Tested: Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG

Sledgehammer

The emergence of the SL55 AMG is easily the most compelling proof that there’s more to Mercedes-Benz than opulent luxury. In fact, it is arguably the most desirable car the Stuttgart concern has come up with in the modern era – and some would even say the best

Since it is based on the gorgeous SL500, beauty was always going to be part of the Mercedes-Benz Sl55 AMG appeal. But mostly, it is all macho masculinity and potent testosterone – a gym-fettled, muscle-bound beast that’s no longer svelte nor subtle.

And why should it be: with a full 368 kW (that’s 500 bhp in the old language) on tap, the SL55 AMG has every reason to flaunt its obvious performance potential. So, there’s nothing gaudy about the muscle-bound body, with its extended skirts, lower bumpers, black meshed metal air intakes and a quartet of menacing, big bore exhausts.

Here is a roadster that demands adulation and respect in equal measures. Yes, it is unmistakably desirable, but it’s also a mean machine best approached with kid gloves.

Given its price tag and its exclusivity, the SL55 AMG’s lavish interior comes as no surprise. Leather, Alcantara cloth and aluminium detailing provide an upper-crust yet comfortable and functional environment for driver and passenger.

Standard equipment is almost too comprehensive, ranging from integrated climate control and electric everything to Mercedes’ Comand system, which links entertainment facets such as digital, multi-speaker sound to cellular telephony, a trip computer and GPS navigation.

The seats are sculpted for support and comfort, can be electrically adjusted in several different planes, and are equipped with heating and cooling functionality, as well as a massage-like pulse mode and even (optional) dynamic bolsters which inflate and deflate during cornering to ensure perfect support.

Don’t forget one of the SL55 AMG’s most admired talents, though: the Vario-Roof, which allows a coupé-to-roadster transformation in under 20 sec, and really means that the two-seater offers the best of both sports car worlds.

That roof is also the source of a small but worrying flaw in the Mercedes’ armour: a rattle in the roof mechanism experienced with both this car and several examples of the SL500, pointing to a design fault that, at this price level, is simply unacceptable.

If safety is your concern (and it should be, given how fast this Mercedes can be piloted), the SL55 AMG offers one of the most advanced combinations of active and passive safety available.

Massive, ventilated disc brakes front and rear are actuated by the brake-by-wire Sensotronic Brake Control (SBC), which allows each wheel to be braked individually. That alone is said to offer significant reductions in stopping distance and time.

SBC is augmented by Active Body Control (ABC): an adjustable, active suspension system that addresses body roll, and thus improves cornering, while also regulating actual spring/damper settings. It even allows ground clearance adjustment when needed. ESP stability control is a further, fully integrated system included as standard.

The passive safety items embrace advanced dual-stage front airbags, head/thorax airbags and side airbags, together with latest-generation seat belts incorporating load limiters and pre-tensioners. There’s also a roll bar that can be manually raised, and locks into place automatically when a pending roll-over is sensed.

But all of this will pale into insignificance once you’ve experienced the SL55 AMG hands on for the first time. Pressing the ‘start’ button integrated into the gearshift lever activates a momentary whirr of the starter before the big V8 upfront bursts into life.

That throaty growl is spine-tingling even at idle, but becomes downright dramatic when you slip the lever into ‘D’ and gingerly manoeuvre out of the parking lot. Gingerly, because there’s enough warning in the baritone voice of the engine to treat the accelerator with circumspection – at least at first.

But it’s hard to resist the temptation of giving it stick – and when you do, the resultant surge of power is so instantaneous that you may as well have flicked a switch. Growl becomes roar and very soon scream as the supercharged V8 unleashes massive doses of supercharged power to the rear wheels.

Even the presence of ESP can’t prevent the rear from kicking out in a small but telling display of oversteer. Switch it off, and you can pattern the tar with expensive Pirelli rubber while snaking it off the line.

It’s hard to describe this car’s propensity for almost infinite urge as long as you keep the loud pedal floored. The auto gearbox swaps cogs with swift precision, and the speedometer needle simply races around the custom AMG dial. Before you know it, the speed governor kicks in, confirming that a true 250 km/h has been reached.

As our acceleration figures prove, the Mercedes’ straight-line progress is brutal, and very much in the supercar category. But it is only one aspect of a deeply impressive performance display.
Overtaking is so incisive that it’s over in an instant (look at those tractability figures), while handling is top-drawer – the SL55 AMG set a new record in our ISO-standard emergency evasion test, and one that’s not going to be broken in a hurry.

