Can the new Merc impress a Porsche buyer?
Mercedes-AMG has just revealed the all-new SL with a gorgeous cabin and a pretty attractive body too. The car is a departure from SLs of old, becoming a four-seater and losing the hard top of the previous generation. It's loaded with innovative features like a tilting infotainment display that can help you read the screen better when you have the top down and Mercedes thinks very highly of its creation, naming the Porsche 911 Cabriolet as its chief rival. The Mercedes-AMG SL63 isn't the first car to compare itself to a Porsche product, but few ever come close. Will this be any better?
The front of the new SL is typically Mercedes yet is easily identifiable as a more elegant product than, say, a CLA. You get those narrowing LED headlights framing a large Panamericana grille and a long hood with a pair of trademark bulges. Carbon-shrouded intakes below the headlights bookend a two-tier lower grille, while the profile shows fender badges and, annoyingly, fake vents. A gloss black windscreen frame is paired with similarly dark mirrors and rocker panel accents, but the flush-fitting door handles again add a touch of class. At the rear, large, triangular taillights sit below a deployable wing and above a pair of fake vents and a diffuser housing four exhaust tips. A set of 20-inch AMG alloy wheels come standard. The entire package is sultry and sensual, but the heavily flared front wheel arches still add a touch of menace.
The Porsche is simpler but no less classy. Signature LED lighting differentiates the front from other luxury convertibles on the road with round headlights and thin running lights that sit above a segmented full-width grille. Side markers draw your eye to the 19-inch front wheels that sit inside muscular arches. The rear haunches are wide too, but these house 20-inch wheels (20/21-inch staggered wheels are also on offer). At the back, Porsche has fitted a deployable spoiler that sits above a full-width light bar housing the PORSCHE script, while the lower half of the rear fascia adds reflectors, vents, and a pair of oval exhaust tips.
It's tough to choose since art is subjective, but the Merc is certainly more likely to stand out in a crowd.
Let's not kid ourselves - the cabin of the 2022 SL is designed to wow and wow it does. But there are some drawbacks. While the 911 gives a mix of a traditional rev counter with some digital readouts, the SL is exclusively digital ahead of the driver. It's the same story with the infotainment system too: the 911 offers a mix of a 10.9-inch touchscreen along with buttons and dials, but the SL keeps physical touchpoints to a minimum. Sure, there's a touchpad and a few buttons along the bottom of the 11.9-inch portrait screen, but that's about it. And while the screen can tilt from 12 to 32 degrees, you'll be more successful using Porsche's screen whether you have the top down or not. Still, both cabins offer loads of luxury, outstanding quality, and sumptuous materials. Both cabins also offer rear seats that are only really useful as additional storage. Our pick is the ergonomic 911, but we understand if the glitz of the SL grabs your attention.
The 2022 SL is offered in 55 and 63 flavors, both of which are powered by a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 that sends its power to all four wheels via a nine-speed MCT transmission. The former produces 469 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque while the latter offers 577 hp and 590 lb-ft. Zero to 60 mph times are rated at 3.8 and 3.5 seconds respectively, making the SL quick but not revolutionary. Still, in a car like this, you don't want to be straining your neck every time you bury your right foot. Mercedes has given the SL65 AMG Active Ride Control with hydraulic roll stabilization, indicating that this should be a comfortable GT that can hustle around corners too. But is it as good as the Porsche?
Various Porsche 911 Carrera trims are available, but all get a 3.0-liter twin-turbo boxer-six. In base format, you get 379 horses, while S versions produce 443 hp and GTS versions make 473 hp. In the interest of fairness, we'll go with the GTS here, which can send its power to both axles like the SL if you choose but spins the rear wheels as standard. The 0-60 mph sprint can take as little as 3.3 seconds with the available eight-speed PDK, but enthusiasts will be more interested in the manual gearbox, something that the SL doesn't offer anywhere.
Whichever box you go with, we don't see the SL being better. Even if it is quicker, smoother, and more intelligent, it's highly unlikely that the SL will handle anywhere near as well as the Porker. Of course, we can't jump to that conclusion without driving the car, but when Merc said it was going after the 911, it was likely talking about ransacking Porsche's customer base more than improving on its corner-carving capability. Still, don't write off the SL - Mercedes-AMG hasn't made a bad car in a long time.
Mercedes-AMG has not yet announced pricing for the all-new SL, but the last generation's cheapest model started at over $90,000 for a V6-powered version that wasn't fettled by AMG. We expect that the new AMG SL55 will be considerably dearer, especially since you have much more tech, even better luxury, and an all-new platform with AWD. Our guess is that you'll spend at least $110,000, but if that sounds a bit pricey, remember that the cheapest 2022 911 Cabriolet costs no less than $114,000. Opt for the GTS model we mentioned above, and you'll pay at least $150k before adding any options or sending power to the front axle.
Mercedes has designed a true beauty with the new SL, and it looks like it'll be great to drive too, but it's almost guaranteed that the 911 will remain the benchmark in this segment. The 911 will be bought by those who love driving spiritedly and the SL will be bought by those who prefer cruising along relaxedly. As for which is better, that's up to your personal preference, but our preliminary vote is a predictable one: 911, please.