Tech reviews

2023 Mercedes-AMG SL63 Review: Dynamic Droptop Coddler

2023 Mercedes-Benz AMG SL 63 | photo by Christian Lantry

By Damon Bell

November 20, 2023

The verdict: The 2023 Mercedes-AMG SL63 is a muscular, tech-forward 2+2 convertible that splits the difference between a high-performance sports car and a full-luxe grand-touring machine — and those two halves of its personality don’t always complement each other.

Versus the competition: The SL63 is a compelling alternative to focused, high-end sports cars like the Porsche 911 Cabriolet and the Jaguar F-Type convertible, as well as to posh, powerful grand-touring machines like the BMW M8 and Lexus LC convertibles.

The luxury market has expanded in recent years to include exotic high-performance SUVs and genre-bending pure-electric vehicles, and as a result, the good ol’ fashioned high-end sports car doesn’t have the mojo it once did. The crop of six-figure luxury vehicles competing for moneyed buyers’ cash is a lot more diverse than it used to be, with many offering their own breed of head-turning styling and curb appeal — and providing more practicality than a two-seat sports machine ever could. But if all you really want is a low-slung, close-coupled, regally trimmed convertible with serious internal-combustion horsepower and cornering prowess, you do still have options; one of the freshest of those choices is the Mercedes-AMG SL Class.

Related: 2023 Mercedes-Benz C300 Review: Losing Its Way

After a brief hiatus, the SL Class was completely redesigned for the 2022 model year, kicking off the SL’s seventh generation with a few noteworthy changes. The previous retractable hard convertible top has been replaced with a soft-top configuration, the car gained a tiny backseat for nominal 2+2 seating (in place of the previous two-seat layout), and the lineup was pared down to include only AMG models (AMG is Mercedes-Benz’s performance-focused division).

AMGs Across the Board

The SL carries over for 2023 with no changes save the addition of an entry-level SL43 model — if you can call a starting price around $111,000 “entry level” — to join the SL55 and SL63 in the lineup. The SL43 has a 375-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive, while the SL55 and SL63 both have a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 and all-wheel drive; this engine makes 469 hp in the SL55 and 577 hp in the SL63. A nine-speed automatic is the lone transmission.

We recently tested an optioned-up example of the top-dog SL63, and while “an iron fist in a velvet glove” is a cliche phrase, it applies here: The ferocious powertrain and taut chassis come wrapped in a package so lavish and packed with comfort and technology features that its high-performance mission becomes somewhat muddled in the process.

The Iron

The SL63 is blisteringly quick — no surprise there. A brawny V-8 with 577 hp and 590 pounds-feet of torque, paired with AWD, means this car can rocket forward and push you back in your seat from almost any speed. We didn’t have an opportunity to do our own timed acceleration runs, but Mercedes’ stated 0-60 time of 3.5 seconds sounds perfectly plausible to me.

The SL63’s multiclutch transmission can feel clunky and awkward when moving away from a stop and at low speeds, but its shifts are lightning-quick and smooth when you’re driving fast. The V-8’s distinctive burble morphs into a full-fledged muscle-car roar at high rpm, and switching into the Sport+ drive mode adds a wicked exhaust cackle, with snap-crackle-pop noises on shifts and deceleration.

There’s a range of drive modes — including Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Race, a customizable Individual mode and a Slippery mode for slick road conditions — that change various engine, transmission and suspension settings. Ride quality is stiff even in Comfort mode, and it gets even stiffer in the sportier modes. Steering feel is quick and responsive in spirited cornering, yet relaxed enough for smooth highway cruising.

The SL55 and 63 come standard with four-wheel steering; I didn’t notice a pronounced effect, but this car is easy to maneuver in tight quarters. Thanks to the SL’s low ride height, my main concern was scraping the front end or undercarriage on my deceptively steep driveway, but Mercedes took care of that with an available front-axle lift system. Included in an $1,800 Performance Trim Package, this feature can raise the front-end ride height at the touch of a button; it can even be linked to GPS data to raise automatically.

The 2023 SL’s folding soft top saves some weight and frees up a little trunk space versus the previous generation’s retractable hardtop, but you’ll still need to pack lightly; the trunk isn’t big enough to carry much more than a single carry-on suitcase or a couple of soft-sided duffel bags. Likewise, even though the SL now has a backseat, it’s so small that unless your passengers are kindergarteners or younger, they won’t fit comfortably behind average-sized adults in the front seats — especially with the convertible top up. It’s best to think of this space as a supplemental cargo storage area.