The all-disc, SBC-assisted brakes are superlative, too, bringing this close on two-ton machine to a halt with absolute efficiency – as one would expect.

Best of all, there’s a sense of involvement, of close communication between car and driver, that has been lacking from previous-generation SLs, and now adds vital, thrilling interaction. A first for Mercedes are the gearshift buttons on the steering wheel, offering greater control of shift points and a more intuitive driving experience.

With the release of the SL55 AMG, Mercedes-Benz continues its renaissance as a builder of cars that provide both sensibility and soul. This is a roadster that challenges as much as it entertains, intrigues as much as it satisfies.

It provides a level of motoring about as advanced – but also as thrilling – as they come, and never allows its considerable reserves of technology to overshadow the visceral reality of the driving experience.

Piloting the SL55 AMG will change even the most cynical perception of the marque forever, and will force dedicated sports car builders to reassess what it is that makes their bespoke products so special. After all, how much better can it get?

Vital specifications
ENGINE
Layout V-configuration, longitudinally mounted
Cylinders/capacity 8/5 439 cc
Bore/stroke 97,0 x 92,0 mm
Compression ratio 9,0:1
Valve gear 24-valve, SOHC
Power 368 kW @ 6 100 r/min
Torque 700 Nm @ 2 650 r/min
Specific power 67,65 kW/litre
Fuel system Electronic sequential fuel injection, Lysholm-type supercharged, intercooled
GEARBOX
Type Five-speed automatic with Speedshift shift control
Ratios I/II/III 3,59/2,19/1,41
IV/V 1,00/0,83
Reverse/final drive 3,16/2,82
Drive wheels Rear, ESP
SUSPENSION
Front Independent. Double wishbones, Active Body Control
Rear Independent. Multi-link configuration, Active Body Control
WHEELS AND TYRES
Front and rear 8,5Jx18 alloy wheels, 225/40 ZR18 Pirelli P-Zero Rosso

9,5Jx18 alloy wheels, 285/35 ZR18 Pirelli P-Zero Rosso

Pressures (front/rear) 220/220 kPa
BRAKES
Type Dual-circuit, Sensotronic Brake Control
Front Ventilated discs, perforated
Rear Ventilated discs, perforated
DIMENSIONS
Length/width/height 4 535/1 815/1 295 mm
Track front/rear 1 569/1 551 mm
Wheelbase 2 560 mm
STEERING
Type Rack and pinion, power-assisted
Turning circle 11,0 m
CAPACITIES AND MASS
Fuel tank 80 litres
Mass: front/rear/total 1 030/960/1 990 kg
Power/weight ratio 184,9 kW/ton
PURCHASE PRICE  
List price R1 650 000
Instalments R165 000 dep, 54 x R39 924,92
(10% deposit, 17,5% interest)
SERVICE
Service interval Determined by on-board service indicator
Warranty 24 months unlimited distance 6 year/120 000 maintenance plan with stepped contribution
PERFORMANCE
ACCELERATION
0-60 km/h 3,11 sec
0-80 km/h 4,12 sec
0-100 km/h 5,29 sec
0-120 km/h 6,84 sec
QUARTER-MILE
Time/terminal speed 13,80 sec/178,7 km/h
1-KM SPRINT
Time/terminal speed 22,59 sec/238,9 km/h
TRACTABILITY
60-100 km/h (kickdown) 3,95 sec
80-120 km/h (kickdown) 4,39 sec
TOP SPEEDS
1st gear 76,2 km/h
2nd gear 125,9 km/h
3rd gear 204,3 km/h
4th gear 250,1 km/h
5th gear 253,3 km/h
Top speed 253,3 km/h
SPEEDO CALIBRATION
At indicated 120 km/h 119,3 km/h
Error @ 120 km/h +0,6%
BRAKING (80-0 km/h)
Average time/distance 2,63 sec/27,06 m
Average deceleration factor -10,46 m/sec/sec
HANDLING (ISO 3888)
Average speed (six runs) 134,8 km/h
Best speed 136,7 km/h
FUEL CONSUMPTION
Test average 23,2 l/100 km
(combined cycle)
Manufacturer’s claim 14,2 l/100 km
(combined cycle)