From the January 2005 issue of Car and Driver.
Some might argue that the 604 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque packed into the SL65 AMG are too much power and thrust for a road car. They’re wrong.
No, the SL65 doesn’t have too much power. Its problem is it wasn’t given a commensurate helping of traction. After you drive the SL65, every car will feel underpowered. And making other cars feel anemic is exactly the goal of a global horsepower race. So with the SL65, Mercedes has removed a glove and slapped the face of the entire industry and issued a very big challenge.
Admittedly, there are cars with more horsepower, and there are cars with better power-to-weight ratios. Two of them are the Ferrari Enzo and the Porsche Carrera GT, but those sex kittens can’t touch the torque offering of the SL65, and more important, they aren’t cars that can be used daily as easily as can the SL65, which is no more difficult to drive every day as the half-as-expensive, half-as-powerful SL500. There are a few things that make the SL65 worth the extra $90,800 over an SL500, one of which is the twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter V-12, a 467cc-larger version of the engine in the SL600. Another is the defeated look on the faces of SL500 owners when they read the SL65 badge. Their day is shot. They’ll probably just go home and kick the dog, because up until that moment they thought they were Hugh Hefner.
What you don’t get with the SL65, oddly enough, is a time that is faster to 60 mph than the SL600’s, a car that costs a mere $130,820. The SL600 does the deed in 3.6 seconds, the $182,720 SL65’s best time was 3.8 seconds. Please don’t call urging that we take competence tests. The “problem,” as we’ve said, with the SL65 is that it doesn’t have adequate traction to handle the horsepower hysteria. The rear tires have the same width as the SL600’s, despite the AMG car’s additional 111 horses and 148 pound-feet.
All that oomph makes it nearly impossible to launch the SL65 hard without excessive wheelspin. Hang on for 11.9 seconds (the same elapsed time it takes the SL600 to run a quarter-mile), and you’ll be going 123 mph, 3 mph faster than the SL600. Finding the difference between the two V-12 SLs is like trying to distinguish whether a young Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson punched you—either way, your head is going to ring. So are those 3 mph worth the difference in price between the SL600 and SL65—$51,900, which is, while we’re counting, the value of a well-equipped SLK350? Probably not, but although they put out similar numbers, the character of the SL65 is as different from the similarly fast SL600 as Ali is from Tyson—class versus a bit crass.
Since the SL65 has the full AMG treatment—the SL600 doesn’t—it gets a more aggressive body kit that includes a front bumper with a wider mouth that accommodates larger intercoolers. There is also a rich, deep-throated free-flowing exhaust that actually sounds like a turbocharged V-12. Further tweaks ditch the SL600’s 18-inch wheels and add larger two-piece 19-inch wheels filled by 15.4-inch rotors clamped by enormous eight-piston calipers up front and 14.2-inch rotors with four-piston calipers doing the squeezing in back.
The SL65’s brakes have deep reserves that stop the 4494-pound roadster from 70 mph in 160 feet. All SLs come equipped with Mercedes’ Sensotronic brake-by-wire system that is a bit grabby and difficult to modulate as one comes to a stop. Other than that caveat, the brakes give no hint of fade and inspire confidence when you kick the pedal at 145 mph.
This Benz needs a lot of room to exercise. Punch the throttle on the road, and you’ll fly by the cars next to you and reach the cars ahead of you instantly. The passing power never gets old, but to avoid a massive ticket, we took the SL65 to the track to properly pile-drive the speedo needle. In the corners, the SL65 displayed safe handling that erred on the side of understeer, and body roll was kept in check by the Active Body Control that levels the suspension to keep the car flat. There is plenty of grip as displayed by the 0.93 g achieved on the skidpad, but this is one heavy roadster that is more comfortable reeling in cars on the straight than in the corners.
And reel them in it did. Porsche 911s and Corvettes were passed so quickly we barely had time to ask, “Who’s your daddy?” After a few laps a crowd began to gather on the pit wall to watch the SL65 demonstrate its straight-line supremacy. All those spectators would likely agree that the SL65 wasn’t overpowered but, rather, just right.
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