe in some ways. The KERS injection system from the AMG GT is incorporated into the key components of the rear end as part of a super-efficient aerodynamic package. This means it can always control speed in turn even when on a conventional road surface. The dynamic performance attributes of the coupe remain, too. The power plants are the same old 5.5-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine and 8-speed automatic transmission. They deliver about 565bhp, while the standard six-speed manual gearbox gives it a corner-carving power advantage of just 1hp-over-wheel drive. The total torque output is 523Nm.
The car is also Mercedes’ first-ever rear-wheel drive sports car, too. The transition was not made easy: Mercedes engineers devised a new system of traction control and torque vectoring for this version, which gives the car more responsiveness at slow speed and less stability at higher speeds.
A combination of new carbon fibre steel wheel, reduced stitching, thinner door sill lip extensions and new linear bodywork result in a car that’s more street-footed than the last one.
The whole approach feels more serious. The upgraded car is fast from rest, as is the automatic transmission. But the acceleration from a standing start isn’t as great as it is on the equivalent AMG coupe, which develops over 1,000 horsepower.
The Coupe is a very fast car indeed. The top speed is 155mph and top cornering speed of 212mph is possible with the top down. And because Mercedes has continued to refine the traction control system, the SL62 AMG Coupe stays perfectly compliant – too compliant, in some places.
The improved brake system provides centreline stability, even when you tackle corners at speeds approaching 60mph. That’s also thanks to the traction control system that forgoes certain brake functions for a more secure driving position.
The driving experience benefits because the air suspension is lowered up to 20mm and the original-invented 30-section headlamps have been retained.
It’s all more modern. And, although not as high-end as you could get, a new Mercedes SL Coupe is more than up to the task of making a signature appearance.