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2017 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class First Drive

Sun out; top down; open road found: utter perfection By ,

San Diego, California ― You’ll notice that there’s not one photo of the new 2017 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class with its top up. That’s not because they didn’t work, and not because the car is ugly with the hardtop in place (far from it). No, it’s because we were privileged and lucky enough to be testing this brand new roadster in beautifully sunny California, more specifically in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas. I mean, really, it would have been blasphemous to put the top up.

Frozen will heat things up
You’ll also notice that Mercedes has given the 2017 SL-Class a brand new front end and rear. Everything looks slightly more aggressive, slightly meaner, and a whole lot sexier. Whether we’re talking about the SL 450, the SL 550, or the hopped-up AMG SL 63 and SL 65 siblings, the roadsters all sport the same now-familiar Mercedes front fascia with the large tristar logo front and centre. LED daytime running lights further enhance the vehicle’s presence on the road, as do the SLR/SLS-inspired hood and side vents. 

While the new Mercedes-Benz SL-Class looks stunning in any colour, the most eye-catching and the one that garnered the most attention around town was undoubtedly Frozen Grey. As I soaked up the Californian sun instead of the frigid Montreal winter temps, I came to the conclusion that the Merc’s frozen grey paint scheme was as “chilly” as I wanted to get while attending this drive event. My drive partner agreed. 

Sitting wider than the previous generation, the redesigned SL-Class is grand in every sense of the word. Sure, it’s a two-seater only, but this thing is no Miata. Slip into the diamond-quilted leather seats (offered in a host of colour choices ranging from white to deep red), and you’re immediately met with a cabin that’s both well appointed and spacious. 

In the AMG models, you’ll find AMG decals strewn about on the steering wheel, the shifter’s leather insert, as well as the heavily bolstered, but very comfortable seats. 

I’ve said it in the past: AMG cars are often hard to get comfortable in. However, such was not the case with the new 2017 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class. In a matter of seconds I had my seat perfectly adjusted, and I didn’t feel at all like the side bolsters hindered my ability to corner correctly (elbows touching).

Switchbacks, glorious switchbacks 
My drive partner and I started our “lazy” Californian Sunday drive behind the wheel of the decidedly fantastic and oh-so-incredibly sounding 2017 Mercedes-AMG SL 63. Powered by a twin-turbo V8 that’s coupled with an AMG SPEEDSHIFT MCT 7-speed transmission, this two-seater is no joke when it comes to power, precision, and handling. With 585 ponies on tap, and all that power sent out the back, there’s something profoundly visceral and slightly aphrodisiacal about the whole package. 

Then there’s the Mercedes-AMG SL 65. Upping the horsepower count by about 50 (total 630 ponies) and the cylinders by four (V12), the SL 65 is, in its purest form, a beast. It’s a force to be reckoned with, for sure, and I didn’t think it was possible, but the exhaust note from the 65 is even more aggressive than that of the 63. It had both my drive partner and I giddy with happiness and laughing out loud as my downshifts extracted machine gun-like backfires from the dual exhaust, reverberating off the red-rock mountain faces that lined the roads we traversed throughout the day. 

Let’s talk a little more about that exhaust note for a moment. Mercedes-AMG cars are known around the world for their distinctive bark. You’ll always know an AMG car is coming, and that’s a fabulous thing. Deep, soulful, and full of meaning, the 2017 Mercedes-AMG SL 63 seriously makes its presence felt, and the Mercedes-AMG SL 65 completely steals the show and disturbs the peace like no other. I adore them both. 

Play with the paddle shifters on the steering wheel and you can elicit pops, farts, and overall a fantastic aural symphony that’s guaranteed to keep you smiling, and those around you offering nods of approval, especially in the 65. 

Here’s the thing: The 2017 Mercedes-AMG SL 63 is enough. Add those extra ponies with the SL 65, and it’s almost too much. Throttle response is ridonculous in the latter, while the build-up of speed is linear, immediate, and kind of scary. At least the SL 63 is manageable, flexible even. The SL 65 is out to kick your ass if you’re not careful, which can be fun for a bit, but it’s exhausting. 

Fear not, though, if it’s subdued in-town cruising you want from your SL-Class, you can do so without waking the neighbourhood children from their afternoon naps. The 2017 Mercedes-AMG SL 63 and SL 65 models can be as docile as they can be devilish, and that’s the beauty of these cars, truthfully. 

Mercedes-Benz chose an outstanding mix of highways, city streets, and twisty country roads with severe changes in elevation for us to properly test the new SL-Class’ abilities on the open road. The varied driving conditions truly showcased the roadster’s potential in any and all situations. It really is happy in the twisties, though, I promise you that. 

This car is fantastically well balanced. No matter how hard I threw it from one corner to another in sharp, quick succession S-turns, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz SL held its own. Weight transfer was perfection, and body roll was next to nil; this roadster is like on rails when it’s pushed. From the base SL 450 all the way up to the AMG SL 65, each model handles accordingly.  

The Mercedes-AMG SL 63 and SL 65 are both equipped with a brand new suspension setup and rear-axle differential lock that tighten everything up in all the right ways. This is immediately noticeable and the main reason for all the S-turn stability. If it’s the SL 450 or SL 550 you bring home, you’ll be treated to something called ABC (Automatic Body Control) that ensures your wheels are pushing power and braking accordingly when on-road manoeuvres get a bit more aggressive. Essentially, it makes the SL corner as if every road was perfectly banked, hugging each bend.  

The difference between the SL 550 and SL 65 was only noticeable when testing both successively. While the steering was uber-sharp in the SL 550, it felt loose in comparison to the hyper-sensitive Mercedes-AMG SL 65, and that’s only natural given the price and performance gap between the two. 

Another difference with the SL 450 and SL 550 models is the 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission found in each. While 9th gear was rarely engaged, if ever, the shifts were flawless. 

Open-air possibilities are endless 
So, you’re all well aware that my driving buddy and I kept the roof down on all models at all times (believe me, I’m proudly wearing a sunburn because of it). However, should the skies decide to cloud over and the rain start to pour, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class’ power-folding hardtop can be retracted or put back in place in no time at speeds up to 40 km/h. 

Pricing has yet to be announced for the 2017 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class family members, but we’ll be sure to let you know as soon as they’re made available so you can start saving every last penny. You’ll want to, trust me. 

The open road is truly your oyster in this sexy two-seater that’s full of personality and pizazz. 

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2017 Mercedes SL-Class
mercedes sl-class 2017
2017 Mercedes SL-Class
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Photos:M.Lightstone
2017 Mercedes-Benz SL pictures