Few things in the automotive industry are as anticipated as the arrival of an all-new Mercedes-Benz SL model. The flagship two-door convertible represents the culmination of premium luxury, masterful engineering, technological innovation, and advanced safety systems in one beautifully sculpted package. The SL is an industry benchmark.
I was fortunate enough to be offered an early preview of the all-new 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL 55 and SL 63 — the two models offered this year — and I am pleased to announce that they live up to, and in several instances exceed, their expectations.
All-New Chassis and 2+2 Seating
The new-generation SL was full engineered by Mercedes-AMG, the performance division of the celebrated automaker that is credited with building the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, the world’s first automobile. The team at AMG chose to utilize a combination of lightweight aluminum and steel alloys and composites to craft a unibody chassis that is extremely stiff, yet relatively lightweight.
The vehicle will only be offered as a two-door roadster, with a power-operated soft convertible roof – 46 pounds lighter and easier to package than a folding hardtop – with two-plus-two seating. The move to a 2+2 seating configuration is a first for the SL. The addition of small seats aft of the front passengers – honestly only useful for children for short trips – provides owners with additional passenger capacity and utility in a pinch (the move also secures the sportier Mercedes-AMG GT as the brand’s sole two-seat offering).
Two Powerful V8 Engines
Mercedes-AMG fits both the SL 55 and SL 63 with a handcrafted twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 engine, an engine architecture that is celebrated for its smoothness and power. Under the hood of the SL 55, it is tuned to deliver 469 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. The more powerful SL 63 utilizes the same 4.0-liter V8, but it has been tuned to a much more robust 577 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque.
Both vehicles are fitted with a standard AMG SPEEDSHIFT MCT 9G gearbox. This advanced 9-speed multi-clutch transmission provides rapid-fire shifting in sport modes and seamless shifts in comfort settings. Also standard is the automaker’s 4MATIC+ permanent all-wheel drive – another first for the SL model. Rear-wheel drive simply isn’t adequate with the SL’s amount of power, and all-wheel-drive ensures the best possible traction regardless of weather or road conditions.
Innovative Suspension and Rear-Axle Steering
Premiering in the new SL is AMG ACTIVE RIDE CONTROL. The adaptive suspension utilizes active hydraulic elements to replace the traditional steel anti-roll bars. While driving, the system mechanically compensates and controls body roll in milliseconds without transmitting harshness and vibrations to the opposite wheel (the drawback of traditional anti-roll bars). These hydraulics also allow the SL to have a front axle lift – another SL first – with GPS memory (able to learn where obstacles are) to provide more ground clearance over steep driveways and taller obstructions helping to prevent damage to the vehicle.
First-Class Passenger Cabin
Modern, without being overly futuristic, is the best way to describe the cockpit. Those familiar with today’s lineup of Mercedes-Benz models will feel right at home with the logical ergonomics, easy-to-use round HVAC vents, supple upholsteries, and premium trims in the all-new SL.
The driver and front passenger are coddled in highly adjustable individual bucket seats that are offered with heating, cooling, massaging, and AIRSCARF – warm air is blown out of the top of the seat towards the occupant’s necks to ensure the passengers are comfortable when the top is down.
The primary instrument cluster is a configurable 12.3-inch digital display with half-dozen pre-configured skins. Mounted on the center console is an innovative 11.9-inch Central Multimedia Touchscreen Display that is motorized to lean from 12 to 32 degrees to mitigate glare – while it sounds a bit silly, tilting the display works in practice. As expected, the SL utilizes the latest-generation Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX), which is one of the best in the industry – despite requiring extensive familiarization.
Remarkably Effective Air Management for Top-Down Comfort
Balancing styling with top-down driving comfort is a challenge today, as designers are forced to contend with fuel-efficient aerodynamics that dictate the shape of the vehicle. Mercedes has done a commendable job delivering a stylish vehicle that provides a comfortable – nearly draft-free – passenger cabin for the occupants (two passengers with the wind blocker in place). I drove the SL on a less-than-desirable 50-degree day with light rain. Even with the top down, I was warm and wind buffeting was minimal – and the rain didn’t enter the cabin until I slowed to a stop.
The Z-fold roof, which doesn’t impede on trunk space, opens and closes in about 15 seconds at speeds up to 37 mph – an effortless action while driving on surface streets as you can operate the roof while approaching any stop light. Top up, the cabin is perfectly quiet and weatherproof thanks to a fully lined roof and heated rear glass window – there is literally zero compromise for Mercedes switching over to a soft top.
Extraordinary Driving Dynamics Blending Luxury and Sport
Despite the luxurious interior and comfortable seats, it is obvious that the all-new SL is much more athletic than its predecessors the moment its potent V8 fires to a muted growl. The chassis feels more rigid and the steering is much more direct. Overall, you can feel the mass of the new SL – it feels substantial from behind the steering wheel – but the rear-axle steering greatly improves maneuverability and agility. And AMG ACTIVE RIDE CONTROL is downright stunning in the way it keeps body in check without any apparent drawbacks. Despite the newfound sportiness of the fresh SL, the ride remains extraordinary comfortable and accommodating.
Driven sedately, the 9-speed transmission is transparently smooth, and the SL easily gets to speed (and maintains its pace) without drama. Both the SL 55 and SL 63 are equally as competent when driven like a gentleman. Yet mash the throttle, especially in the sport driving modes, and the SLs are rockets – the SL 55 will sprint to 60 mph in about 3.8 seconds, while the slightly quicker SL 63 does it in 3.5 seconds. Being perfectly transparent, it’s difficult to tell the difference between the powerplants without instruments to measure acceleration – they are both very fast.
Mercedes-AMG SL vs. Porsche 911 Cabriolet
It’s no secret that Mercedes-AMG is targeting the Porsche 911 C4 S Cabriolet with its AMG SL 55 Roadster, and the Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet with its AMG SL 63 Roadster. Both offer 2+2 seating and are fitted with strong engines, all-wheel drive, rear-axle steering, nose lifts, powerful brakes and adaptive suspension – after driving both, the comparison isn’t unreasonable. But it was apparent that they target two unique customers.
The Porsche 911 Cabriolet is fitted with a turbocharged flat-6 engine that isn’t as smooth as the turbocharged V8 in the Mercedes-AMG SL, but it is more eager to spin to redline and more potent at higher rpms. The Porsche feels a bit more agile, despite the more advanced suspension on the Mercedes, likely due to its better chassis balance and weight distribution (rear-engine). From a driver’s perspective, the 911 also feels smaller, more tossable, and more viscerally engaged.
The Mercedes-AMG SL is smoother, more comfortable, more technically advanced and much more luxuriously outfitted. While it handles extraordinarily well, the feedback through the steering wheel isn’t as communicative as it is with the Porsche. While it’s more challenging to see out of the SL as its seating position feels lower, the cabin in the SL is quieter either top down or up.
While both deliver a comfortable ride and impeccable handling, shoppers seeking a premium drop-top with sports car DNA and uncompromised driving dynamics should choose the Porsche. Shoppers seeking a premium drop-top that spotlights luxury, technology, and ride comfort should choose the Mercedes. On that note, a convertible aficionado could easily justify owning both!
Final Impressions of the 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL
The wait for the all-new SL-Class has been long (the previous-generation SL debuted in late 2011), but worth it. The engineering team at Mercedes-AMG has polished the iconic SL – and everything it represents – to a blemish-free finish. The flagship two-door convertible is classy and sophisticated, luxurious and innovative, comfortable and safe. Without hesitation, it’s reasonable to say that the 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL-Class effortlessly retains its benchmark status.