Cars UK [rating:3.0]
With the first UK Mercedes SL65 Black Series cars about to hit the UK, now seems a good time to have a look at the most powerful Mercedes SL ever to hit the roads.
The Black Series cars from Mercedes are the ultimate AMG version. The SL65 is the third in the series, and follows on from the SLK Black Series and the CLK Black Series, which have both now ceased production.
So what is it, this SL65 Black? Well, based on the standard AMG SL65, the Black Series takes the SL to new heights of performance and cost. With a price tag around £250k on the road in the UK, just 9 UK Cars are being supplied, and all have been pre-sold. Not only that, but there had to be a lottery to decide the eventual owners, such was the demand, even in these somewhat difficult times.
Designed to produce the ultimate SL experience, the SL has power a-plenty (and handling to match), but can it justify its price tag? Is 650bhp (through a 5-speed, fairly ancient auto ‘box) and 740lb/ft of torque worth the price?
Quality and Comfort
Let’s start with comfort. None of the Black Series cars can ever be thought of as motorway cruisers or GTs. No, these are out and out performance cars. But, despite this, they do make a creditable job of pounding up and down the motorways. As you would expect, wind and tyre noise is well taken care of, and on decent surfaces the ride is perfectly acceptable.
But unless you are going hell-for-leather round the country roads, in which case comfort is not high on your agenda, then the SL65 is not going to give you a feather-waft round the scenery. The ultra-thin, supportive seats are great for keeping you in one place when g-forces play havoc with your seating position, but they don’t exactly cushion the ride which, with its hard springs and unyielding geometry, is only ever really comfortable on very smooth roads.
But quality is a different issue. Yes, Mercedes cars are now well made once again, and the SL65 Black, just like every Mercedes model from the A-Class upwards, has to undergo stringent quality tests. And there is no doubt that despite its huge power output, the SL65 Black’s twin-turbo 6.0 litre engine is not overly stressed, and will probably prove to be pretty bullet-proof.
And Mercedes has gone to great pains to make the SL65 Black stand out from its lesser siblings. Gone is the trick roof (replaced by a fixed carbon-fibre job) and the whole car looks like it goes to the gym three times a day and been on a course of under the counter steroids. But the interior is a huge let-down.
Even the top-end SLs have a pretty mediocre interior, Very corporate, very bog-standard. It doesn’t really suit the car. But the same interior has been carried over to the SL65 Black. And here it is simply not acceptable. The SLR doesn’t have a wonderful interior (too reminiscent of ‘Corporate’ Mercedes) but Mercedes hasn’t really tried very hard at all. At £250k they could have made more effort.
On the Road
There are fast cars, and then there are Supercars. The SL65 AMG Black Series certainly fits in to the latter category. There is very little on the road that has the outright brute force of this car. On paper, the 0-60 of around 3.6 seconds looks impressive, if not jaw dropping. But in truth that time is very misleading. The simple fact is that even with every gizmo you can muster to tame the torque, you just cannot get away as cleanly, or as quickly as you should. A better comparison is the 0-125mph of 11 seconds. That time would be bordering Supercar quick if it were for the 0-100mph, but to get to 125mph in that time defies belief. In the real world it is substantially faster than the SLR.
But the SL65 is let down in a number of areas. The gearbox is too ancient and too slow. I understand that it is the only ‘box Mercedes has at its disposal that can handle the enormous torque, but at this price is that a good enough excuse?
And whatever Mercedes does, the SL65 Black is still compromised by the limitations of the chassis and layout. This won’t handle the way a Ferrari 599 does, or come close to a mid-engined car. Its gearbox is still up-front with the engine, and the car is inevitably nose-heavy. It has enormous levels of grip, of that there is no doubt, but with all that power, and a nose-heavy front, it is prone to running wide when pushed.
Despite the fact that the SL65 Black doesn’t have ceramic brakes (why not, at this price?) there is ample stopping power and little fade. But it seems yet another compromise not to have ceramics. Oh, well.
It goes without saying that any car like the SL65 AMG Black Series is not going to be cheap to run. Its headline fuel consumption is, impressively, better than the standard SL65, at 19.6mpg, probably down to the 250kg its managed to shed. But you’ll get nothing close if you use your right foot with any sort of enthusiasm. 13mpg would probably be nearer the mark.
Depreciation is another matter, and is open to considerable debate. The current climate would suggest this car will drop like a stone, but that could be temporary. After all, with just 9 RHD cars in the world, there will usually be more buyers than cars. But I’m not entirely sure that will be the case. It’s a bit like other derivative one-offs. It’s not a car in its own right, or certainly isn’t perceived as such, and therefore it will always be seen as the ultimate SL, not the ultra-rare Black. Yes, it’s a chunk cheaper than its sibling the SLR (although, it is a fact you can find unregistered SLR Roadsters – not the 722 – at this sort of price), but it just doesn’t offer enough. Too many compromises, dictated by its standard SL heritage, mean the car will never have the cachet of an Enzo.
So I’d bank on the SL65 AMG Black Series losing half its value in the first year. Which would amount to some £350 per day. Ouch.
There is no doubt that the Mercedes SL65 AMG Black Series is an awesome car. Its power and acceleration are almost in a class of their own, and it is a handsome looking beast, in a muscle-car sort of way. But it is just too expensive for what it is, and the ride and handling, although impressive with what it has to work with, are just not good enough.
The cheapness of the interior and its ancient gearbox are just constant reminders of how great this car could have been, had Mercedes been prepared to go that extra mile.
Cars UK Rating: [rating:3.0] Too expensive and not special enough. Buy a 6 month old 599 and save £100k, or wait for the new Gullwing Mercedes.