In typical sports-car fashion, the SL’s front seats are set very low, so getting in and out is a drop-in-climb-out affair. Once seated, occupant space isn’t particularly expansive, though it’s decent by 2+2 convertible standards. I’m 6-foot-6 and needed a bit more range in terms of steering-wheel and driver-seat adjustability, but most average-sized adults will be fine.

The Velvet

The SL63’s cabin coddles at a level that very few high-performance sports cars can match. The heated, ventilated and massaging front seats are highly adjustable, including power-adjustable thigh support and head restraints. The seatbacks have prominent side bolsters, but they’re not confining; they’re comfortable enough for long-haul drives, yet they’ll hug you gently and provide decent support during aggressive driving.

The SL is one of the more urbane convertibles available. Top-down wind buffeting is controlled for the most part, and Mercedes’ novel (and effective) Airscarf feature uses vents built into the head restraints to help keep front-seat occupants warm on a chilly day. Even top-down glare from the sun is mitigated: The 11.9-inch portrait-style infotainment touchscreen is power-adjustable, tilting at its base to minimize harsh reflections. I recently drove a Jaguar F-Type convertible with the top down on a partly cloudy day, and after seeing its infotainment screen almost completely wash out, I can attest that this is a useful feature.

The overall ambiance of our test vehicle’s interior was truly dazzling, with impeccable fit and finish and a striking Red Pepper leather upholstery that really added to the effect. There are high-end touches everywhere you look, including glossy carbon-fiber inserts on the door panels and center console (a $2,850 upgrade), perforated aluminum speaker grilles for the Burmester surround sound system, lush microfiber upholstery on the windshield pillars and headliner (a $1,600 option), and satin-finish circular air vents with an interesting “turbine-vane” design.

The large infotainment touchscreen, configurable 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, and a programmable ambient lighting system make the cabin even more dazzling after dark. The plethora of driver-selectable multicolor ambient lighting themes (complete with names like Miami Rose, Malibu Sunset and Fresh Cyan) made me feel like I was piloting a jukebox from the future.

Control Ergonomics

As fabulous as the gauge cluster and infotainment screens look, they’re so packed with features and options that it will take time to learn all the functions and settings — even with some helpful redundant controls. The touchscreen works well for the most part, but I wish it were supplemented by a few more physical controls. Another personal disappointment: As in many Mercedes-Benz vehicles, the SL’s gear selector stalk is mounted on the steering column. Yes, this frees up space in the center console, but for me, not having a console-mounted shifter detracts a bit from the sports-car feel — even with an automatic transmission.

The power trunk lid also feels a little too posh for a sports car, but it’s undeniably handy. Especially useful was its close-and-lock button, which allows you to get something out of the trunk and then walk away without having to fish the key fob out of your pocket or walk around to the doors to lock it up.

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The Cost

Of course, you’ll pay a king’s ransom for all this performance and luxury. The SL63’s starting price is $185,450, including a $1,150 destination fee and $1,300 gas-guzzler tax. Our test vehicle was optioned up to $205,585 thanks to extras like a $1,950 Driver Assistance Package, a $2,850 AMG Aerodynamics Package, and the $1,800 Performance Trim Package, not to mention satin-finish Monza Grey Magno paint ($3,250) and 21-inch AMG cross-spoke forged-alloy wheels ($3,300).

Among other features, the Aerodynamics Package includes an “active carbon-fiber underbody element” at the vehicle’s nose that can power down as much as 1.6 inches for improved aerodynamic performance. The Performance Trim package includes small circular digital screens integrated into the steering wheel that display drive-mode settings. I shudder to think how much it will cost to repair features like this if they break.

If all of this sounds too rich for your blood, you can forgo some of those gee-whiz options, or step down to an SL43 or SL55, both of which are still plenty quick and start at $111,050 and $142,450 (including destination), respectively. As of this writing, Mercedes hasn’t released complete pricing or updated information on the 2024 SL, but one update will be the expansion of the company’s Manufaktur program of individualized colors and upholstery choices for the SL lineup.

The ability to add exclusive (read: extra-expensive) special-order paint and upholstery will push the price of an optioned-up SL63 even further past the $200,000 mark, but at these lofty price points, the idea of a “good value” is essentially academic: For some luxury buyers, only the full Monty will do. And in the realm of traditional gas-engine sports cars, the SL63 takes the concept of a full-tech, full-luxe, full-muscle convertible about as far as it can go.

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Senior Research Editor Damon Bell has more than 25 years of experience in the automotive industry, beginning as an Engineering Graphics researcher/proofreader at model-car manufacturer Revell-Monogram. From there, he moved on to various roles at Collectible Automobile magazine and Consumer Guide Automotive before joining in August 2022. He served as president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association in 2019 and 2020. Email Damon Bell


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